When facing a debt collection lawsuit, it’s essential to take action and respond to the Summons. Ignoring it may cause more financial challenges than you’re already dealing with. This article provides information on how to respond to a debt collection lawsuit in California, including state deadlines and forms.
California’s deadline for answering a debt collection lawsuit
You have thirty days to respond to a debt collection lawsuit filed against you in California. This includes weekends and court holidays.
You have 40 days to respond to a lawsuit when you receive the Summons and Complaint. The court gives this extra time only in certain situations, such as when the documents were served to someone else in your household or workplace, sent to an old address, or mailed to you. Make sure that the ten days have passed before counting these additional days.
Answer to Summons forms in California
Here are the forms provided by the state.
- The General Denial Form – Use this form if you disagree with the Complaint. This form doesn’t provide support for affirmative defenses.
- Answer Form – Use this legal form if you disagree with a section or agree with the entire Complaint.
respond to a California debt collection case by following these steps
When someone sues you for debt, they tell the court that they believe money is owed to them and want the court to order payment. The first step in this process is serving the person being sued with the Summons and Complaint. The Summons tells the person being sued when their first court appearance will be, while the Complaint outlines specific claims that the plaintiff is making against them.
It is essential to respond to a Summons and Complaint within 30 days. The best way to do this is with an Answer. Here are three steps for responding to a Summons and Complaint:
- Respond to each issue in the complaint
- Make affirmative defenses
- Serve the plaintiff with the Answer
1. Respond to each issue in the complaint
It can be daunting to answer a complaint, but the process is straightforward enough so long as you adhere to these guidelines. Start by reading the Complaint and deciding how you want to respond to each numbered paragraph. You can respond in one of three ways:
- Admit—like saying, “This is true.”
- Deny—like saying, “Prove it.”
- Deny due to lack of knowledge—like saying, “I don’t know.”
Most attorneys recommend that you deny as many of the allegations as possible. This forces the plaintiff (or debt collector) to do more work to prove their claims. You may refute a claim if the debt is not yours, you cleared the debt, or the debt has expired.
To respond to a civil complaint in California, you must either admit, deny, or claim a lack of sufficient information. The process for responding remains the same regardless of which option you choose.
2. Make affirmative defenses
This means giving legal reasons why you shouldn’t lose the lawsuit or why you don’t owe the debt. You should include a section in your Answer document for these relevant defenses.
Here are some of the most common affirmative defenses in debt collection cases:
- The debit account is not yours.
- The debt was canceled, so you don’t owe the creditor.
- Debt collectors and creditors only have a limited time to sue someone for a debt. This period is set by law and is known as a statute of limitations. In California, this statute expires after six years. This means you can only be sued for a debt that has had activity for six years or more.
- The debt was paid or excused.
- The debt was partially paid.
- You were a co-signer but were not informed of your obligation.
These are several affirmative defenses that can be used in court. However, simply being unable to pay the debt is not a legal defense and may do more harm than good to your case.
3. Serve the plaintiff with the Answer
Answering a summons for debt collection can be difficult, especially in California, where defendants are required to file their Answer by mail or in person without the help of an attorney. Here’s what you need to do:
- Print two copies of your Answer
- Mail one copy to the court
- Pay the filing fee to the court.
- Mail the other copy to the plaintiff’s attorney.
You can find both addresses in your Summons and Complaint. Look for the attorney’s address on the top left of page one. Court’s address will be in the first two paragraphs.
Filing fee for California Answers
The filing fee for filing papers with the courts in Californian is mandatory. The prices are, unfortunately, high, and they range from $225 to $435. This makes it the state with the highest filing fees in the nation.
You must respond to the plaintiff’s Complaint within thirty days. You can send a copy of your response to the creditor or their lawyer. Be sure to have the person who delivers your response fill out a proof of service form, and send a copy of this form to the court once delivery is confirmed. Some courts in California will not accept Answers without proof of service.
Fill out a fee waiver form if you cannot afford the filing fee
Some people may not be able to pay the filing fee for a court case because they have a low income. To help with this, the courts allow people to apply for a waiver. You can qualify for a waiver if:
- You receive public benefits such as food stamps (CalFresh), general assistance, cal-works, and Medi-Cal.
- Your overall income before taxes is less than the amount listed in the waiver form FW-001 section 5b.
- The court concludes that you don’t have the money to pay for your basic needs or the court fees.
If you fall in the above category, make an official request by filling in Form FW-001. The steps to follow as you fill out the form are as follows:
- Read the entire document and ensure you understand the requirements.
- Fill out the form as you read each section carefully.
- You must complete and print out two copies of the form. You must agree to the terms by signing your name in the section labeled penalty of perjury. The information you input on the form must be accurate and able to be verified.
- Submit the request to the court clerk, and they will tell you when you will get a response.
You can avoid paying court fees by requesting a waiver from the court. This will allow your case to proceed, and you can then decide whether you want to try to negotiate with the creditor outside of court or take your chances in front of a judge. Remember that even though the court fees may be waived, you may still be responsible for them after winning your case and receiving compensation.
See If You Qualify for Credit Card Relief
See how much you can save every month — plus get an estimate of time savings and total savings — with your very own personalized plan.