Most American adults carry some kind of debt, but if your debt has gotten away from you and your creditors are tired of waiting, they’ll first turn to debt collectors and then eventually to filing a collection lawsuit. If your first response to a collection lawsuit is fear, that’s perfectly normal. The best way to move forward is by educating yourself on your rights and what to do — as well as what not to do.

The first thing you need to know is that it’s a big mistake to ignore a collection lawsuit. The notification comes in the form of a summons and complaint. Failure to respond will lead to a default judgment in the form of wage garnishment or capture of money from your bank account, so doing nothing is a big mistake, especially because you could end up liable for additional fees and charges that could significantly increase the amount you end up paying. You need to respond but do so appropriately. That means filing an answer with the Clerk of the Court from which your summons was sent. You don’t need to say that you owe the money, but you do need to respond within the deadline stated in the summons. Make sure you ask the Clerk for a stamped copy of your answer and then send it via certified mail to your creditor so that they know you responded.

Once you’ve acknowledged the claim, you have a few options. You can challenge the creditor’s legal right to file the claim against you. There’s a good chance that the company that filed suit is not the same one you originally borrowed from. If that’s the case, they’ll need to show legal proof that they own the debt. Lots of companies don’t have access to this information (which might include a credit agreement signed by you or documentation of the chain of custody of the debt) and count on debtors not knowing to ask. They also need to prove that you’re responsible for the debt and the exact amount you owe. Many are unable to do so and the claim will be dismissed.

Another important point to remember is that there is a limit to how long creditors have to file a lawsuit over a debt. Check your state’s laws and the date that you were last active on the account because in many cases the statute of limitations will have passed. That date is very important, so make sure you don’t automatically send a payment, as it will start the clock again.

The most important thing to do when facing a collection debt is to get in touch with one of our knowledgeable attorneys, who are experienced in collection lawsuits. We can advise you on your best options, and save you time, stress and money, so contact us today!

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