Phone calls from debt collectors are never fun. No one wants to deal with them, or even worse, get sued for a debt. But you’re not alone in this. Many people dread getting calls from money collectors.
Having money troubles is stressful enough, but finding out you’re being sued can feel like too much to take. Hiring a lawyer to help you may not be realistic because that would mean you could have just paid off the debt in question in the first place! However, you don’t have to face this alone or feel overwhelmed. This article will show you how to respond to a debt lawsuit in Massachusetts, as well as how to answer a summons for debt collection.
Answering a debt collection summons in Massachusetts
The summons is the first step in initiating court action. In the context of debt collection, this means that the creditor is asking the court to order you to pay the debt. This can be any number of different types of debt, including credit cards or personal loans. The court will rule in favor of the creditor and you will be required to pay the entire debt. The creditor can then legally garnish your wages or tax refund in order to get paid on their terms, not yours.
It’s important to understand the deadline for responding to a debt collection Summons in Massachusetts. Failing to file an Answer before the deadline could result in the creditor asking the court to issue a default judgment against you. This would mean that they win simply because you didn’t respond, and they could then garnish your wages with a court order.
In Massachusetts, you have 20 days to file an Answer with the court after you have been served the Summons and Complaint. This is important to keep track of so that you do not miss your chance to defend yourself against the allegations. There are a few important items to keep in mind:
- The deadlines are very strict
- The clock on your 20 days starts as soon as you are served (i.e. receive the lawsuit)
- Response time can include times that the Court is not open, such as weekends and holidays. If the 20th day falls on one of those days, the deadline would be the next business day that the Court is open.
It is critical to be aware of deadlines and ensure that you file your Answer within that timeframe. The creditor is banking on the fact that you will not respond. They are aware that it is unlikely you can afford an attorney, and they also know that being served with a lawsuit can be daunting and frightening.
Creditors usually win their debt collection lawsuits against people who are behind simply because of intimidation. People who don’t respond to the lawsuit (for the above reasons and more) lose by default. The creditor just gets a default judgment and can collect the money owed. It’s very rare for a Court to set aside a default judgment and give the person an opportunity to respond.
A default judgment means that the creditor can collect from you without having to go through a court trial. The judgment will be for the full amount that was requested in the summons, and you will not have a chance to dispute the debt or amount owed. The creditor is most likely going to garnish your wages, which means they will take money out of your paycheck before you even see it. This can obviously lead to a worse financial situation, so you should avoid a default judgment at all costs by filing an answer within the required time period.
Let’s take back some power and foil the creditor’s plans. By filing an answer, you are making it harder for the creditor. They don’t want to go to court and pay for an attorney. That takes time, effort, and money on their part, none of which they want to pay.
Summons Answer Forms In Massachusetts
The Massachusetts court system provides a way for defendants to respond to a debt collection summons, through the Answer form. An Answer is required in either District Court or Superior Court, but not in Small Claims Court (for matters less than $7,000). While you are not required to file an answer in Small Claims Court, it is still a good idea since it gives you an opportunity to tell your side of the story to the court. You can fill out the Answer form online as a word or pdf document.
How To Respond To A Debt Collection Case In Massachusetts
When you are served with a Summons and Complaint by a creditor or plaintiff in a legal case, this starts a lawsuit against you. Under Massachusetts law, you have 20 days to respond to these documents. You can respond by filing an Answer document or Motion, but usually, just an Answer is sufficient.
Remember, you only have 20 days to respond to a Complaint before you lose automatically. So it’s very important to respond to the Complaint as soon as possible. To do so, you will need to complete three steps:
- Prepare an answer document.
- Respond to each complaint issue.
- Properly file and serve your Answer with the court and on the plaintiff.
1. Prepare an answer document
The first step to responding to the debt collection lawsuit in Massachusetts is to create your answer document.
The party who initiates a debt collection lawsuit is called the plaintiff. In this case, the plaintiff may be your creditor or a debt collection company working on their behalf. As the defendant in the lawsuit, it is your responsibility to respond to the Summons and Complaint with the required information. This includes all logistical information, such as the names of the parties involved. The heading of the document will provide Court and case information, including the case number and amount of money being sued for.
No matter how hard it is to determine which Court has jurisdiction, plaintiffs still need to do their research. Be sure that when drafting your Answer, you use information from the Complaint that will place it in the proper format.
2. Respond to each complaint issue
Answering a complaint doesn’t have to be complicated. For each issue the complaint raises, there will be a separate, numbered paragraph. You can agree, disagree, or say that you don’t know in response to each one. Be sure to list your response next to the corresponding paragraph number.
Different attorneys have different opinions on whether or not to use general denials in debt collection lawsuits. Some feel that it is best to deny all claims outright, regardless of their validity, in order to force the burden of proof onto the plaintiff. Others believe that it is more effective to choose which claims to agree or disagree with based on the individual situation.
In any case, it is important to be mindful of what information you are admitting to and what you are denying. For instance, you may want to admit to your identity and the fact that you do owe the debt, but deny other claims such as the amount owed or interest accrued.
3. Make affirmative defenses and counterclaims
Your opportunity to fight back against a party suing you is known as your “affirmative defense.” In this case, you would need to show a reason why the suing party does not have a strong enough case to win.
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There are many possible defenses to a criminal charge. Some of the more common ones include:
- You do not owe this debt. There is a possibility that the debt does not belong to you, but to someone else with the same name. It is also possible that you are a victim of identity theft.
- You previously paid off the debt. It’s possible that the person suing you for the debt (known as the plaintiff) may not have verified that the debt was still owed before purchasing it from your original creditor. This could happen, for example, if you had already paid off the debt in full, or made an agreement to pay less than the total amount owing.
- You disagree with the amount stated as the debt. You might owe the debt, but with all the late fees and penalties, the amount you actually owe is excessive. It’s out of proportion to your original debt, and you deserve to have a say in how much you actually owe.
- The debt has been discharged in bankruptcy. Many companies that buy debts for pennies on the dollar don’t bother to check whether any bankruptcies have been filed that would discharge the debt. But if your debt was included in a bankruptcy that was successfully discharged, you no longer have to pay it.
- You have not received enough information to show that the plaintiff holds the debt. It’s not uncommon for creditors to sell their debts to third-party collection agencies. The burden will be on the plaintiff to show that they properly own the debt, though, so don’t hesitate to ask questions.
- The statute of limitations has expired. The statute of limitations is an important law that sets the time frame within which legal action can be taken. In the state of Massachusetts, the statute of limitations for debt collection is six years. This means that you cannot be sued for debts based on contracts that are more than six years old.
There are many affirmative defenses to debt. Some common examples include proving that you paid off the debt, that someone else is responsible for it, or that it was incurred under duress. You can attach documentation as evidence to support your claim. Note that inability to pay is not usually a legal defense against debt.
4. File the answer with the court and serve the plaintiff
The next and final step in this process is to file an answer with the court and serve notice to the plaintiff.
The most important thing in winning a lawsuit is not having the best defense or the greatest Answer to the lawsuit, but making sure that both are filed and served within the proper timeline. By following a few simple steps, anyone can ensure that their case is handled correctly.
- Before you submit your Answer to the court, be sure to complete the “Certificate of Service” section. This will include your chosen method of service (mail or in-person) and the date, as proof that you are submitting before the deadline.
- Print at least two copies of your Answer. It’s best to print three copies so you can keep one for your own records. If you don’t have access to a printer at home or work you can try a public library or an office supplies store.
- Mail one copy to the Court. The Court’s information may be on the Summons and Complaint you received from the plaintiff.
- Mail a second copy to the plaintiff’s attorney, which is also listed in the Summons and Complaint.
Now that you have your supporting documents, all that’s left to do is wait for the Court to give notice of your hearing date.
Statute Of Limitations On Debt In Massachusetts
In Massachusetts, you have six years to repay any debts you may owe. This means that a debt collector cannot sue you for repayment more than six years after your last payment or activity on the account. To defend yourself against such a lawsuit, you must file an Answer that cites the statute of limitations.
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Legal Aid Organizations In Massachusetts
There are many organizations that offer free legal services to people who cannot afford to hire their own lawyers. These resources can help with debt collection cases or put you in touch with someone who can help based on your location. Below is a list of some of these organizations.
- Massachusetts Law Reform Institute.
- Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation.
- Massachusetts Court System referral resources.
- Greater Boston Legal Services.
- Community Legal Aid.
- Boston Bankruptcy Legal Aid and Pro Bono Services.
What you need to know
Here’s the review on how to answer a summons for debt collection in Massachusetts.
It is important to be aware of the deadline for responding to debt collection in Massachusetts, which is 20 days. Be sure to complete the process before this time expires.
Make certain you are using the proper Massachusetts Answer form. When you fill out the form complete the following three steps:
- Answer each issue in the complaint.
- Assert any and all of your affirmative defenses.
- File and serve the Answer with the Court and the plaintiff’s attorney.