Getting a summons for your past due credit card debt can be an intimidating experience. While most creditors prefer to work with you to resolve outstanding balances, that is not always the case. Still, the worst thing you can do is ignore the summons. Instead, here is what you should do immediately upon receiving the summons.
First, it is important to verify that the summons is legitimate. The reason is that there are some debt collection agencies that purchase old debt, then send out documents that very closely resemble the format used by many court systems to issue summons. It may be that your creditor has chosen to sell the debt for pennies on the dollar to one of these agencies, and they are attempting to intimidate you into paying the debt in full now.
In order to determine if the summons is legitimate, contact your local court and provide the clerk with the case number on the paperwork. If the summons was issued by the court, the number will be on file and the data will mirror what is on the documents. If not, then you know you are dealing with a junk debt buyer, which is a different situation altogether.
Assuming that the summons is a legitimate one, it is important to render a response as soon as possible. Often, creditors count on debtors failing to respond, which normally means a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff. Upon winning that judgment, your wages can be garnished and possibly any assets you have can be frozen until the debt is paid in full.
A true summons will provide a grace period in which the debtor has the chance to respond to the allegations made in the summons. Depending on the court in question, that period is usually twenty to thirty days from the date the summons was issued. Secure an attorney immediately, and prepare a response. If you cannot afford an attorney, look into free legal aid in your area. You can also file paperwork that will allow you to represent yourself. There are various online resources that can help you frame your response. In addition, the local court may also have published guidelines for people who choose to represent themselves in matters of this type.
The important thing is to not fail to respond to the summons. Even if all you can do is verify that every detail in the summons is correct, then do so. However, be sure to read through the entire text and see if anything was left out, such as information relating to any of your efforts to resolve the debt. At the same time, there is a good chance your local jurisdiction will allow you to file what is known as a Notice of Appearance. This is essentially a document that demonstrates to the court that you are an active participant in this matter and will make it possible to receive copies of all documents related to the suit.
While the exact names of the documents you will need to include in your response will vary somewhat from one jurisdiction to another, there is generally the need to file an response to the complaint that responds point by point to the allegations made outlined in the suit. Follow the same basic pattern, and address each line item individually. Confirm any that are correct, deny any that are not, and declare a lack of knowledge of any points that you do not have any recollection about. Also include a list of your own points, including dates, times, and the names of anyone you’ve spoken with that is associated with the creditor. This helps demonstrate to the court what you have done in an attempt to resolve the issue.
Also ask for copies of any documentation that supports the allegation. This will allow you to see exactly what was given to the court at the time the suit was filed. You may very well find evidence of payments that were not applied to your account properly, or other improprieties that would give the court grounds for dismissing the suit. If the plaintiff fails to produce supporting documents, then the court will have nothing to prove that the debt is legitimate and have no choice but to dismiss the claim.
Don’t forget to file a Cease and Desist with the creditor. Provide an address where written documentation can be sent to you, and specifically instruct them to not contact, friends, relatives, neighbors, or employers while the suit is pending. Many courts frown upon creditors who ignore this type of demand, a point that could help your case significantly.
While it is true the burden of proof is on the plaintiff, that does not mean you can do nothing and expect the issue to go away. If the debt is legitimate, the creditor will be able to prove that point. However, if you take the time to respond to the summons, and indicate your willingness to work through the courts to resolve the issue, chances are that the court will order repayment terms that will be much more favorable than those contained in a default judgement against you.