“Help! I’ve Been Sued For My Credit Card Debt!”
I suspect that, other than the news that a loved one has been hurt or injured, there aren't many things more frightening to most people than being served a Summons & Complaint in a lawsuit.
You are already aware that you haven’t been paying your credit card bill, and it’s likely for a good reason. After all, it’s a pretty rare person who intentionally ignores their bills. Most likely, you or your spouse has lost a job, or your circumstances have changed. Faced with a choice between feeding your kids or paying your credit card, the kids win – and rightfully so. Your family should be your first priority when triaging your bills.
Months pass, you ignore the daily phone calls from your credit card company, then you ignore the calls from the collection agency who buys your account from your credit card issuer. You may even forget about the credit card bill, or at least, push it to the back of your mind.
And then, you answer a knock at your door. A process server hands you papers and walks off.
You’ve been served. Oh, smack.
The papers are almost incomprehensible because of the convoluted language, the disclosures, the fine print - but you understand the gist of the message: someone is suing you, and now you don’t know what to do.
This is the point where panic sets in for most people. You call a couple of local attorneys, and they quote you outrageous rates for defending a lawsuit, so you make one of two choices:
- You ignore the lawsuit, or
- You try to defend it yourself.
Each of these choices is terrible for you, and will cause you more grief down the road.
Ten Reasons Why You MUST Answer, But Why You Should NEVER Defend, Your Own Debt Collection Lawsuit:
1. The Lawsuit Will Not Go Away. You cannot afford to ignore a lawsuit. This is what the debt collectors want you to do. They know that most of the suits they file (and they file them by the thousands, clogging up the courts) will result in a default judgment. Once a debt collector obtains a default judgment, the judgment will earn interest every year (10% in California, where I practice), it will haunt you for years, and you will never know when your wages will be garnished or your bank account will suddenly be emptied by a levy placed by your creditor.
2. You Are An Untrained Warrior, Up Against Professionals. It doesn’t matter how bright you are, or whether you took Business Law 101 in college, or what your Friend Who Practices Divorce Law tells you. Debt collection defense, like any area of law, requires specialized knowledge and skills. Your adversary does nothing, all day long, but sharpen their teeth, twirl their moustache, and intimidate & harass debtors like you. I guarantee you’re probably smarter, more charming and better-looking than me, but I do know more about this narrow area of life than you.
3. Even Though Collection Agencies & Collection Law Firms Are Pros, They Tend To Be Lazy. Debt Collectors operate a volume business, depending on default judgments and people representing themselves. When faced with serious opposition from an attorney who will force them to prove every element of their case, and who will create work for them, it’s not uncommon for the collection agency to simply drop out, and move on to easier prey, much like hyenas will do in the jungle.
4. The Internet is a Big Pack of Lies and Misinformation. If you decide to defend yourself, you will naturally turn to Google to get help. There is some valuable and wildly useful information available on the intertubes to help you, if you take this route. Unfortunately, the gold is mixed in equally with the dross. There is a lot of terrible and even dangerous information available, which could hurt or even destroy your case.
5. You May Have Valid Defenses to the Suit. Often, when I defend collection cases, my adversary (the opposing lawyer) begins to get upset and says, “Look – the only question here is whether your client owes the money or not.”
I have news for you: they’re wrong. Spectacularly, devastatingly wrong. The question is far more than whether you owe the money or used the credit card; the questions are:
- Can this particular plaintiff prove that they have the right to sue you? In other words, do they actually own the debt?
- Can they prove that you owe the money?
- Can they prove that, even if you DO owe the money, that you owe it to them or their client?
- Did they bring their suit in a timely and proper manner?
Most of the time, the answer to one or more of these questions is a resounding “NO.” And if that’s true, you win your case.
6. You May Have Valid Counterclaims Against The Collector Or Their Client. There are a multitude of laws which protect you, the consumer, from harassing behavior, or from bad behavior in general, from your creditors. There are federal laws, as well as laws in every state, which exist for your protection. Your attorney will be aware of these laws, and of how to use them to your advantage.
7. You Are Emotionally Involved. Your Attorney Is Not. There’s a reason even skilled attorneys will hire another attorney to represent them in legal matters: emotions. It’s much easier to make accurate decisions when you have some distance from an issue.
8. Debt Defense And Consumer Rights Attorneys May Be More Affordable Than You Think. Often, you can find someone to represent you for a flat fee in a credit defense case, and that fee will almost always be less than what you will be paying to the creditor once they begin garnishing your wages. You can locate a highly skilled consumer attorney by looking at the listings at the National Association of Consumer Advocates website.
9. Bankruptcy May Be A Better Option For You. Many consumer attorneys are also bankruptcy practitioners, or can refer you to a skilled bankruptcy attorney. Depending on your circumstances, you may find that a bankruptcy filing will be both affordable and the best solution to your issues. Bankruptcy literally provides a ‘fresh start’ to someone who is suffocating under a mountain of debt.
10. Many Attorneys Offer Free Consultations. Take advantage of the free consultation offered by most consumer and bankruptcy attorneys. You’ll learn a lot, and have a chance to make an informed decision about your best course of action.
California Consumer Rights Attorney Eric Ridley helps good people in Ventura & Los Angeles counties who are having bad times, by providing bankruptcy, debt defense, and consumer rights services. You can reach him by email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or at (805) 244-5291.