The worst thing you can do is “nothing”. Many consumers falsely believe that if they aren’t formally served a Summons, the creditor cannot get a Judgment against them. In most states, “alternate service” is allowed and creditors can get a Default Judgment against you, without you ever being formally served. You are much better off to face the issue head on; ignoring it will not make it go away. Do everything you can to prevent the judgment; once they have a judgment the creditor can garnish wages, seize bank accounts, take your tax refunds, attach liens to assets, etc… not fun.
The Summons should not have come as a complete surprise; usually it will have been preceded by letters and calls from the debt collector, and then the law firm. If you receive a call from a legitimate law firm that’s located in your state, it is a good indicator that you are likely to be served a summons. You will be able to negotiate a better arrangement before a summons, and you can negotiate a better deal before a judgment than after a judgment. In other words, it is in your best interest to take action sooner rather than later. Once they have a default judgment against you, it will be more expensive to settle and it’s very difficult to get it Vacated.
Every state will have a time limit to answer a Summons; for example in Arizona it’s 21 days. If there is no answer filed with the court by then, the creditor can file for a Default Judgment and you then have 10 days to respond before they win the Default Judgment.
If you are uncomfortable dealing with collectors, you can always call us and we can advise you how to handle the situation. We also have a network of trusted attorneys who can help you if necessary.
If you have already been served you should do the following first:
Immediately call the law firm representing the collector. Focus on getting information from them, not giving them information. You will need to verify your identity first – usually confirming your address and the last four of your social security number.
If you are served a summons, here are the questions you want to ask:
- Who is the original creditor?
- What is the date of the last payment with the original creditor? Every state has statutes of limitations for collection.
- Who currently owns the debt? The debt may still belong to the original creditor, or may have been sold many times to debt buyers.
- What was the balance at the time of original charge off?
- What is the balance they are claiming is currently owed?
After gathering the above information, you need to make a decision whether to settle the debt or fight the judgment. There are many factors to consider, in addition to answers to the above questions. Are you able to make a lump sum payment or do you need a payment plan? Are they agreeing to Dismiss the Judgment or trying to make you agree to a Stipulated Judgment? Was there improper service of the Summons? Can they validate the debt? Is the balance correct?
If you are going to fight the debt you will need to Answer the Summons/Complaint within the time specified in your county (usually three weeks), and possibly file a counter-claim. Most people interested in fighting a judgment seek help. We work closely with a law firm that does judgment defense.
Whether you decide to handle it yourself or to get help, just make sure to take action before your time runs out. We advise our clients all the time on these matters and can consult with you about all your options.