Court Actions to Collect Debts

Your creditor or a debt collector (if your creditor has hired one) may file a lawsuit against you. Whichever one files the suit must be the one to serve you with a summons. The summons may say on the top that it is a “consumer credit transaction.” The creditor or debt collector will be called the “plaintiff” and you will be the “defendant” or the “debtor.” 

If a creditor or debt collector sues you in court, do not ignore the court summons. Consult an attorney or seek out free legal resources. If you ignore the summons, the creditor can obtain a court decision, known as a default judgment, ordering you to pay the money owed. The creditor, or the debt collector, if there is one, may also be able to get an award of fees and interest charges in addition to the debt itself. 

It is important to answer the complaint within the required time frame. If the summons was personally handed to you, you must respond within 20 days if the summons was served upon you in the State of New York. If the summons was not personally handed to you, you have 30 days to respond. The way you respond to the summons is by submitting an “answer” to the court. The answer is where you explain to the court whether you agree or disagree with the plaintiff’s claims, and where you state any defenses to those claims. You may also file a counterclaim for any claim you believe you have against the person suing you (even if it’s not related to the claim filed against you). This is called a “counterclaim,” and it can be included in your answer. 

Legal Editor: Marshal Coleman, Esq., July 2015 (updated March 2018) 

Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service with the help and assistance of volunteer legal editors, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or to substitute for the advice of a lawyer.

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