Got a Debt Collection Summons? Don’t Panic – Here’s What To Do
So you got a summons in the mail from a debt collector and now you’re freaking out. First off, take a deep breath. This happens to lots of people. You got this. Let’s walk through what a summons is, why you got one, and most importantly, what you need to do next.
What is a Debt Collection Summons?
A summons is a legal document that means a company is taking you to court to collect on a debt. It means they want to get a judgment against you for the amount you owe. The summons has to tell you who’s suing you, how much you allegedly owe, and the court date.
Getting a summons can be scary but it’s actually just part of the legal process. The good news is you have options for how to respond.
Why Did I Get a Summons?
You’re getting a summons because a collector believes you owe them money and wants to take legal action to get it. This usually happens after the following:
- You missed payments on a debt like a credit card, medical bill, or personal loan
- The original creditor gave up on collecting and sold the debt to a collection agency
- The collection agency contacted you to try to collect but you weren’t able to pay
- Now the agency is suing to get a court judgment against you
Being taken to court can sound scary but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in huge trouble. It’s just the next step collectors use to put pressure on people to pay.
What Should I Do About a Summons?
First, don’t ignore the summons! You need to respond within the time frame or you’ll automatically lose the case. Here are your options:
1. Negotiate and Settle
Your best bet is to contact the collection agency and try to negotiate a settlement. Many collectors will agree to a deal rather than go through lengthy court proceedings. You can offer to settle for a lower amount or set up a payment plan.
Get any deal in writing before paying anything. Be sure the agreement states the debt will be considered “paid in full” once you pay the settlement amount.
2. File an Answer
If you can’t settle, you’ll need to file a formal response (an “answer”) with the court by the deadline, usually 20-30 days from receiving the summons. Your answer states whether you agree or disagree with the lawsuit. You’ll also need to show up for the court date.
3. Claim Consumer Protections
Include any defenses in your answer. For example, if the debt is too old, past the statute of limitations in your state, put that in your answer. Or if you weren’t properly notified of the debt earlier, cite the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
You may even be able to get the lawsuit dismissed on the basis of illegal collection practices.
4. File for Bankruptcy
If you have no way to pay, bankruptcy may wipe out the debt completely. But talk to a lawyer first, as bankruptcy stays on your credit report for 7-10 years. There may be better options.
Key Strategies for Responding to a Summons
To sum up, here are some key moves when you’ve been served:
- Act quickly – Respond by the deadline
- Negotiate – Offer payment plans or reduced settlements
- Assert rights – Cite consumer protection laws
- Seek legal help – Talk to a lawyer if you need to
- Show up – Attend all court dates
And remember, getting a summons isn’t the end of the world! Now you understand what it means and what to do next. With the right response, you can often resolve debts without a judgment.
Need more help dealing with debt collectors? Check out these resources:
- Debt Collection Information from the CFPB
- Verification of Debt Sample Letter
- Debt Collection FAQs from the FTC
With the right information and a level head, you can handle this! Wishing you the very best in getting it resolved.