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When a stranger hands you legal papers – READ THEM and do not avoid them. To avoid being served legal papers only delays the inevitable and can cause more harm than good. Even if you have not been properly served, you can still appear in court and argument this point. However, keep in mind that just about every court will allow the person who filed the law suit, a chance to correct this technical error.
A collections law suit for credit card debt includes a Summons and Complaint and it is important to read these documents thoroughly. You'll only have a limited time in which to respond, generally 30 days, to the law suit, so it's important to take action quickly. If you choose to do nothing, the creditor will obtain a default sentence against you and gain the ability to levy your bank account, garnish wages and lien property you may own with that judgment.
If you decide to fight the law suit, here are some VALID defenses:
- Service in not proper (check your court rules on proper service of a law suit)
- The Statute of Limitations has run (This varies by state; California has a 4-year statute of limitations on written contracts)
- You do not owe the debt or this is a case of mistaken identity
If you owe the money, here are some steps you can take immediately upon receiving a summons:
1. Call the law firm representing the creditor and negotiate a settlement that may include a payment plan;
2. If you can not afford the repay this debt and you have other debts, consider that filing bankruptcy could save you time and money in the long run and completely eliminate this debt and stop the law suit.
If you DO NOT OWE the money, or you think the law suit is part of a scam to defraud you, I recommend hiring an attorney immediately. In such extreme cases, a consumer protection lawyer may take these cases on a contingency fee basis, which is to not charge you up front for fees where you may have other causes of action for a counter law suit for violations of the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, Fair Credit Reporting Act, or if you previously filed bankrupt and discharged this debt, then your case can be reopened to sue the creditor for trying to collect on a debt when they are no longer allowed due to your bankruptcy discharge order.