No one ever wants to face a debt collection lawsuit. Unfortunately, if you have gotten very behind on your debt, this is an action the debt collector may take. If they are successful with their case, the court may allow them to garnish your wages, or take other steps to collect on the debt. Once the debt collector has started the proceedings, they will file a complaint with the court and you will be served with a summons. Ignoring the summons and not answering the lawsuit is one of the most surefire ways to ensure that you will lose your case. So, it is important that you do answer the summons, and that you understand how to do that.
What Is the Deadline for Answering a Debt Collection Summons?
After receiving the summons, you must act quickly. You only have 20 days to file your answer or the debt collector will likely seek a default judgment against you, which would mean they automatically win their case. The 20 days starts the day after you are served with the summons, and you need to count every day, including weekends.
Address Each Issue in the Complaint
Along with receiving the summons, you will also receive a copy of the complaint the debt collector filed with the court. This complaint will outline every issue the debt collector wishes to resolve through a lawsuit. You must address each of these issues, which is often somewhat intimidating for people who have never faced a debt collection lawsuit before. The issues will be outlined in the complaint in numbered paragraphs, and it is each of these paragraphs that you should answer. You can do this by answering “Agree,” “Disagree,” or “I do not know.”
In many cases, lawyers advise that you disagree with everything in the complaint. When you do this, you are permitted to outline why you disagree with the statements. Disagreeing with each issue outlined in the complaint forces the debt collector to prove that point in their case.
Florida does have a template for a Florida Answer Form, but it may not allow you to provide all of the information you need, particularly if you want to explain your disagreement. A debt defense lawyer can help you draft the answer so it fully explains your arguments, and so that your response is filed properly.
Include Your Defenses
Just like explaining why you disagree with the complaints, you can also include different defenses within your answer.
The most common defenses in debt collection lawsuits include:
- The debt is not on your account: Plain and simple, in order for a debt collector to be successful with their lawsuit, you must be responsible for the debt. If a different account number appears on the documents, the debt is not yours.
- The contract was canceled: In certain cases, a debt contract may have already been canceled and when that is the case, you do not owe the creditor anything.
- The statute of limitations has passed: Florida places a statute of limitations on debt at six years from the date of the contract’s payment dates. In many cases, if the statute of limitations has passed, the debt collector does not have a valid lawsuit. However, certain caveats apply to this defense. For example, if you have recently made a payment on the debt, that may extend the statute of limitations, and so this may not serve as a valid defense.
- The debt has been completely or partially paid: If you have already paid the debt, the debt collector cannot seek those payments again in court. This happens more often than people think because debt collectors are humans, too, and sometimes make mistakes. They may not have posted a payment to your account and believe that you still owe those funds. When raising this defense, you must be able to prove that you made the payments with bank statements and other documentation.
- You co-signed a loan and were not told of your rights: Co-signing a loan makes you responsible for the payments if the applicant falls into default on the debt. Co-signers have a lot of responsibility, but they also have rights. If you were not told of your rights, or your rights were infringed upon, that can serve as a valid defense in a debt collection lawsuit.
Any of these defenses, or others that a debt defense lawyer thinks are appropriate, can be included within your answer. It is important to understand that in most cases, being unable to repay the debt is not typically a defense.
File the Answer and Serve the Plaintiff
Filing the answer and serving the plaintiff may sound fairly straightforward, but there is a specific process you must follow. Start by making several copies of your answer. Mail one copy to the court and one copy to the plaintiff’s attorney, preferably by certified mail so you can guarantee the answer is received by both parties, and can prove it later, if necessary. In most cases, you will find the address for both the courthouse and the plaintiff’s lawyer. If you are working with a debt defense lawyer, they will handle filing the papers with the court and will also serve the plaintiff, making the process much easier for you.
Our Florida Debt Defense Lawyers Can Help with Your Lawsuit
If you have been served a summons and complaint by a debt collector, it is tempting to ignore it and hope it goes away. It will not. To protect your rights, it is imperative that you answer the complaint and our Fort Lauderdale debt defense lawyers can help. At Loan Lawyers, we have the necessary experience to review the facts of your case, and we will discuss with you any potential defenses you may have in your case. If you have received notice that a debt collector has taken legal action against you, call us today at (954) 523-4357 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation so we can get started on your case.
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Loan Lawyers has helped over 5,000 South Florida homeowners and consumers with their debt problems, we have saved over 2,000 homes from foreclosure, eliminated more than $100,000,000 in mortgage principal and consumer debt, and have recovered over $10,000,000 on behalf of our clients due to bank, loan servicer, and debt collector violations. Contact us for a free consultation and find out more about our money-back guarantee on credit card debt buyer lawsuits, and how we may be able to help you.