What Are Your Options After Being Sued for Debt?
Debt Collection Defense Attorneys in Vancouver
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reports that one out of seven American consumers gets sued for nonpayment of debt.
Finding yourself in such a predicament involving debt collection can cause undue anxiety. Stress easily overcomes you, especially if you don’t know how to go about it after receiving a copy of the complaint and a court summons.
Do not get intimidated if a debt collector files a case against you. Lawsuits are a typical debt collection tactic. Knowing your options through a debt defense law firm can help you take the best course of action in handling your case.
What is a debt collection lawsuit?
Simply put, a debt collection litigation begins when a creditor files a case in a state civil court against you and your co-signer if you have one. The creditor will explain why they are suing you and what they seek in the complaint, including the unpaid amount, penalties, attorney’s fees, and court-related costs.
The creditor, collecting agency, or representing lawyer will then “serve” you in person or through the mail a copy of the complaint and a court summons to notify you about the lawsuit. The summons will tell you when and how to file a formal response in court, as well as the date of your court appearance. These details are essential, more so, if you wish to defend yourself against the claim.
What, then, are your options when sued for debt?
1. Review the facts, contracts, and evidence related to the lawsuit.
- The statute of limitations for debt collection lawsuits in Washington is six years from the date of default or the date of the last payment on the debt account at issue. Debt collectors can still attempt to collect on debts that have passed the statute of limitations, but they will not be able to file a collection lawsuit against the debtor.
- Did the debt collector notify you about the debt collection through a phone call or mail after the debt has been due for 180 days? In addition, did he give you a debt validation letter within five days of contacting you? His letter must specify how much you owe, who your creditor is, and how you can dispute the debt if you believe it is not yours.
- If you believe you do not owe the debt in question, did you request a verification letter from the debt collector to prove it was within 30 days of receiving the notice of validation?
- If your debt is valid, did you respond to the debt collector and devise a strategy for paying off the amount? Did you go for any of these options: paying the debt in full, putting up a payment schedule, or reaching a settlement with the creditor.
- Did you fail to settle or negotiate your deb when you received a complaint about your unsettled debt and a summons.
2. Ignore the lawsuit.
Choosing to ignore your case and not answering the complaint brings unfavorable consequences.
Failing to respond to your lawsuit makes it easy for your creditor to obtain a default judgment against you. Any of the following may happen:
- Initiate a wage garnishment process which gives your creditor the power to take money directly from your paycheck until the debt is paid in full;
- Place a lien against your property;
- Freeze the funds in your bank account; or
- Garnish the funds in your bank account by giving your creditor the authority to deduct money from your bank account without your knowledge.
Thus, time is of the essence. A default judgment is usually entered 20 days following the service of a lawsuit on the defendant.
3. Respond to the debt claim.
As soon as you have determined that the debt in collections is legitimate, the most important thing you can do at this point is responding to the debt collection lawsuit.
According to a study conducted by The Pew Charitable Trusts, approximately 70% of such lawsuits result in a default judgment in favor of creditors because borrowers fail to respond to the plaintiffs’ demands for payment.
Take your seat at the mediation table and think about it. Some courts will try to find a way to solve the problem before they set up a hearing. The mediation will give both sides a chance to work things out with the help of a mediator.
Negotiate for a settlement agreement. Here’s a piece of good news. In many cases, the court will order that both parties in a lawsuit attempt to reach a settlement agreement before proceeding. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for lawsuits to be settled before trial, mainly when the money at stake is not a significant sum. Debt settlement can be accomplished on your own or with the assistance of a debt settlement attorney.
Work out a payment plan with your creditor to pay off the entire debt
You can pay off a portion of the debt in a lump-sum settlement. That is, you and your creditor have agreed that you will pay less than the total amount you owe as long as you repay a significant portion of the debt as quickly as possible.
Some quick notes on the settlement agreement.
In the event of settled debt, the credit bureaus will report it as “debt settled for less than the full amount owed.” This adverse reporting will almost certainly lower your credit score, making future borrowing more expensive. You’ll get higher interest rates and annual fees on credit cards.
In addition, the IRS considers debt forgiveness to be taxable income. In some cases, increasing your income to cover the amount of the forgiven debt may result in tax debts that you will be required to pay to the Internal Revenue Service later on.
4. File a bankruptcy petition.
Bankruptcy is the only way out of their debt problems for some people. Filing for bankruptcy will end any pending collection lawsuits and prevent the filing of future cases for debts that they owe before declaring bankruptcy.
Chapter 7 bankruptcy: If you file, all of your debts will be forgiven, and the debt collector will be unable to collect any money from you in the future.
Chapter 13 bankruptcy: Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to negotiate a significantly lower amount to pay the debt collector. Once you have paid the agreed-upon amount, you will no longer be pursued or sued by a collection agency.
Filing for bankruptcy is a significant financial decision that can have long-term consequences. Consult with a counselor, financial advisor, or other qualified professional before pursuing this course of action.
If you have unsecured debts of less than $10,000 or for obligations representing the bulk of your annual income, you are likely to be better off pursuing one of the other options.
5. Dispute the lawsuit.
It’s your right to challenge the lawsuit. Remember that debt collection lawsuits may also contain inaccurate information (e.g., incorrect balances, incorrect late payment dates, etc.), and they may even be fraudulent in some instances. Creditors, collection agencies, and debt collection attorneys are all capable of making mistakes regarding the finer details.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a component of the Consumer Credit Protection Act, gives you the right to request verification of debt as long as you submit your request in writing. It is recommended that you send a certified letter with the return receipt requested to the party suing you if you intend to exercise this right.
If you want to contest the debt’s liability or the amount owed, you must respond promptly with the appropriate court system.
- If you are sued in small claims court, you must file a response within 14 days of the date you were served with the lawsuit.
- If you are not sued in small claims court, you must file a response within 30 days of the date you are served in Oregon, and in Washington, you must file a response within 24 hours of the date you are served.
How can a debt defense lawyer help you?
Did you know that 95 percent of lawsuits involving debt collection result in a win for the creditor, mainly due to the failure of the accused borrowers to present a defense? Make time and let your competent debt defense attorney be your best ally.
Northwest Debt Defense Law Firm
650 NE Holladay St, Suite 1640
Portland, OR 97232, United States
NW Debt Defense Law Firm is a Debt Relief Agency. Where appropriate we file petitions for relief under the Bankruptcy Code solely for consumers in the District of Oregon. We represent both Oregon and Washington consumers in collections law suits in Oregon and Washington state courts.