General Question

DigitalBlue's avatar

Being sued by a debt collector?

Asked by DigitalBlue (6656 points ) August 20th, 2012

I received a notice today that I had certified mail from the local court. I missed the mailman, so I called the court and they said that I’m being sued by a collector, which I assume is from a credit card that I had when I was younger. So… now what?
I don’t work, so they can’t garnish my wages, and the only property in my name is my car.
Should I sign for and pick up the summons tomorrow?
Do I need an attorney, or do I just need to show up in court?
Can I do this through the mail?
What is the best/worst case scenario?

Anything else that I need to know?

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30 Answers

tedd's avatar

Honestly to try and give an answer I need more info.

Specifically about the debt. Many companies will try and basically intimidate you into paying them the debt, even if you are not legally/morally obligated to do so. I find it hard to believe that you heard nothing at all from the debtor until a court notice. They have to send you notices and such before taking you to court, and if they haven’t done that/don’t have your address… they can’t file the lawsuit in court because no one would know where to get ahold of you.

Are you 100% sure it is in fact a court and not just the company trying to pull one over on you?

Without knowing how much the debt is, what it’s for, why it wasn’t paid, the back ground story on why the debtor thinks you owe the money, etc…. this is too difficult to answer.

DigitalBlue's avatar

@tedd the only information the court had was the name of the company that is suing me. I mean, debt collectors call me, but like most people that can’t pay on their debt… I don’t answer the phone.
I am not 100% sure of anything, no.
I do owe credit card debt, but I don’t know how much, anymore. Last I checked it was like… $4–5K.
I owe them money because I had credit cards that I didn’t pay off. I really do owe someone money. I just don’t have any money to give them, and you know, can’t squeeze blood out of a rock.. and so on and so forth.

Just for the record, I’m not suggesting that I think I was smart about any of this… I just got to a point where I couldn’t manage it, and just had to stop caring about it before it destroyed me. Not saying that’s right, but, I’m not surprised that I’d get in trouble for just basically ignoring the whole situation.

tedd's avatar

@DigitalBlue Hey everyone is human.

Anyways. This would be a small claims matter I’m pretty sure, so I doubt you could get anything more than civil punishments (money). They would garnish wages but if you don’t have any they obviously can’t. They could put a lien on items you own, but it will take them some pretty significant time and effort to do so… but if you aren’t trying to pay them they will almost certainly try.

My honest advice would be to call the company in question, and tell them of your situation. Now be careful when you do this, because they will take everything you say and keep it on record for any future court dates… it would be worth writing out exactly what you want to say ahead of time, and possible answers to questions you expect.. and even rehearsing it before calling… and if it all possible record the conversation (I know my cell phone has a recording option so I will record calls with it on speaker phone).

You may be able to work out a deal with the company. Many times a credit card company will take a significantly smaller pay off, or reduce the overall debt and payment… at a loss to themselves, simply to save a bigger loss of having to take you to court.

I would also look into debt counseling/help/aid companies in your area. There are usually many that are non-profit that are set up specifically to help people who’ve fallen on hard times and can’t pay their monthly bills/debts in this regard. They may be of some significant help here.

DigitalBlue's avatar

@tedd thanks, that’s helpful… but what exactly should I be calling to say? I have never even heard of this agency, before, I don’t know what I owe them.

tedd's avatar

@DigitalBlue I would guess that one of your former credit cards sold your debt to a collection agency on the belief that they were not going to get anywhere with you. It may even be that this agency has no grounds to recoup the money from you pending the laws in the state you’re in… so I’d read up on it. Basically when you first call the company just try and hear their claim and get all the info they have against you, and let them know that you are looking into the matter and will call them back about it within a few days. Get the info, look at it, then figure out where you need to go from there. Try and get things in writing from them, that is very important.

DigitalBlue's avatar

This sounds fun.~

marinelife's avatar

@DigitalBlue Another option would be for you to declare bankruptcy which would wipe out those old credit card debts.

tedd's avatar

@marinelife Yah from the sounds of it that is probably going to end up being the best option.

Shippy's avatar

Not sure if all laws are the same. But if you are unemployed you can obtain an Affidavit stating that fact. You would need to also state that you earn no income from investments nor shares. They would still send out letters and so on. But legally cannot do anything.

There is a time where a debt falls away unless you regain contact with them (by collecting the summons). Which then renews the time period again.

Shippy's avatar

(However some bank debts are for much longer periods).

DigitalBlue's avatar

Do I need to file for bankruptcy before I respond to this?
How would bankruptcy help? (I don’t know anything about it.)
I keep reading that if I can not afford to repay my debt, that I should challenge this company to prove that I owe them the money. Is that true? Is that best?
I don’t work because I have a debilitating anxiety disorder… I’m not entirely sure that I see myself standing up in court talking about something that I don’t understand to begin with.

Should I just let them sue me? Seriously?

Tropical_Willie's avatar

The certified letter is them suing you, what you can do is:

1) Go to court.
2) Ask for proof before you go and challenge them.
3) YOU can’t ignore it.

Do you have a Doctor’s statement about the anxiety disorder? IRS returns for the last couple of years would help in court also.

DigitalBlue's avatar

@Tropical_Willie I don’t intend to ignore it, but thank you. I definitely intend to do something, I just don’t know what to do. :) I do know better than to just let it slide past me.

I don’t have a doctor’s statement, and I’m not currently seeing a doctor… but would that be helpful in some way to attempt to obtain? Could I even do that on such short notice? My taxes are filed jointly with my husband, does that affect anything? Can they go after him for the money?

Blech, I feel sick. I hate going to court, as I’m sure everyone does, but I don’t even go grocery shopping. The idea of going to court and defending myself without an attorney is enough to make my head spin.

Yetanotheruser's avatar

Talk to the creditor (collector) and determine the original debt. This happened to me one time, and the collection agency had purchased debt from the original creditor. My debt was included in the sale even though I had paid it off in full. If the debt is relatively small, the agency may figure that any more research on their part will cost them more than they would get by taking it to court. Talk to them; they may negotiate.

Shippy's avatar

I’m no lawyer but I don’t think you need to file for bankruptcy. Plus you have to be in a certain amount of debt to validate the bankruptcy status.

Some marriage contracts can sue the partner like COP.

I would definitely get a back up letter from your doctor.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Here’s the Federal website for debt collectors. The collection agency may ( don’t know which state you are in or when you used the credit card ) impact your husband. For that you’ll have to ask a lawyer.

Shippy's avatar

It can feel like the end of the world. But this too will pass.

DigitalBlue's avatar

Okay, I tried to ask this above, but I’m sure that I wasn’t clear because I am a little jumbled right now.

If I show up to the court date and don’t disagree with them, what is the worst/best case outcome?

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Double check with a lawyer – - The worst they, the court, could do is make your husband pay for you debt or put a lien on any property you / your husband own. ( Home, cars . . . etc ).
There is no “best” if you don’t disagree.

KNOWITALL's avatar

I have answered and responded. Here we are able to make payment arrangements as low as $50 to $100 per month to pay off the debt. I’ve gone from $6400 to $1500 in a few years on a hospital bill and it feels incredibly good to say I’ve done that. Remember, if everyone paid their bills medical costs wouldn’t be so high.

DigitalBlue's avatar

I called and made payment arrangements with them, just now. I really can’t afford the payments, but I can’t make heads or tails (even with the replies here) about what good actually comes from going to court.
They are either going to force me to pay them, or I am going to willingly pay them, or I am going to have to lie and pretend that I don’t owe them money… but I do.

KNOWITALL's avatar

I think that is absolutely the best thing you could have done. Good job, I’m proud of you, you just did what hundreds of thousands of Americans won’t do, you paid something you owed!

sha05's avatar

FDCPA Section 808: Unfair Practices

“A debt collector may not use unfair or unconscionable means to collect or attempt to collect any debt.”

There is a long list of violations that would fall under this category. The one mentioned specifically in the FTC report is “Threatening dire consequences if the consumer fails to pay.” The most common scenario in which this occurs is when a collector threatens to sue or take some other action that they cannot legally take (or otherwise don’t intend to take).

If a debt collector threatens a lawsuit over a $30 phone bill collection account, it’s a pretty safe bet that they are bluffing, and are in violation of the FDCPA.

_Whitetigress's avatar

You have no money? If you are in the ruts. If you are in a deep cave. If you have zero income. Try and file a chapter 13. You can only rise after that.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Is you’re name on the deed to the house?

Coloma's avatar

I have not had this issue for about 25 years now, thank god. haha
You can often get the CC co. to only have you pay the principal not the interest too.
Many of these companies have legal aide on staff and that is all they do, send threatening letters on the co. attorneys letterhead to get your anxiety going.

Good job with making contact, people can get into trouble but it is how you get out of it that counts.
When I was in my 20’s I was playing the “beat the bank” game and often writing checks for groceries a few days in advance of my deposits. I had several checks bounce and the fees that accrued were insane. Next thing I know I owe like $800 for about $150 worth of groceries. and arttorneys arte threatening me.OMG! It took me about a year to clear that little mess up, but yes, forget the letter, and go straight to the co. to make reasonable arrangements.

Bellatrix's avatar

I also was going to mention Legal Aid. I don’t know about where you are @DigitalBlue but here, and especially if you have no income, you can access free legal advice. Can you check into whether there are services like this available to you? Furthermore, we can see a solicitor for half an hour at no cost. Check with the law society to see if there are any similar schemes.

I hope it works out for you and quickly so this isn’t a bit stress hanging over you.

njnyjobs's avatar

How long ago is this debt?...coz you mention!ed tnat this may be from you were younger…
Check your state’s Statute of Limitations for suing for this matter. This may just very well be one of the many intimading tactics that debt collectors resort to.

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