You come home from work, and find a summons and complaint taped to your door or in your mailbox. You glance at it and see a lot of intimidating language; someone is demanding money that you do not have. You throw the papers in a pile, and you ignore them in hopes that it will just go away. You have just done the worst thing you can possibly do.
When you are served with a summons and complaint, you have 20 days to respond (30 days if it is not personally delivered to you). Your response must be in writing and is called an “answer.” A copy of your answer must be mailed to the plaintiff’s attorneys and the original must be filed with the court. Do not attempt this on your own. An answer must contain many things, including all of your affirmative defenses. Affirmative defenses are complicated and generally only a debt-collection defense attorney knows what they are and how to apply them. Any defense not raised in your answer is considered to have been waived. That is one of the many reasons why it is important to have an experienced attorney on your side.
If you fail to serve and file your answer on time, your creditor’s attorneys will apply to the court for a default judgment. The court will grant the creditor a default judgment for the amount of money they are seeking in the complaint. The judgment creditor’s next step is to file the judgment with the county clerk. It is at this point that the judgment will register on your credit report, potentially ruining your credit.
Now that your creditor has been officially awarded a judgment against you by a court, things can get serious. Your judgment creditor will actively enforce the judgment by restraining your bank account (“freezing” all money in your account so you no longer have access to any funds, and all of your charges and automatic deductions will be declined). Your judgment creditor will then file a motion called a “turnover motion,” asking the court to turn over all of the money in your bank account to them. If your creditor’s judgment is not satisfied after they clean out your bank account, your judgment creditor can garnish your wages (usually 10% of your pay) to pay off the remainder of your debt. In the meantime, the judgment against you will increase at the rate of 9% per annum in interest until it is paid in full by you.
Not responding to notice of a lawsuit could potentially ruin several years of your life. Once the damage is done, it is often difficult to undo. If you receive notice that you are being sued, it is imperative that you consult with a consumer defense lawyer as soon as possible. With one phone call or e-mail, you can take the steps you need to protect yourself from debt collectors.