Given the far reaching and anticipated long term economic recovery needed from COVID-19, effectively managing debt in 2020 has taken on a new sense of urgency. According to Experian's 2019 Consumer Debt Study, total U.S. consumer debt reached an all-time high last year at $14.1 trillion, with credit card debt at a record high of $829 billion. Understanding legal terms and the full spectrum of options when faced with outstanding debts is an important step in securing financial stability during uncertain times.
What is a Debt Claim Citation?
When an individual has an outstanding debt with a creditor and fails to settle it, the owed company may file suit and have a process server deliver a debt claim citation to inform them of a filed lawsuit. The debtor has several options at the beginning of the debt litigation process, which includes settling the debt, attempting to reduce it to a manageable cost, fighting the claim of money owed, ignoring it altogether, (not the best idea) or allow a default judgment in favor of the creditor.
How to Respond to a Debt Claim Citation
After reading the debt claim citation, the debtor needs to decide how they wish to Respond. Failing to answer the claims of owing a debt often results in a default judgment for the creditor.
There are three ways one can respond: agree, disagree and unknown.
Responses can be handwritten and submitted to the court, but they need to be specified as to what claims are agreed upon, not agreed upon and unknown. They must also clearly write out the case number, up-to-date mailing address and a defense to each claim in the response.
How Long is the Window for a Response?
No matter how one decides to respond to the debt citation, they must adhere to all guidelines set out in the paperwork delivered to them by the process server. Many courts allow twenty calendar days from the moment the citation and summons are in the hands of the defending party to file a response. It could potentially be a shorter window of time depending on the jurisdiction, which makes thoroughly reviewing all received paperwork a critical step in debt litigation.
What are Discovery Requests?
Discovery is an important part of the debt litigation process as it allows not only the creditor to demand information that supports their claim of the owed debt, but it can also help build a defense. Law firms can use discovery to see if there's truly a legal debt to be pursued, or move to dismiss the case altogether.
Keep in mind that courts generally have a limited window of time to satisfy discovery requests and failure to do so could result in a default judgment against the alleged debtor.
What Responsibilities Does a Creditor Have When Filing a Suit?
Individuals in the midst of debt litigation need to understand their rights to create an appropriate defense. There are mandatory steps that a creditor must take before filing a debt collection lawsuit:
- The lawsuit must be filed within the time frame outlined in their jurisdiction’s statute of limitations. This period could start from the date of the last payment received on the account or promise to pay had occurred.
- A written demand for payment, also called a demand letter, must be sent to the debtor at least 30 days before filing
- A response to the demand letter by the debtor must occur within 30 days of receiving it and make clear why the debt is not valid or incorrect.
What are Common Defenses Used in Debt Litigation?
Common defenses against debt collection suits include:
- The account belongs to someone else
- Improper service of the summons and complaint
- The defendant was only an authorized user
- Lack of standing because the creditor does not have proof of owning the debt
- The plaintiff is not a licensed debt collector
- The debt was already discharged in a previous bankruptcy
- The debt is not valid
What Happens if the Debtor Ignores the Lawsuit?
When the sued party ignores a debt collection suit, creditors typically win by default and get the judgment they want against the defendant. This enables further efforts to collect by seizing of property, although a person's residence and other types of income and property are exempt. Parties who only possess exempted properties might be judgment proof, but many times they are not and should try to work with the creditor on a settlement outside of the courtroom.
Legal Counsel Advised
While an individual could legally represent and defend their own case in court, it’s not advised. Due to the many complex processes and procedures involved in debt litigation-discovery requests, interrogatories and other complicated steps, accidental exposure of a potential weakness could cost the defense the case. Therefore, it’s highly recommended if one gets a Debt Claim Citation they retain a qualified and experienced debt collection defense attorney familiar with debt industry law and regulations.
Of course, a Debt Claim Citation can be avoided if unpaid debts are properly managed with a timely effort, and if an acceptable agreement with the creditor can be made by both parties. However, there are options and legal rights to be aware of if debt collections comes to this stage.
About ABC Legal Services
ABC Legal is the nation’s leading service of process and court filing company and is the official process server to the U.S. Department of Justice. Docketly is a subsidiary of ABC Legal, providing appearance counsel on a digital, custom-built platform that smoothly integrates with our applications and services. ABC Legal’s applications are cloud-based and compatible for use on desktop, browser, and smartphones. Our solutions and digital approach ensure process server partners, law firm customers, and their clients save valuable time and resources when serving legal notices safely and with maximum compliance, control, and transparency. ABC Legal is based in Seattle, WA, with more than 2,000 process servers throughout the U.S., as well as internationally in more than 75 countries. To learn more about ABC Legal, our solutions, and subsidiary company Docketly, visit www.abclegal.com.