Important note: This page provides general tips on how to answer a civil summons for credit card debt. Please be aware that articles on Debt.com are only intended to provide basic information and should not be used as a substitute for qualified legal advice. Debt.com recommends that you should always consult a licensed attorney if you have legal questions or face legal action.
Being in serious credit card debt can be scary. While it can be easy to throw away bills and ignore calls from debt collectors, there are consequences for not paying what you owe. When a company has exhausted its resources trying to get you to pay a debt, it will either try to sue you for the debt or sell the debt to another company. This company can also sue you in order to force repayment.
How do you know you are being sued for a debt?
Civil summons can happen when you default on an unsecured loan or fail to pay a credit card and it gets moved to charge off status. The debt is basically considered a loss by the original lender or creditor.
When you are served summons for a debt, someone will usually come to your house or work, ask you for your name, and present you with a civil summons. At this point it is best to not freak out and understand that it’s time to face your debt.
Look over the summons and see who is suing you to try and collect a debt. Is it a credit card company, a company that purchased the debt, or another creditor you are in arrears to?
Once you know this, you can start collecting any information and documents you have on the debt, including if this debt is actually yours and how long you’ve owed the money. You should also assess your current financial statements to understand your budget and what the lawsuit or a settlement may cost you.
If you know that the debt is valid, check your statements to see when the last time you paid anything to the creditor. It’s important to look at how old the debt is that is trying to be collected. States have certain rules on how long collectors can try and collect on a debt; this is known as the statute of limitations. Once a debt is past the statute of limitations, collects cannot sue you to collect a debt.
One law office provides a pretty hilarious example of what one of these summons will look like.
Does credit card debt keep getting you in trouble? Learn how to get your debt under control.
Three ways to answer a civil court summons for credit card debt
When you’ve been served with a lawsuit for your debt, there are three things you can do:
- Ignore it
- Try to settle the debt
- Go to court
While it is an option, DO NOT IGNORE THE LAWSUIT! Ignoring the summons sets you up for a rash of other issues, including wage garnishment and bank account levies and property liens. If you fail to answer by ignoring the response, a verdict can be entered against you. Ignoring a lawsuit will not protect you from the negative outcomes you can face in court!
So, you can either settle or go through the court system. Ideally, you should try to settle first and go through the court only if that fails. However, you have a limited amount of time to answer a civil summons. So, look on the summons to see when you need to file a response. Make sure to handle the case before that date to avoid more legal issues.
Step 1: How to answer a civil summons for credit card debt by settling it
First, you should try to contact the creditor listed on the summons and reach a settlement without having to go to court.
Before you call, look through your finances and create a budget. How much do you owe and how much could you afford to pay? Sometimes creditors will accept a reduced amount of what you owe, usually in a lump-sum; some may be willing to accept a small series of payments. Settlements typically run from 40 percent to 80 percent of what you owe, depending on how old the debt is and who owns it.
If the debt still belongs to the original creditor, expect to pay more in the settlement. If the debt has been sold to a collector, they may take a lesser amount, since they purchased the debt at a discount. Looking at your budget, can help you determine your stance during the negotiation. Have an amount you are willing to pay ready when you call and work from there with the creditor.
If the creditor won’t speak with you, have this call with the attorney listed on the lawsuit instead.
Out-of-court settlement is usually the best option. If you settle the debt out of court, the creditors and their lawyers can withdraw the case. You can avoid the hassle of filing an answer formally with the court.
Step 2: How to answer a civil summons for credit card debt by filing an answer with the court
If trying to reach a settlement does not work out or you decide you prefer to go to court, you must file an answer to the served summons. Note that you will need to file within 30 days of receiving the letter, including holidays and weekends, according to the Judicial Counsel of California. This time limit can vary depending on where you live. So, make sure to check your summons for the exact timing that your state requires.
Within the summons package you received should be a complaint with a list of allegations against you. It’s your job to then “answer” these allegations in writing and submit them to the court before the date listed. Within the allegations will be a section stating that you are the owner of the debt and what the amount of debt is, among other things.
This is where it is again important to have your documents handy to look through the information you have. This way, you can either confirm or deny the allegations entered against you, based on the information you have.
In your response, you will need to either affirm, deny or lack knowledge of the claims against you. You can also admit a claim is true, but state there is another reason you should not be responsible for the debt; this is called “admission with defense.” When writing your answer, make sure to refer to yourself as the defendant throughout. Your answer should be typed and printed.
Deciding whether to affirm, deny or reply lack of knowledge to a civil summons
When to affirm an allegation
If you know the answer is true, you need to answer factually in your response. For example, if the summons complaint, paragraph one alleges you live at 123 ABC Lane and you do in fact live there, you need to respond within your answer of paragraph one that you admit or confirm you live at that address.
It can be as simple as writing “Admitted” next to the number one in a bulleted list, or you could choose to write out a sentence.
- Defendant admits he resides at the residence listed on the complaint.
Not admitting something that is known to be true can lead to larger legal issues once the case has begun.
When to deny an allegation
If it happens that an allegation is completely untrue, you can deny the claim in your answer. Only deny if you are 100 percent sure it is untrue. If you aren’t sure, you should instead reply that you lack the knowledge to admit or deny this claim (see below). Only deny a claim if you can prove it is not correct.
You should use this option if you believe that the claims against you are for a debt that is not yours. For example, if you were an authorized user and didn’t spend the amount listed, but are being charged with it.
- Defendant denies using credit card at Bed, Bath and Beyond.
When to reply “lack of knowledge”
When you are unsure of an allegation made against you, such as the exact amount you owe or the last time you paid the creditor, you can answer that you have a lack of knowledge regarding the claims.
- Defendant lacks sufficient knowledge to confirm or deny the information within this paragraph and therefore denies the allegation.
If an allegation contains claims that can be a combination of these answers, combine them to compose the best response.
A paragraph may claim you are cardholder of an account and that you owe $5,284.73. If you agree that you are the cardholder but deny or lack the knowledge to confirm the amount, you can answer: Defendant affirms they are the cardholder but lacks the knowledge to confirm the other allegations within the paragraph and therefore denies them.
When to use admission with defense
An admission with defense is important if you plan on fighting your debt in court. In your reply to the summons complaint, you admit to the allegation, but with a defense. When it comes to debt collection or credit card debt, these defenses would be:
- The debt is not yours
- That you have paid the debt already
- The statute of limitations on the debt ran out
In these cases, you admit or affirm the paragraphs and include your defense within you answer to the summons complaint.
- Defendant admits to being the cardholder of the credit card ending in 2345 but contends that there is a failure to name the essential party as they are not the primary cardholder.
- Defendant admits to the debt but asserts it was paid on this date. (You would need to specify when you paid the debt.)
- Defendant admits to being the owner of the debt; however the defendant contends that the statute of limitations in the state has run out. (You would need to specify which state your debt is in and where you are being sued.)
The New York Office of Court Administration offers a full list of possible defenses as well. Complete your answer by closing the letter with the date you submitted it and put a line for your signature.
Tips for submitting your answer to the court
- Print out your answer, sign and date it
- Then make two copies — one for the court and one for the attorney of the creditor.
- You will need to go down to the courthouse to submit your original answer to the clerk of the court.
- Know that you will likely have to pay a fee to file.
- While you are there, have them “file stamp” your other copies so that when you send one to the lawyers, they know you filed it.
- Keep one for your records, and mail the other stamped response via certified mail to the attorneys hired by the creditor.
Are you required to hire an attorney for your debt summons?
In most cases of legal matters, it’s always recommended that you hire a state-licensed attorney. Going through legal issues without a lawyer can be tough to navigate. However, often the reason you receive a civil debt summons is because you couldn’t afford to pay. Hiring an attorney is an expense that many in this situation can’t afford.
The good news is that many state-run government websites offer legal help and advice for these situations. There are also law organizations that offer pro-bono law assistance for low-income individuals. It may be worth hiring the services of a lawyer just to understand your rights in your state. They can also answer any potential questions and explain possible outcomes based on your particular case.