How to Answer a Summons for Debt Collection in Tennessee (2020 Guide)

Eva Bacevice

July 08, 2020

Summary: Live in Tennessee and need help responding to a debt collection lawsuit? SoloSuit guides Tennessee residents through the process, step-by-step.

There are a few things in life that are universally stressful. Getting sued for a debt is one of them. It can feel both scary and overwhelming to receive notice of a lawsuit against you. It's probably tempting to ignore it and hope it goes away, but that just guarantees the other side will win. To preserve your rights and refute any incorrect allegations you need to respond to the lawsuit within the allowed timeframe. Chances are you can't afford to hire an attorney to help you out if you're already behind on payments, so you're looking at doing this on your own.

This article can help make the process of responding to a debt lawsuit a little easier. It will include helpful topics to help you answer a summons for debt collection in Tennessee, including Tennessee specific information like deadlines and forms.

Table of Contents

Tennessee Deadline for Answering a Debt Collection Summons

The deadline to answer a debt collection summons in Tennessee is 30 days. The clock starts when you are served the summons and complaint which start the lawsuit. If you fail to respond within that 30 day time period, the court will enter something called a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff (the person or company who is suing you.)

A default judgment means that because you did not answer and defend yourself that the other side wins automatically. Once they have a default judgment the plaintiff can come after you with a garnishment to take money directly out of your paycheck or tax returns, which will likely put you into a worse financial situation thn you were in at the start.

So the single most important thing you can do when you receive a summons and complaint for debt collection in Tennessee is to respond within those 30 days to preserve your rights. Even if you agree that you owe the money, this would give you a chance to negotiate a payment plan that works with your current financial situation. The Tennessee Courts have a Self-Help Center to help you through the court process.

Tennessee Answer to Summons Forms

Tennessee courts offer many online forms for legal matters. If your case is in small claims court (usually disputes of $25,000 or less) under General Sessions you can use a Sworn Denial form if you disagree with any (or all) of the plaintiff's claims. You can find additional advice here on how to defend a debt collection suit in Tennessee General Sessions.

If you are in Circuit or Chancery court, there is not an available form to fill out, so you will need to draft your Answer in the proper format to submit to the court. We will go over this process in detail later in this article.

Alternatively, you can have SoloSuit take care of all of the detail work for you by creating your Answer quickly in the proper format. All you need to do is answer a few questions online that we will translate into the proper legalese and format to file in Tennessee. In addition, we'll have an attorney review it to make sure everything is in order and file it for you with the Court.

Answer Filing Fees for Tennessee

Filing fee information for Tennessee Courts

Steps to Respond to a Debt Collection Case in Tennessee

A lawsuit starts with a plaintiff (the filing party, either a creditor or more likely a third party debt collection company who purchased your debt from the original creditor) creating and serving you with a Summons and Complaint. In Tennessee remember that you only have 30 days to respond by filing your Answer with the appropriate court. You could alternatively respond with a Motion, but that can get more complicated without legal assistance so an Answer is usually the best choice.

If you do not file a response with the Court within those 30 days, you will automatically lose your case by default, so it's important to make every effort to work within the allowed time frame. It's not as complicated as you might think and we'll break it down for you.

There are four steps to respond to the complaint.

  1. Create an Answer document.
  2. Answer each issue of the complaint.
  3. Assert affirmative defenses.
  4. File one copy of the Answer document with the court and serve the plaintiff with another copy.

We will examine each step in detail below.

1. Create an Answer Document.

The first step to responding to a debt collection lawsuit is creating and formatting your answer document. If your case is in Circuit or Chancery court you will need to create a document in the proper format. If you are in General Sessions, you can use the Sworn Denial form which already has the caption set up for you to fill in the information.

Most of the information you'll need for your Answer can be found listed on the Complaint and Summons that you received. The good news here is that you don't need to figure out things like which court is right for the case because the plaintiff already determined that when they filed. This includes

  • Personal information: address, name, etc.
  • Plaintiff information: the attorney suing you, the company suing, etc.
  • Court information: the name of the Tennessee court the case is in, the address of the court, etc.
  • Case information: the case number, index number, or civil number, the amount of the lawsuit, etc.

You'll want to replicate the caption from the Summons and Complaint for your Answer document. After you've gotten this portion properly formatted, you can move on to actually answering the Complaint.

Or, you can leave the details to SoloSuit , who can fill in the relevant information and format the document properly on your behalf.

2. Answer each issue of the Complaint.

Answering the Complaint is probably easier than you think.

If you use SoloSuit we'll walk you through responding properly to each and every paragraph.

Otherwise, you need to read the complaint and then decide how you want to respond to each numbered paragraph. If your case is in Circuit or Chancery court you will need to draft an Answer that responds to every allegation in the Complaint.

You can respond in one of three ways:

  • Admit: This means “I Agree”
  • Deny: This means “I disagree”
  • Deny for lack of knowledge: This means “I don't know”

Choose one of these responses and write it into your Answer. Keep in mind that it's fine to “agree” with information that is true, such as your name or account number. You don't need to deny every allegation to win the case. Make certain to list each answer with the number for the corresponding paragraph.

If you are in General Sessions, you can use the Sworn Denial form. After you've added the necessary information to the caption at the top, you should confirm that you agree with all three of the numbered sections listed under “I swear the following,” as you will be swearing under oath. If you do not agree with all of those statements you should instead draft your own Answer as you would above in Circuit or Chancery court. Under the fourth section you have the opportunity to list some (or all) of your reasons for your denial. The form also preserves your right to raise additional defenses at trial.

Next, you will then need to sign the document before a notary before filing with the court. Make at least two copies to file along with the original at court, and bring stamped and addressed envelopes along for the attorney (or plaintiff if no attorney) to mail out after you fill out the “certificate of service” portion on the second page. The form specifies to bring any proof you have for your defense(s) with you to trial.

3. Assert affirmative defenses.

After you've responded to every allegation set forth in the complaint, you can assert any and all affirmative defenses that apply. An “affirmative defense” is a reason why the person suing doesn't have a case. Many of the listed affirmative defenses are legal terminology that may not be familiar to you, in which case you may want to consult this Tennessee Glossary of Legal Terms.

Here are some of the more common defenses we see:

  • The account listed is not your account. The account number may not match yours, or it could belong to someone else with a similar name. Or maybe it was opened by someone else if you were a victim of identity theft.
  • The debt has already been paid. Here you should attach any documentation that you have showing that the account has already been paid in full.
  • It could be that you came to an agreement with the original creditor to pay some of the debt off in satisfaction of the rest of the debt and no longer owe anything. Here again, attach any documentation supporting.
  • If you previously filed for bankruptcy and received a notice of discharge that included this debt, you can no longer be compelled to pay through the court.
  • You were a co-signer but were not informed of your rights as a co-signer. Keep in mind that debt collection in Tennessee can continue against a co-signer or an estate when someone dies, which gets into more complicated issues where you should consult an attorney.
  • The statute of limitations has expired. A statute of limitations is a law that sets a deadline on an action. We will address the specific limitations for Tennessee later in this article.

These are just a few of the many available affirmative defenses. Unfortunately, no matter how true it may be, being unable to pay the debt is not a legal defense to the debt.

Alternatively, SoloSuit can show you all of the available affirmative defenses, interpreting the legalese and helping you determine which properly apply to your circumstances.

Beyond affirmative defenses it may also be appropriate to make counterclaims against the plaintiff, if they violated Tennessee debt collection laws. Tennessee follows the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The FDCPA is contained within the Tennessee Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (or Tennessee Collection Service Act) and can be found in the Tennessee code annotated (T.C.A § 62-20-10) such that any violation of the FDCPA is also a violation of Tennessee fair debt collection law. Counterclaims under these laws can get complicated pretty quickly, so it's best to consult with an attorney.

4. File the answer with the court and serve the plaintiff.

Finally, make certain to complete your Answer by filing it with the proper Court, otherwise all the work you've put into it won't make any difference. It has to be filed before the 30 day deadline, and time-stamped by the Court as proof. Most courts consider “filed” to mean received by the court; it is not enough to put the Answer in the mail within the deadline: it needs to be received by the court.

Here's what you need to do to file your answer.

  • Print at least two copies of your Answer. If you can print another copy it's always a good idea to keep a copy for your records.
  • Mail one copy to the court or go in person to the court clerk.
  • Mail the other copy to the plaintiff's attorney.

SoloSuit files for you.

The addresses you need for both should be in the Summons and Complaint you received in the mail.

What is SoloSuit?

SoloSuit makes it easy to respond to a debt collection lawsuit.

How it works: SoloSuit is a step-by-step web-app that asks you all the necessary questions to complete your answer. Upon completion, you can either print the completed forms and mail in the hard copies to the courts or you can pay SoloSuit to file it for you and to have an attorney review the document.

Respond with SoloSuit

"First time getting sued by a debt collector and I was searching all over YouTube and ran across SoloSuit, so I decided to buy their services with their attorney reviewed documentation which cost extra but it was well worth it! SoloSuit sent the documentation to the parties and to the court which saved me time from having to go to court and in a few weeks the case got dismissed!" – James


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>>Read the FastCompany article: Debt Lawsuits Are Complicated: This Website Makes Them Simpler To Navigate

>>Read the NPR story on SoloSuit: A Student Solution To Give Utah Debtors A Fighting Chance

Statute of Limitations on Debt in Tennessee

The Tennessee statute of limitations on debt collection varies between six and ten years depending on the type of debt involved. After the time period has expired, you can no longer be pursued through the courts to pay these debts. The Tennessee debt collection statute of limitations for mortgages, medical debt, credit cards and state tax debt is six years, whereas for judgments it extends to ten years.

Tennessee Statute of Limitations
on Debt

Debt Type

Deadline in Years

Oral

6

Written

6

Mortgage

6

Open

6

Credit Card

6

Auto Loan

6

Judgment

10


Source: Findlaw



There are legal aid organizations in every state that provide free legal services to residents who cannot otherwise afford legal assistance. Below you can find a number of such organizations in Tennessee.

Tennessee Department of Human Services - Legal Aid Services

Legal Aid of East Tennessee

Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands

West Tennessee Legal Services

Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services (TALS)

Tennessee Bar Association Legal Aid/Legal Services

Tennessee Court Locations

Tennessee Court Locations

Takeaways

So, in short, here's the review on how to answer a summons for debt collection in Tennessee.

  • Deadline: 30 days
  • Use the Sworn Denial form for General Sessions, draft your own for Circuit or Chancery court, or SoloSuit.com to do it for you.

Do these steps:

  1. Answer each issue in the complaint.
  2. Assert your affirmative defenses
  3. File and serve the Answer

Good Luck!

How to Answer a Summons for Debt Collection Guides for Other States

Here's a list of guides for other states.

All 50 states.