It can be confusing and overwhelming to receive a summons for debt collection in Arizona. You may wonder whether you should answer the summons or ignore them altogether. However, once a debt reaches the point where a creditor is filing papers with the courts, it is essential to respond formally. Otherwise, you risk having a default judgment entered against you, which can have serious financial consequences like wage garnishment and seizure of property.
Debt lawsuits can be stressful and confusing. It’s essential to know your rights and understand the debt collection process in Arizona. This guide will give you the information you need to protect yourself and give you the best chance possible in court.
Complaints And Summons
You will generally receive two documents from a creditor suing you for debt: a Summons and a Complaint. These may be delivered to you by a process server or sheriff, or they may come via certified mail. This is called “service of process” or “being served.” Without proper service, the person or business suing you has no valid lawsuit.
Dodging the process server won’t do you any good – they’re often given leeway when serving papers. For example, the court may accept notice of publication instead of personal service after the server has made several unsuccessful attempts to reach you.
The summons explains you’re being sued in civil claims court. On the other hand, The Complaint outlines what the other party says you’ve done and what they want in return. It does not necessarily mean you have done these things, only that they’re alleging you have.
What Is An Answer?
The person suing you, or the plaintiff, must give you written information about the lawsuit. This is called an answer. The answer is a summary of whether or not you agree with the plaintiff on each allegation listed in the Complaint. It is not a detailed narrative of events or an explanation of financial hardship. You, the defendant, are expected to provide a written response. This is referred to as an Answer. The answer should be a summary of whether or not you agree with the allegations made by the plaintiff.
Answering To Complaints And Summons
In many cases, people choose to ignore a summons or Complaint from Arizona. However, by doing so, they risk judgment being made against them without having the opportunity to speak in their defense. Often, the plaintiff will get everything they ask for when the defendant doesn’t respond. Debt collection agencies often rely on people taking no action, as it allows them to collect with minimal effort. The allegations don’t even need to be true for this to happen.
While hiring a lawyer to respond to a debt collection summons is not required, many people choose to do so. An attorney can help navigate a more complicated case in which the creditor behaved unethically. However, it is also possible to complete the answer on your own.
In many cases, when a plaintiff includes “John Doe” or “Jane Doe” as a defendant on court paperwork, they believe that this individual is married and they are suing them as their spouse. In these situations, it is often necessary for both parties to sign the paperwork.
Arizona circuit courts have a different deadline
Time is of the essence when you receive a debt collection summons. Depending on how you were served, you usually have 20 days from the service date to respond. However, it’s important to note that this 20-day period starts when you receive the documents – not from the date stamped on the papers or when they were filed with the court. So make sure to mark down the date you received the summons and take action accordingly.
An Arizona Summons gives you 20 days to respond, regardless of whether you were served in-state or out-of-state. However, 50 days is the deadline when the creditor published notice of your summons instead of serving you directly. You have a 60-day window to respond in this case.
The Statute Of Limitations On Debt
Debt collectors in Arizona have a limited time to pursue debts. Under state law, most debts can only be collected for six years after they are incurred. This rule applies to contracts in writing, such as credit cards, according to A.R.S. $ 12-548. The statute of limitations is reduced to three years for oral agreements, as stated in A.R.S. $ 12-543.
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Where To Get Forms To Answer A Summon?
Forms for responding to a summons in Arizona are available on county court websites and through the official website of the Arizona Judicial Branch.
- Answer (for lawsuits under $10k)
- Answer (for lawsuits over $10k)
- E-filing (civil)
- E-filing (small claims)
You Must Follow These Steps To Fight A Debt Collection Lawsuit
Answering or responding to a debt collection case in Arizona generally involves four steps. These include:
1. Answer each issue of the Complaint
You should respond to each allegation/paragraph in the Complaint. There are three ways to respond:
- Admit the allegation
- Deny the allegation
- State that you do not have enough information to know whether the allegation is true or false
The plaintiff has the burden of proof in the beginning stages of a lawsuit. This means that, even though you may deny the allegations, the plaintiff still needs to provide evidence to support their case. This can be time-consuming and difficult for the plaintiff, so attorneys usually advise against admitting to anything that you’re not absolutely sure about.
It’s important to be careful when responding to a lawsuit. Admitting certain things could be used against you, so it’s best to deny everything. Some attorneys even advise defendants to deny every allegation in the answer. This way, you can’t be caught off guard and forced to admit something you didn’t want to.
2. Make Affirmative Defenses
No matter what state you reside in when you are sued, you have a right to assert various defenses. In Arizona, there is a standardized form that contains approximately 20 potential affirmative defenses. These can be found in the section “Defenses and Denials” and allow you to write your own answer. Some affirmative defenses are more commonly used than others. A few of these include:
- Statute of Limitations: It’s been more than six years since you broke your written agreement or three years since you broke a verbal agreement to pay the debt.
- Insufficient Service of Process: You weren’t given the Summons and/or Complaint, or some part of the process was not handled properly.
- Estoppel: The plaintiff led you to believe they would not enforce the contract.
- Payment: You’ve paid some or all the debt.
- Statute of Frauds (S.O.F.): In order for an agreement to be legally enforceable, it must be in writing. This is only applicable in certain cases, such as when selling goods that exceed a certain value or when an agreement cannot be carried out within a year.
When you are facing a lawsuit, it is important to consider all of your options and choose the defense strategies that will be most effective. In many cases, you can only raise certain defenses by including them in your written answer to the Complaint. Failure to mention an affirmative defense at first could mean that the court will not allow you to use it later.
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So, it is crucial to think about every possible avenue before submitting your answer and check every box that applies. Additionally, this is not the time to tell your side of events – since the plaintiff has the burden of proof – so keep Answers as brief as possible.
3. Serve The Plaintiff With The Answer And File It With The Court
When your paperwork is completed and signed, you will need to file the original copy with the court. You can do this by mail, but make sure to allow enough time for processing.
The plaintiff must also receive a copy of the answer, either directly or through their lawyer. This is referred to as “service,” but there is no need to hire a process server; regular mail will suffice. The address to use can be found in the paperwork received from the court.
You must submit your answer to both the court and the plaintiff’s attorney, along with Proof of Service. This document declares that you have given copies of your answer to both parties and includes their mailing addresses.
Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)
Debt collection can be a stressful and overwhelming process, especially when companies act unethically or harass consumers. That’s why it’s important to know your rights under federal law. Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), creditors are prohibited from engaging in certain practices when collecting a debt. The FDCPA outlines several things creditors cannot do and others that they must do when attempting to collect a debt. A few examples are listed below.
A creditor cannot:
- Call me before 8 am or 9 pm
- Make threats of any kind (including threats of a wage garnishment, property seizure, or arrest)
- Contact you if you’ve said debt is not yours
- Make false statements
A creditor must:
- Send you a written Validation Notice within five days of their first contact with you.
- Include in the Validation Notice who you owe money to, the total amount owed, and what to do if you think the debt isn’t yours.
- Communicate only with the lawyer if you’ve found an attorney to represent you
FDCPA §805 and 806 places some restrictions on how debt collectors may contact you:
Without the prior consent of the consumer given directly to the debt collector or the express permission of a court of competent jurisdiction, a debt collector may not communicate with a consumer in connection with the collection of any debt —
(1) at any unusual time or place or a time or place known or which should be known to be inconvenient to the consumer. In the absence of knowledge of circumstances to the contrary, a debt collector shall assume that the convenient time for communicating with a consumer is after 8 o’clock antemeridian and before 9 o’clock postmeridian, local time at the consumer’s location;
(2) if the debt collector knows the consumer is represented by an attorney with respect to such debt and has knowledge of, or can readily ascertain, such attorney’s name and address, unless the attorney fails to respond within a reasonable period of time to a communication from the debt collector or unless the attorney consents to direct communication with the consumer; or
(3) at the consumer’s place of employment if the debt collector knows or has reason to know that the consumer’s employer prohibits the consumer from receiving such communication.
A debt collector may not engage in any conduct, the natural consequence of which is to harass, oppress, or abuse any person in connection with the collection of a debt. Without limiting the general application of the foregoing, the following conduct is a violation of this section:
(1) The use or threatened use of violence or other criminal means to harm the physical person, reputation, or property of any person.
(2) The use of obscene or profane language or language, the natural consequence of which is to abuse the hearer or reader.
(3) The publication of a list of consumers who allegedly refuse to pay debts, except to a consumer reporting agency or to persons meeting the requirements of section 1681a(f) or 1681b(3)1 of this title.
(4) The advertisement for the sale of any debt to coerce payment of the debt.
(5) Causing a telephone to ring or engaging any person in telephone conversation repeatedly or continuously with intent to annoy, abuse, or harass any person at the called number.
(6) Except as provided in section 1692b of this title, the placement of telephone calls without meaningful disclosure of the caller’s identity.
Even though a creditor may have violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, it is still necessary to respond to any complaints that are received. However, there are options available for those who have been subjected to unethical or harassing behavior from a debt collector. The Arizona Attorney General’s website provides a consumer reporting portal where such violations can be reported. This could lead to criminal charges being filed against the creditor in question. In addition, separate cases may entitle the victim to statutory and actual damages, which can cover everything from emotional distress to lost wages.
In order to collect debts in the state of Arizona, agencies must register and become licensed. In addition to following the regulations set by the FDCPA, debt collection agencies in AZ must also adhere to additional state guidelines.
Arizona 32-1055 describes the following unlawful acts:
A. It is unlawful for a person to conduct a collection agency in this state without having first applied for and obtained a license under this chapter.
B. A collection agency licensed under this chapter shall not directly or indirectly aid, abet, or receive compensation from an unlicensed person. Nothing in this chapter shall prevent a licensed agency from accepting, as forwarded, claims for collection from a collection agency or attorney whose place of business is outside this state.
C. A licensee shall not advertise a claim for sale or threaten to so advertise a claim as a means of endeavoring to enforce payment, nor shall a licensee agree to do so for the purpose of soliciting claims. This subsection shall not be deemed to affect a licensee acting as an assignee for the benefit of a creditor or acting under a court order.
D. It is unlawful for a person conducting a collection agency in this state to:
1. Fail to render an account of and pay to the client for whom collection has been made the proceeds collected, fewer collection charges as agreed to by the person and the client, within thirty days from the last day of the month in which the proceeds were collected. If the amount due to the client is less than five dollars, payment may be deferred for an additional thirty days.
2. Fail to deposit with a local depository all monies collected by the person and due to the person’s clients and to fail to keep these monies deposited until these monies, or equivalent amounts, are remitted to the person’s clients. Notwithstanding this paragraph, if a person conducting a collection agency does not maintain an office in this state, the person may deposit and keep these monies in a depository in a state where the person maintains the person’s principal office.
3. Fail to keep a record of monies collected and the remittance of these monies.
4. Fail to notify the department within ten days of any change of name under which the person does business as a collection agency or address at which the person conducts business.
5. Aid or abet, directly or indirectly, any person, persons, or organizations in evading or violating any of the provisions of this chapter.
You Can Get Legal Assistance From A Arizona Legal Aid Organization
Several organizations in Arizona offer free or low-cost legal assistance to those who can show financial need. The list below contains some of these organizations. Contacting one of them may be a good option for you, depending on your specific legal issue and circumstances.
Community Legal Services, Inc.
305 South 2nd Avenue, P.O. Box 21538, Phoenix, AZ 85036-1538
Counties Served: La Paz, Maricopa, Mojave, Yavapai, Yuma
DNA-Peoples Legal Services, Inc.
Route 12, Highway 264, P.O. Box 306, Window Rock, AZ 86515
Counties Served: Coconino and reservation areas in Apache and Navajo
Southern Arizona Legal Aid, Inc.
2343 E Broadway Blvd #200, Tucson AZ
Counties Served: Pima, Santa Cruz, Pinal, Navajo, Apache, Gila, Cochise, Graham, Greenlee
Although many people believe that personal finance courses are only for those who want to get their finances back on track after a debt lawsuit, there are actually alternatives for people facing issues like zombie debt as well. These courses can be found online and provide excellent tips and advice for anyone struggling with their finances.
To begin your response to the Summons and Complaint you have received, please fill out the Arizona Answer form provided. Make sure to do the following:
- Answer each issue/ paragraph on your Complaint
- Assert your affirmative defenses
- File your answer with the court and send a copy to the plaintiff