If you have received a summons, you need to take action! But, what should you do?
It's not enough to be stressed out by having to deal with debt collectors, now you get a summons...what should you do?
I think it was Tony Robbins who either used an acronym or borrowed it from somebody, but either way, it really is worth thinking about! WHAT IS FEAR?
- Evidence that
There is a lot of misunderstand about what a SUMMONS IS! Instead of being afraid or upset after receiving a SUMMONS, let's examine what a SUMMONS is all about and what to do about it!
FIRST, DON'T PANIC!
I live in Portland, Oregon, and have been helping people deal with debt, debt collectors judgments and summons for many years. If you receive a summons from our area, it will usually state something like the following:
"You are hereby required to appear and defend the complaint filed against you in the above-entitled cause within thirty (30) days from the date of service of this summons on you. If you fail to appear and defend, the plaintiff will apply to the court for the relief demanded in the complaint."
It goes on to read:
"You must "appear" in this case or the other side will win automatically. To "appear" your must file with the court a legal paper called a "motion" or "answer". The "motion" or "answer" must be given to the court clerk or administrator within 30 days along with the required filing fee. It must be in proper form and have proof of service on the plaintiff's lawyer or, if the plaintiff does not have a lawyer, proof of service on the plaintiff."
Before you "freak-out", let's look at this carefully:
"You are hereby required to APPEAR and DEFEND the COMPLAINT FILED AGAINST YOU...
"APPEAR AND DEFEND"
I know it sounds like you must appear in court, but that's not what it means. The phrase, "appear and defend" is further explained in the second paragraph. The second paragraph (above) also says that you must file an LEGAL PAPER called a MOTION or ANSWER.
This MOTION or ANSWER is, in fact a LEGAL PAPER that you would file with the court if you don't believe you owe or are responsible for the debt they are claiming you owe. Yes, it will cost you a fee (I believe the fee in Multnomah County is around $165) just to file your ANSWER, and it must be filed in the appropriate legal fashion. This usually requires an ATTORNEY to be retained, which also costs you more money!
In most cases, the client or DEFENDANT in the claim actually owes the debt, it is not necessary to file an ANSWER.
So, the 30 days to appear and defend doesn't mean you have to go to court!
OK, so what should you do?
Here's what has happend so far:
When you have debts that you are unable to pay, the creditor will send nasty sounding letters and call and call and call (you probably have experience this already).
If you cannot or do not respond by making some form of repayment, then the original creditor may decide to hand over to a COLLECTION AGENCCY or hire an ATTORNEY to file a CLAIM or "COMPLAINT".
Most of the time, the original creditor will use a DEBT COLLECTOR or DEBT COLLECTION AGENCY to attempt to get you to repay the debt. They will start by sending you letters that may sound threatening in an attempt to scare you into paying the debt.
And as you probably know, they will call constantly. Even though we have laws that protect us from harassing phone calls from debt collectors, most people are not aware or do not know how to put a stop to these calls. The FAIR DEBT COLLECTION PRACTICES ACT clearly spells out what a debt collector CAN and CANNOT DO!
The good news is that you can put a stop to those calls! You must send a letter and they must stop calling (even though they can continue to send letters).
But, even though you can and have put a stop to the calls, in most cases, they are not going to give up trying to collect on the debt.
See my blog on HOW TO DEAL WITH DEBT COLLECTORS for some good tips.
- OK, you've receive the summons.
- You understand that you don't have to appear in court in 30 days
- Now what?
You should contact the attorney who filed the claim and attempt to SETTLE THE DEBT by making a lump sum payment for less than the balance due. This is not always an easy thing to do at this point because the PLAINTIFF (the creditor or debt collector) has had to pay a pretty hefty FEE TO THE ATTORNEY to file the claim, prepare the summons and have it delivered to you.
Here's an actual example of a settlement we were able to negotiate even though a judgment had been awarded. Click on the link below:
If you are unsuccessful in negotiating a settlement, then you might have to attempt to negotiate what is called a STIPULATED AGREEMENT. In a Stipulated Agreement, you and the plaintiff/attorney for the plaintiff have a legal document written up ( the collector's attorney does this and you will not pay a fee).
The agreement will basically state that if you make a certain dollar amount payment each month until the balance is paid in full, then they will not go forward with any more LEGAL OPTIONS.
When a Plaintiff (the creditor) is awarded a judgment (and they will be in most cases), then they now can choose to do several things...legally, to collect on the debt:
They can get a WRIT OF GARNISHMENT, giving them the ability to take 25% of your take-home pay until the debt is paid in full!
They can get a WRIT OF LEVY, giving them the right to levy one or more of your BANK ACCOUNTS! These are devastating in that unless the funds deposited in you account are from an exempt source such as:
- Social Security
- Disability Income
- Unemployment Income
- Retirement Income
- And several other sources
...then the bank has no option but to liquidate your account and send them the funds!
WOW, ARE YOU SERIOUS?
Like the saying goes...SERIOUS AS A HEART ATTACK!
There is nothing more devastating to someone to deposit their check (from W-2 or other "earned income") and have their check or debit card declined at the grocery store because their account was liquidated over the weekend!
To make sure this doesn't happen, DON'T IGNORE THE SUMMONS!
Hopefully, I have made my point...
If you receive a SUMMONS, don't ignore it, take action! In most cases a judgment can be prevented, thereby preventing any further LEGAL OPTIONS such as WAGE GARNISHMENT or a BANK LEVY!
If all of this sounds a little intimidating, I understand. Let me know if we can be of help:
Photo credit: Vic