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What happens when you fail to answer a summons?

If you are sued by a debt collector, the first and most important thing to do is contact an attorney and prepare an answer within the proper timeframe – Otherwise, the debt collector can a obtain a judgment against you without having to prove their case.

Question: I received a summons for an old account from a bank in Florida. I did not respond in the amount of time allotted because I really didn’t know how to. Is there anything that can be done or am I just stuck with paying this debt collecting? Also can debt collectors garnish wages or bank accounts? I am in Louisiana.

Answer: Disclaimer: I am not an attorney and suggest you seek legal advice immediately.

Unfortunately you have done what most consumers do when sued for an old debt — and that is nothing. Doing nothing is exactly the action debt collectors want you to take. Most debt collectors count on consumers not responding to lawsuits or appearing in court.

Non action by consumers enables debt collectors to win their case because when you fail to answer a summons by a debt collector a default judgment ensues.

What is a Default Judgment

When you fail to respond to a summons or appear in court, a judge will typically grant the debt collector a default judgment. The default judgment is in part based on your failure to act and not necessarily on the merits of the case. If you answer the summons and respond to the lawsuit you may have a chance of prevailing. There is a timeframe that must be adhered to before the debt collector can file for a default judgment.

You can research your state’s laws to find out that timeframe. I also suggest you immediately go to the courthouse where the case was filed and find out if a default judgment has already been entered.

There still may be an opportunity for you to respond. The courthouse may have information on local attorneys and even a free legal aid society. You can also visit the National Association of Consumer Advocates at naca.net to find a consumer law attorney.

Even if a default judgment has been issued against you, the court can decide to “vacate” or “overturn” the judgment if you have good reason for not responding in a timely manner. A good reason would be you were not aware of court dates and were not given due process of the law. There may have been some emergency which prevented you from responding or appearing in court.

Another good reason is the statute of limitations has expired on the debt. The judge could decide to dismiss the case based on an expired statute of limitations.

There is also the possibility the debt collector will settle the case with you and drop the lawsuit. You can always attempt to negotiate a settlement in exchange for dismissal of the lawsuit before a default judgment is granted. Everything must be done in writing. I cannot stress enough you are never to trust a debt collector. Get everything in writing.

How a Default Judgment Affects You

A default judgment allows a debt collector to garnish wages, garnish bank accounts and file liens on property. Basically a default judgment enables a debt collector to obtain payment from you by any legal means available.

What’s worse is a default judgment will remain on your credit reports for 10 years. Once a default judgment is reported to the credit bureaus your credit score may decrease by 100 points or more.

It is imperative to prevent the debt collector from simply obtaining a default judgment by failing to defend yourself. Do not let this happen. Consumers make it too easy for debt collectors to take advantage of them. If the debt collector wants to win a judgment against you, make them work for it.

In many instances consumers find that if they respond to a lawsuit and vigorously defend themselves, the debt collector will drop the lawsuit. It can be difficult for a debt collector to prove they even own the debt they are suing you for or have a right to collect the debt. The best of luck to you.

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