How important is it to answer a lawsuit for credit card debt?
The first official notification of a lawsuit is the complaint and summons, though in Texas, these documents are called the petition and citation. In either case, once these documents are served, the legal process has started. It won’t necessarily end in a lawsuit, but in many cases, it does. What the defendant does next will set the course for the debt collection case, so answering the complaint is the single most important move the defendant will make.
It’s normal to feel shocked or enraged when the lawsuit papers are served, but it’s critical not to be paralyzed by these feelings. The vast majority, as in more than 90 percent, of people do just that, and ignore the complaint and summons. Ignoring the complaint will result in the plaintiff winning a default judgment. With a default judgment in hand, the debt collector can execute more aggressive means of debt collection, including wage or account garnishment. And a judgment will badly damage the defendant’s credit score. In short, the defendant will need to do everything possible to avoid this outcome, and this starts with a proper answer.
Answering the debt collection lawsuit
The first and most important response is to answer the complaint, and though this can be done without an attorney’s assistance, it is still wise to consult with one before proceeding. There are several reasons for this, including:
- The answer will set the course for the defendant’s side – There are some defenses that need to be executed early on for them to be considered. A notable example of this is using the statute of limitations. Debt collectors frequently sue for debt that is time-barred, which means that the plaintiff has waited too long to pursue legal action against the account holder. Most debts are tied to the state’s statute of limitations, which defines how long a debt can go unpaid before the creditor (or the debt’s owner) can no longer sue. A statute of limitations defense is extremely effective when it is available.However, this has to be done from the outset, ideally declared in the defendant’s answer. It may not be obvious, though, when the statute of limitations defense applies to a case as it’s not always clear when the statute of limitations period started. This is something that an attorney can help with, and will ensure the answer is modified accordingly.
- The answer, if not prepared carefully, can worsen a defendant’s case – In general, the less a defendant admits to, the better off they will be. Debt collectors, for example, constantly work to get account holders to admit that they owe a particular debt. This is often with subtlety, and the account holder may not realize they’ve made a mistake until it’s too late. If an account holder does relent and admit that they owe the debt, they could affect the statute of limitations.If an account holder does this while formulating their answer, they could damage their ability to pose potential defenses. For example, if the defendant admits to owing a particular amount or admits to holding particular accounts, the debt defense attorney may have trouble stalling the plaintiff during discovery. This is a useful tactic that can force debt collectors to give up and walk away from the case, but is tougher to manage if the defendant gives away their position from the outset.
- The initial complaint may require the defendant to provide additional information – The complaint will include all of the case’s pertinent details, including how much is owed and the dates associated with account payments. In some cases, though, the complaint will also include discovery requests, or requests for certain documents that only the defendant can access. This is not optional in most cases and failing to provide the requested documentation can cause the defendant to lose their case immediately.Procuring the necessary documents can be stressful and take a long time to manage. This is another area where a debt defense attorney can provide valuable insight, but again, time is critical. Consulting with an attorney as soon as possible is essential in timely document retrieval.
- It’s easy to miss deadlines or important details – An answer has to be provided right away, usually within 20 days or so. If additional documents are requested, then that deadline is extended for a few more weeks. But the answer has to be formatted properly and filed within the deadline, so it can’t wait until the last moment. A debt defense attorney will ensure everything that must be included in the answer is included. And an attorney will ensure that the answer is provided with time to spare.Fortunately, the answer does not need to be notarized, but it does have to be filed with a clerk at the court, and a copy must be served to the plaintiff. This can take some time, as a proper server will have to be contacted. This can be a member of the sheriff’s department or handled through a third-party process server.
As soon as the answer is provided, it’s time to gather all evidence that will support your side of the case. Again, pulling this together will require effort and time, and some knowledge about where to turn. Debt defense attorneys are experts at organizing case documentation and will be able to advise their client in how to proceed.
Debt collection lawsuits, including credit card lawsuits, are trying, potentially life changing ordeals. Proper preparation and adherence to court procedures will maximize a defendant’s chances, and that means filing a proper answer, ideally with an experienced debt defense attorney.