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

Eva Bacevice

July 13, 2020

Summary: Live in Rhode Island and need help responding to a debt collection lawsuit? You can use SoloSuit to guide Rhode Island residents quickly and easily through the process.

Finding out that you are being sued in a debt collection lawsuit is very stressful. Chances are that you're already working as hard as you can to make ends meet, and there isn't anything extra to pay for an attorney. Responding to a lawsuit on your own probably feels intimidating, and you may be tempted to just ignore it. This, however, is the last thing that you should do, because it won't just go away on its own and will probably leave you in a worse financial bind.

Handling your own response is likely easier than you think. In this article we will show you how to fight a debt collection summons in Rhode Island. We'll include information specific to Rhode Island, including deadlines and online forms for Rhode Island courts.

Table of Contents

Rhode Island Deadline for Answering a Debt Collection Summons

A lawsuit begins when one party (the plaintiff) files a Summons and Complaint against the other party (you, the defendant). They file these documents with the court and then serve them by mail or in-person on you; oftentimes they'll use the Rhode Island Constable Service. Once the legal action begins, in Rhode Island you only have 20 days to respond to the Complaint and Summons.

If you do not respond within that timeframe then the plaintiff (either your original creditor or more likely a third-party debt collection company) will ask the Court for a default judgment in their favor. This means that by simply not responding, the plaintiff will win the lawsuit. Even more worrisome, once they have a court order they can garnish your wages: this means they can take money out of your paycheck before you ever see it. That's likely to put you in an even worse financial situation than before. So, by making certain to respond before the deadline, you are already fighting back.

Rhode Island Answer to Summons Forms

You can use SoloSuit to respond in your state in the correct format. All you have to do is answer a few questions online that we can translate into legalese to complete and file all the paperwork for you.

If you prefer to do it on your own, you can use a form from the courts. Rhode Island does have an online form to fill in for Small Claims Notice of Suit - Answer. Small claims cases are handled in the District Court when the parties are claiming damages of $2,500 or less.

If the amount of the debt is more than $2,500 but under $5,000 you would instead be in District Court, which has exclusive jurisdiction of all civil actions at law wherein the amount in controversy is under $5,000. For larger amounts (between $5,000 and $10,000) you could find yourself in the Superior Court.

Now, the good news is you do not need to determine which court is appropriate for your case, because it has already been determined when the case was filed. The bad news is that if it's District court or Superior court, the courts don't make it easy to draft and file your Answer. That's why we made SoloSuit. But we'll show you how to make an Answer below.

Answer Filing Fees for Rhode Island

Rhode Island Court Fees

Steps to Respond to a Debt Collection Case in Rhode Island

The plaintiff filing a Summons and Complaint is the act that starts a lawsuit. When you receive these documents, as we discussed above you only have a limited time to reply. In Rhode Island, this deadline is 20 days.

Responding to a lawsuit is likely much easier than you expect. All you need to do is follow the fours steps below:

  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.

Below we will go over each step in detail.

1. Create an Answer Document.

Your first step is to create an Answer document. If your case is in Small Claims you can fill out the Small Claims Notice of Suit - Answer form.

If your case is in District or Superior Court, you will need to create your own caption in the proper format, essentially mirroring it from the Summons and Complaint. Information you can expect to need includes the following:

  • Personal information: name, address, etc.
  • Plaintiff information: the attorney and/or company suing you, their address, etc.
  • Court's information: the name of the court the case is in, the address of the court, etc.
  • The case information: the case number or civil action file number, the amount of the lawsuit, etc.

SoloSuit makes it easy to find the right information.

Once you have this filled out or drafted, you can move on to the substantive portion of your Answer.

2. Answer each issue of the Complaint.

The next step is to answer the allegations set forth in the Complaint. This is your opportunity to refute anything you disagree with that the plaintiff alleged. If your case is in Small Claims, you can continue to use the form to fill out your responses. Make certain to check the box next to the court address listed on the Summons itself.

The first place on the form where you have room to explain in more detail is after you check the initial answer document, which gives you the prompt “I disagree with the claim of the Plaintiff(s) because:” Here you can list anything you take issues with, perhaps your name is spelled incorrectly, or the amount listed is incorrect, anything else along these lines.

There is also an opportunity for you to check a box indicating that you owe the debt but need more time to pay, and then explain the reasons for the same. This will allow for the opportunity to create a payment plan that works for both you and the creditor.

If your case is in District or Superior Court you will need to draft your own Answer to respond to each numbered paragraph in the Complaint separately. You should respond to each paragraph in one of the following three ways:

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

Consider each paragraph/allegation and use whichever of the above responses is appropriate to list in your Answer document. It's important to list each response beginning with the same number as the corresponding paragraph in the Complaint, so it is clear to see which response goes with each allegation.

It's also important to note that you don't need to deny every allegation in order to win. It's fine to admit to facts that are true, like your name or account number. The third response is for when you can't verify something, for example, the debt collection company suing you may state that they are incorporated in Rhode Island. If you have no way to independently verify that claim, saying “I don't know” as your response is perfectly fine.

SoloSuit makes it simple to respond the right way.

3. Assert affirmative defenses.

This next step gives you another chance to fight back, by asserting affirmative defenses. An affirmative defense is any reason why the party suing you does not have a case. You can use any and all affirmative defenses that apply to you.

With SoloSuit you can make the right affirmative defenses the right way.

Below we will discuss some of the more common affirmative defenses we see in debt collection cases:

  • Not your account. It could be that the account number listed in the Complaint isn't yours. Perhaps you've been a victim of identity theft and someone else opened the account. If you have any documentation to support this defense (like a statement with your actual account number and/or name, or a police report you filed about the identity theft) you should reference it and include a copy in your Answer as an exhibit.
  • Payment: If you already paid this debt, they can't collect it again.
  • Accord and satisfaction: perhaps you came to an agreement with the creditor to pay a lesser amount to satisfy the debt in full satisfaction. Again, reference and attach any supporting documentation such as bank records showing a cashed check or online payment, or any correspondence between you and the creditor regarding a lower payment.
  • The debt was already discharged in a bankruptcy. If you previously filed a bankruptcy case and this debt was included and successfully discharged then the plaintiff cannot try to collect it through the Court. You are no longer legally responsible for a debt that has been discharged in bankruptcy.
  • Statute of limitations has expired. A statute of limitations is a law that sets a deadline for legal action. We will discuss the Rhode Island statute of limitations on debt collection in more detail later in this article.
  • You can't confirm that the plaintiff holds the debt. There is every chance that the party suing you is not your original creditor. Usually creditors sell off uncollected debt to third-party debt collection companies after a period of time (minimum of 90 days) has passed for only a small percentage of the original debt. If the company suing you is not the original debt holder you can insist that they provide a paper trail to prove that they legally own this debt.

The above are just a few of the many affirmative defenses. Please note, however, that inability to pay the debt is not normally a legal defense to the debt.

Beyond affirmative defenses you can also assert any counterclaims against the Plaintiff in your response. A counterclaim could be warranted if you can show that the creditor violated the Rhode Island Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which offers protection to Rhode Island residents under the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and other consumer protection laws.

Please keep in mind that counterclaims can get very complicated, so if you believe you have a basis for one (or more) it's in your best interest to consult an attorney. You should also note that the last fill-in portion on the Small Claims court form states that if checked you are waiving your right to appeal based on counterclaim only. Again, if you think you might have an argument that the act was violated, seeking legal assistance is your best route.

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

The final step is to file your Answer with the Court. You'd be amazed how many people complete the above steps and then neglect to file their response. If that happens, then all the work you've put in will have been wasted.

Instead, make sure that you file your Answer with the Court within the 20 day timeframe.

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

  • Print at least two copies of your Answer
  • Mail one copy to the court
  • Mail the other copy to the plaintiff's attorney.

SoloSuit files for you.

It's never a bad idea to print an extra copy for your own records. If you're using the Small Claims online form make sure to fill out the “Certificate of Service” portion at the end of the form.

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


Start My Answer


>>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 Rhode Island

As discussed briefly above, a statute of limitations is a period of time through which a creditor can enforce payment of a debt through the legal system. After the time allowed under the statute of limitations expires, the creditor can no longer pursue repayment through the courts.

The Rhode Island statute of limitations on debt runs between ten and twenty years, depending on the type of debt. More specifically both credit card debt and medical debt have a ten year statute of limitations.

Rhode Island Statute of Limitations
on Debt

Debt Type

Deadline in Years

Oral

10

Written

10

Mortgage

10

Open

10

Credit Card

10

Judgment

20


Source: Findlaw



Every state has a number of organizations, often government-funded, that provide free legal services to people who cannot otherwise afford to hire their own legal assistance. These below Rhode Island resources can be good place to start:

Rhode Island Legal Services

Help RI Law: Rhode Island Legal Services

Pro Bono Volunteer Law Program

Rhode Island Bar Association Volunteer Lawyer Program

Rhode Island Court Locations

Rhode Island Court Locations

Key Takeaways

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

Make certain you know the deadline and complete the process before it expires. Rhode Island debt collection regulations allow 20 days to file your response.

Make certain you are using the proper Rhode Island Answer form/format, or SoloSuit.com, to draft your response. When you fill out the form complete the following three steps:

  1. Answer each issue in the complaint.
  2. Assert any and all of your affirmative defenses.
  3. File and serve the Answer with the Court and the plaintiff's attorney.

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.