If a person or business believes you owe them money, they will contact you by mail. If you do not pay, or if you ignore their letters, they may take you to court to get the money.
Getting sued by a creditor
If you are sued, the court sends you a “Summons and Complaint” notice. The notice tells you:
- Who is suing you
- What the creditor wants
Getting sued can be complicated, so you should consult with a lawyer as soon as possible. If you are a senior or have low income, legal aid may be able to help you. You also can find organizations that can connect you with a lawyer or other legal help on this page under "Legal Help and Lawyers."
Do not ignore the summons. You must answer the complaint within 28 days. If you do not answer, you could automatically lose the case, and the creditor may be allowed to take money directly from your wages or bank account. To answer the complaint, you can use this form.
You can also try to negotiate with your creditor. If you pay any money you owe, the creditor will likely drop the case. Or you might be able to work out a payment plan so you could pay some now and some later. Get all agreements in writing.
Motion for default judgment or summary judgment
If you failed to file an answer to the complaint, the creditor will likely file a "Motion for Default Judgment." By not filing an answer, the court can assume that you agree with all of the statements in the creditor's complaint, including that you owe the full amount the creditor is asking for.
Sometimes even if you file an answer, a creditor may file a “Motion for Summary Judgment.” Creditors file this type of motion to avoid going to court and to avoid a hearing. This motion asks the court to make a decision that you owe money without going to hearing.
It can be hard to respond to either motion without a lawyer. Try to get help from a lawyer. You can find organizations that can connect you with a lawyer or other legal help on this page under "Legal Help and Lawyers."
At the mediation or hearing
Some courts will schedule a mediation to try to settle the matter before scheduling a hearing. Go to the mediation. The mediation will provide an opportunity to try to resolve the matter with the help of a neutral third party called a mediator.
After you file your answer, the court may schedule a hearing to decide the case. Go to the hearing. If you do not attend the hearing, you may lose the case automatically.
It is important to attend the hearing, and to know what to expect. Learn more about how to get ready for a hearing.
Be prepared in case the creditor doesn’t show up
If your creditor does not attend the hearing, ask the judge to dismiss the case by saying, "Your Honor, since the plaintiff is not here, I would request that the case be dismissed.” You may automatically win the case if the creditor skips the hearing.
The creditor has to prove that you owe the money
At the hearing, the creditor is required to prove that you owe the money and then prove how much you owe.
You have the right to question the creditor. You can ask them how they came up with the amount. Also, you can ask the creditor to show the original agreement or contract the debt is based on.
The court’s decision
If the creditor wins, the court will award them a “judgment.” A judgment allows the creditor to collect money from you.
There are several ways the creditor can collect money from you. They can: