Money and Debt

What to do when a creditor sues you

Someone believes you owe them money. They will try to contact you first, but if you ignore their letters they can take you to court.

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Understanding the Basics

See what you need to know to take action.

You owe money to someone. That person or business is called a “creditor.” If you don’t pay them, they will send you letters saying you owe them money. If you still don’t pay them, or tell them you don’t owe the money the creditor might take you to court.

You will find out that the creditor is suing you when the court sends you a “Summons and Complaint.” These are court papers that tell you that you are being sued. It also includes who is suing you, the reason and what they want.

Answer within 28 days

Don’t ignore the summons. You only have 28 days to respond and file an answer with the court. To do that, file a form with the court, called an “answer.”  You can use this form to create your answer. It can be tricky to work through this without a lawyer. Try to consult with a lawyer as soon as possible. If you are low-income or a senior legal aid may be able to help you.  

If you don’t respond, you could automatically lose the case and the creditor will likely get a court judgment against you. At that point you will lose your right to challenge anything the creditor claims. With a judgment, the creditor will be able to collect money from you by taking your wages, or even taking money directly from your bank account

Also, you can always try to negotiate with your creditor. They will likely agree to drop the case if you pay whatever money you owe. Or you might be able to work out a payment plan. That way you could pay some now and some later. Get any agreement in writing. 

After you file the answer

After you file your answer, the court may schedule a hearing to decide the case. Go to the hearing. This will give you a chance to tell your side. While it’s not easy to represent yourself in a hearing like this, there’s a possibility that your creditor will not show up for the hearing, or they won’t be able to prove that you owe them money. Find out what you need to know about going to a hearing against a creditor. 

Sometimes creditors file a “Motion for Summary Judgment.” With this form, they are asking the court to make a decision that you owe money without going to hearing. It is hard to respond to this type of motion without a lawyer. Try to get help from a lawyer.

Forms and Letters

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Local Government and Community Resources

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