You do what you can, but sometimes debt gets out of control. If you get far enough behind on your credit card payments, eventually, the lender or a debt collector will file a suit against you to get what they’re owed. In this article, we’ll explore what a civil summons is and what to do when you’re faced with one.
What is a civil summons?
Generally speaking, a civil summons is when a governing body, individual, or organization files a lawsuit or judgment against another individual or organization.
The document indicates the reason for the suit or administrative action. It also listed pertinent information, such as the time and date of the first hearing, details about the plaintiff and defendant, and the amount of time the defendant has to respond.
A civil summons with regard to credit card debt usually occurs when the account reaches “charge off” status. Charge-off status usually happens between 120 and 180 days.
With that said, here are the steps you need to take.
Don’t ignore it
This is the worst thing you can do. The suit will continue, whether or not you respond. If you don’t respond, the court will issue a ruling in favor of the lender.
That means you will be forced to pay what’s owed. They may also tack on attorney fees, court fees, and interest to your balance.
Get in touch with the lender/collector that filed the suit, and see if they will accept a lower amount.
The filer may ask for a lump sum or a series of payments. The negotiated amount can range from 40% to 80% of the original balance.
Who filed the suit also makes a difference in negotiation. If the lender is after you, they will be less willing to negotiate a lower amount than a debt collector that bought the debt at a discount.
If negotiation doesn’t work, it’s time to build your defense. Get a hold of the lender or collector again and gather information.
- Check through your records to confirm if the debt owed belongs to you – do the amount and the original lender match up? Is it yours?
- Get a chain of custody records – does the filer have the legal right to do so?
- How long have you owed the debt – the statute of limitations could forbid the suit based on how long you’ve owed it
- Get proof from the filer – are their records accurate? Is the information listed correctly? If the filer has missing or incorrect information, this can work in your favor.
- Get copies of everything – accurate and complete documentation is very important
Talk with a professional
Get a consultation. Often, these are free. At the very least, it’ll help get a better understanding of what you’re up against and what you should do.
If money is tight, there are organizations, like lawhelp.org, that will provide an attorney that volunteers their time.
If money isn’t as tight, vet and hire an attorney to help your cause.
Go to court
If negotiation and settling outside of court don’t work, then it’s time to go to court. Here’s what you have to do.
- Formally answer the summons with the court. This has to be in writing and generally, you have to answer within 20 to 30 days of receiving the summons.
- In your reply, you have three answer options: admit, deny, or lack of knowledge. Admit it’s your debt, deny it’s your debt (only if you’re 100% sure), or attest that you don’t have enough information to say otherwise.
Options after court
If the ruling goes your way, there’s not much else to do. However, there may be terms you need to settle on, depending on what the judgment was, so you may not be completely out of the woods yet.
If the ruling doesn’t go your way, you have a few options.
- Try negotiating with the lender/collector again.
- Pay the amount mandated by the court
- Argue the ruling by filing an appeal
- File for bankruptcy
- This is the last resort and should only be used if there’s no way to pay back what you owe.
Your credit score will take a big hit throughout this process.
- Prior to 30 days late, it won’t affect your credit score, but you will be charged late fees (most likely).
- After 30 days, a late payment will show on your report. On-time payment is the number 1 factor when calculating your score, so expect a significant drop.
- The impact late payment has on your credit gets worse as you pass 60 and 90 days.
- As stated, a suit normally isn’t brought against you until 180 days late. At that point, the account is listed in “charge off” status and that will really hurt your score.
Obviously, you want to do everything possible to prevent being served a summons for your being behind on your credit card bills, but if you get there, these are the steps you need to take.