No one likes to be sued for debt. It’s a stressful and often confusing process. But don’t worry; this article will help make it a little easier.
The debt collection process in Alabama can be confusing and intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Here’s a quick guide to what you can expect during a debt collection lawsuit in Alabama, from filing to responding to the case.
respond to the summons before the deadline
Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 12(a) states:
“A defendant shall serve an answer within thirty (30) days after the service of the summons and complaint upon that defendant except when service is made by publication and a different time is prescribed under the applicable procedure.”
The legal deadline to respond to a debt collection lawsuit is 30 days before you are served papers. This applies to cases filed with the Alabama Circuit Court.
After you receive the summons and complaint documents, you have 30 days to respond. Otherwise, you may lose by default, which means a court could order a default judgment against you. This would give a debt collector permission to garnish your wages or seize your property.
The time you have to respond to a lawsuit varies depending on the court in which it is filed. In District Court, you have 14 days to respond to a debt lawsuit involving $3,000-$10,000. Small Claims Court has jurisdiction over cases under $3,000, and you also have 14 days to respond. Civil Court handles cases involving $10,000 or more and issues that have been appealed from lower-level courts.
Answers to Summons Forms in Alabama
Debt lawsuits can be stressful and expensive, but you don’t need to hire a lawyer to represent yourself. The first step is to create your Answer document. With a little effort, you can save yourself time and money.
Alabama does not charge for answers
There is some good news- you don’t have to pay a filing fee in Alabama to file your Answer document! You can do this in person or through the mail without any cost.
That being said, some courts in Alabama charge a fee to file certain documents, like counterclaims or motions. The amount varies depending on the court and the document being filed.
Respond to a debt collection lawsuit in Alabama by following these steps
The first sign that says you are being sued for a debt is usually when court documents arrive in the mail. The Summons is an official notification of the lawsuit, and the Complaint lists specific claims being made against the individual. This can be stressful and confusing, but it’s essential to understand what’s happening and take action accordingly.
The person or company being sued for a debt is referred to as the defendant, while the person or company suing them is known as the plaintiff. So, for example, if you are being sued by a debt collector, then you would be the defendant.
You have a limited time to respond to a Summons and Complaint in Alabama, typically 14-30 days. Please do so to avoid a default judgment against you.
Follow these three steps to respond to the Summons and Complaint:
- Respond to each allegation in the complaint.
- Make your affirmative defenses.
- Serve the plaintiff with the Answer and file it with the court.
1. Respond to each allegation in the complaint
Answering a complaint may seem intimidating, but the process is quite simple. The first step is to read the Complaint carefully and decide how to respond to each numbered paragraph. You can respond in one of three ways:
- Admit: this is like saying, “I agree.”
- Disagree: this is like saying, “Prove it.”
- I don’t know: this is like saying, “I don’t know.”
Most attorneys would recommend that allegations be denied in as many cases as possible. This is because the burden of proof at this stage in the case rests on the plaintiff’s shoulders. Without proper evidence and documentation to back up their claims, there is a strong likelihood that the case will be dismissed.
There is a more straightforward approach to admitting guilt or innocence in the state of Alabam. You can accept all charges, deny all costs, or claim that you are unsure.
2. Make your affirmative defenses
Now that you have addressed each claim in the Complaint, you can move on to asserting your affirmative defenses.
“Asserting affirmative defenses” means explaining why you should not lose the lawsuit or why you do not owe the debt. These defenses are typically included in your Answer.
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Here are some common affirmative defenses used in debt collection cases:
- The account with the debt is not your account.
- The contract was already canceled; therefore, you don’t owe the creditor anything.
- After a certain amount of time, legal action can no longer be taken. This is called a statute of limitations. In Alabama, credit card debt has a statute of limitations of three years. So, you can’t be sued for a debt that hasn’t been active for six years or more.
- The debt has been paid or excused.
- The debt has been partially paid.
- You were a co-signer but were not informed of your rights as a co-signer.
There are many defenses to a debt that you may be able to assert. However, simply being unable to pay the debt is not a legal defense.
More specifically, Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 8(c) states:
“Affirmative defenses. In pleading to a preceding pleading, a party shall set forth affirmatively accord and satisfaction, arbitration and award, assumption of risk, contributory negligence, discharge in bankruptcy, duress, estoppel, failure of consideration, fraud, illegality, injury by fellow servant, laches, license, payment, release, res judicata, statute of frauds, statute of limitations, waiver, and any other matter constituting an avoidance or affirmative defense.”
3. Serve the plaintiff with the Answer and file it with the court
You’re almost ready to file your Answer with the court. Just make sure to draft your responses and affirmative defenses first. With those in place, you’ll be good to go.
One of the most difficult aspects of the process is often surprisingly the filing of the Answer by mail or in person, which is required by Alabama courts for defendant debtors who don’t have an attorney. To do this, you’ll need to take the following steps:
- Print two copies of your Answer.
- Mail one copy to the court.
- Mail the other copy to the plaintiff’s attorney.
You can find both addresses in the Summons and Complaint you received in the mail. Look for the attorney’s address on the top left of the first page and the court’s address in the first two paragraphs.
You have 14 days to file an Answer in District Court and Small Claims cases and 30 days for Circuit Court cases. There is no fee for filing an Answer.
Check the Alabama statute of limitations before paying any debts
Debt collectors often file lawsuits against people for expired debts. Before responding to a debt collector, check the statute of limitations on your debt. This will ensure that you are not sued for a debt no longer valid.
In Alabama, you have three years to file a lawsuit for an open account, including credit cards. This means that after three years from your last activity on a budget, debt collectors can no longer sue you for that debt.
Old debts can come back to haunt you, but there are ways to deal with them. The statute of limitations is one way to handle a senior debt you can’t or don’t want to pay off. Making payments on the account will restart the clock, but other options are also available.
More specifically, Alabama Code Title 6. Civil Practice § 6-2-37(1) states:
“The following must be commenced within three years:
(1) Actions to recover money due by open or unliquidated account, the time to be computed from the date of the last item of the account or from the time when, by contract or usage, the account is due.”
And § 6-2-34(4-5) states:
“The following must be commenced within six years: Actions founded on promises in writing not under seal; Actions for the recovery of money upon a loan, upon a stated or liquidated account or for arrears of rent due upon a parol demise.”
Finally, Alabama Code Title 7. Commercial Code § 7-2-725(1) states:
“An action for breach of any contract for sale must be commenced within four years after the cause of action has accrued. By the original agreement, the parties may reduce the period of limitation to not less than one year but may not extend it.”
Take advantage of Alabama’s legal aid organizations
Many legal aid organizations in Alabama can help people who cannot or do not want to hire a lawyer and are representing themselves. Here are some of the prominent ones:
Legal Services Alabama
1820 7th Ave North, Suite 200
Birmingham, AL 35203
Alabama State Bar
PO Box 671
Montgomery, AL 36101
Locations of Alabama courts
You might want to refrain from e-filing your court documents for many reasons. Maybe you’re uncomfortable with sending sensitive information over the internet, or you prefer to do things in person. Either way, you can visit your local courthouse to file your documents. To find the address of your courthouse and the court clerk’s contact information, use the Alabama Courts Directory tool.
When you have a court case, it is essential to know the location of your courthouse. This can help you be prepared for your trial and stay updated on your case status.
What you need to know
Don’t be intimidated by debt collectors. They may be good at their job, but you can still beat them. With the correct information, you can respond appropriately to a debt collection lawsuit in Alabama and come out on top.
There are a few key things to remember when responding to a debt collection suit in Alabama:
- In Alabama, debt collection lawsuits require a response within 14-30 days in the form of an Answer document.
- There is no fee to file an Answer in Alabama.
- The statute of limitations on credit card debt is three years in Alabama.
- There are several legal aid organizations in the state of Alabama that can help you with your case. You can also visit your local courthouse or call the court clerk to ask any basic questions you may have about your case.
If I haven’t been sued yet, what should I do?
A Debt Validation Letter is the best way to respond to a collections notice. This letter notifies the collector that you dispute the debt and forces them to provide proof you owe the debt. They can only call you or continue collecting once they provide validation of the debt.