September 24, 2019
Summary: Live in New York and need help responding to a debt collection lawsuit? SoloSuit can guide you through the process quickly and easily.
Getting sued is one of the most stressful experiences a person can have — especially if you're already struggling to get out from under debt.
But when you owe money to someone and fail to pay, that person (called a “creditor”) generally has the right to sue you.
A “Summons” is the official notice that you've been sued. And it can be delivered to you (or “served”) in three ways:
The Summons usually comes with a “Complaint,” which explains why you're being sued.
It may be tempting to toss a debt collection Summons aside and deal with it later — you already have a lot of other things to worry about, right? But this is a mistake. You only have a short time to respond, and ignoring it will only make things worse.
To officially respond to a Summons and Complaint, you have to prepare and file an “Answer.”
Preparing an Answer might seem intimidating. Legal documents are often full of confusing language — sometimes they might as well be in another language! And the legal process can be equally confusing.
Ideally, you would get the help of a lawyer. But because of finances, time, or other reasons, that's not always possible.
That's why we made SoloSuit. SoloSuit makes it easy to respond to your lawsuit. We also made this guide to help you understand the process if you want to do it on your own. The information below should help you through that crucial first step of the process: Answering the Summons and Complaint.
As noted above, you only have a short period to respond to a Summons and Complaint:
This includes weekends and holidays.
If you don't file your Answer by this deadline, usually the plaintiff will automatically win. This is called a “default judgment.”
Default judgments often give the plaintiff everything they ask for, including interest and court fees. This means you may end up owing much more than your original debt — without even being able to tell your side of the story!
Creditors can also win the ability to take money from your paychecks or your bank accounts. The judgment will also show up on your credit report, where it can stay for years.
You can avoid a default judgment by filing an Answer on time and showing up at all hearings.
Even if you miss the deadline, you should still try to file your Answer. If the judge hasn't already entered a default judgment against you, the court may still accept your late Answer.
To prepare your Answer, you have a few options. You can:
In New York, you don't have to pay a fee to file your Answer. But depending on the court, you may have to pay fees to file other types of documents, such as motions. You can find a list of filing fees on NYCourts.gov.
But you will need to pay a fee to e-file an Answer. The fee ranges from $10-$140. Go here to see the fee table. There is no fee to file with SoloSuit.
Sometimes, the first document you receive will be a Summons with notice, but no Complaint.
In this case, you'll have to send the plaintiff a Notice of Appearance and Demand for Complaint form. You can check with the court for this form. The plaintiff then has 20 days to send you the Complaint.
If you receive a Summons and Complaint, you can file either an Answer or a motion to dismiss.
A motion to dismiss asks the court to throw out the case outright. You need a good reason for this, such as the expiration of the statute of limitations.
You have to file the motion to dismiss by the deadline given in the Summons. If the judge doesn't dismiss your case, you'll have 10 days to file an Answer.
In most cases, however, you'll want to file an Answer. This is your chance to tell your side of the story. To complete your Answer document, follow the steps below.
In your Answer, you'll respond to the statements in the Complaint (called the “claims”). You'll also explain why the plaintiff shouldn't win (called your “defenses”).
If you decide to create your own Answer form, you should type or handwrite it neatly. The top of the Answer should include basic information about your case, including:
If the Complaint has a “verification” at the end of it, you should also include one at the end of your Answer. A “verification” is a sworn statement that everything you say in a document is true. To verify your Answer, you must sign it in front of a notary public or the court clerk.
To complete the rest of your Answer, follow steps 2-4 below.
Responding to a Complaint on your own might seem scary. But it doesn't have to be — at the beginning of a lawsuit, you can just make a general denial of all claims in the Complaint. This is because in a consumer debt case, the plaintiff has the “burden of proof.” This means that it's up to the plaintiff to show evidence that:
By making a general denial, you can force the plaintiff to come up with that evidence.
Or if you want, you can also respond to each numbered paragraph in your Answer by stating one of the following:
Your defenses are another key part of your Answer. Your defenses are the reasons why the plaintiff shouldn't win the case.
Below are some common defenses in a debt collection case. Every case is different, so only include the defenses you think may apply to your case. You can have multiple defenses, including defenses different than the ones listed below.
The list above isn't complete — you may have other defenses. Some localities (such as New York City) also have special legal defenses that aren't available elsewhere.
You should be sure to include all your defenses in your Answer. But keep in mind that financial hardship alone is not a defense. Unfortunately, a creditor can still win a case against you, even if you've lost your job or have mounting medical bills.
Sometimes, you may also have a claim against the plaintiff (called a “counterclaim”). Maybe the plaintiff owes you money or violated your rights in some way. If that's the case, you can include a counterclaim against the plaintiff in your Answer.
Once you've completed your Answer, it's time to file. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time before the deadline to do this
If you got an e-filing notice with the Summons, you can serve and file your Answer online using the New York State Courts Electronic Filing system.
If you don't want to file online, you should file your Answer in the court where the case was started. Be sure to keep a copy for yourself.
You'll also have to serve the plaintiff with a copy of your Answer. You can do this by having someone 18 or older (not you or anyone involved in the case) mail a copy to the plaintiff.
If the plaintiff has a lawyer, the lawyer should get a copy of your Answer by mail, too. The person who mails your Answer for you will then have to fill out an Affidavit of Service by Mail form. You should file this proof of service form with the court and keep a copy for yourself.
If you have any questions about how to properly file and serve your Answer, you should contact the court clerk's office. Some courts even let you tell your Answer to the clerk in person.
Once you've filed your Answer, the court clerk will give you information about the first hearing and other next steps.
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.
"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
To sue for unpaid debt, a creditor has to file the lawsuit before a deadline set by law. This is called the “statute of limitations.”
Under New York Civil Practice and Law Rules Section 213, the statute of limitations for consumer credit transactions in New York is six years.
The six years is counted from the more recent of:
After six years, the creditor can no longer sue you. So if you think you're being sued beyond this deadline, you should raise this defense in your Answer.
Deadline in Years
If you've run into hard times, it's possible that more than one creditor is trying to recover money from you.
You may already be familiar with these companies. Some call from blocked numbers and use aggressive tactics to scare you into paying. And some even try to recover “zombie debt” — debt that you no longer owe for various reasons or maybe isn't even yours!
Any time you're dealing with a debt collector, it's important to know your rights.
For example, when a debt collector contacts you for the first time, by law they must send you a letter within 5 days stating:
If you don't think you owe part or any of the debt, or if you want to know the name and address of the original creditor, you should send a debt validation letter to the debt collector within 30 days by certified mail.
If you do this, the debt collector has to stop trying to collect the debt until it verifies the debt or the original creditor information.
Under federal and New York law, debt collectors also may not use in improper, harassing, or deceptive practices, such as:
You should keep written records of all contact with debt collectors.
If you think a debt collector is using illegal tactics, you can contact an attorney or file a Complaint with one of the following agencies:
New York State Attorney General
Consumer Frauds & Protection Bureau
New York, NY 10271
Federal Trade Commission
Consumer Response Center
Washington, DC 20508
If you'd like to learn more about getting your finances in order and avoid debt in the future, you might also consider taking a personal finance course.
If you need help with your case but can't afford a lawyer, you may be able to get free or low-cost services from a legal aid organization.
Your annual income will typically have to be at or below a certain level to qualify.
Below are some organizations that may be able to help.
Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York, Inc.
120 Bleecker Street, Utica, NY 13501
Counties served: Broome, Cayuga, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Madison, Oneida, Onondaga, Oswego, Otsego
Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York, Inc.
95 Central Avenue, Albany, NY 12206
Counties served: Albany, Clinton, Columbia, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Greene, Hamilton, Montgomery, Rensselaer, St. Lawrence, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Warren, Washington
Legal Assistance of Western New York, Inc.
361 South Main Street, Geneva, NY 14456
Counties served: Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chemung, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Tioga, Tompkins, Wayne, Yates
Legal Services NYC
40 Worth Street, Suite 606, New York, NY 10013
Counties served: Bronx, Kings, New York, Queens, Richmond
Legal Services of the Hudson Valley
90 Maple Avenue, White Plains, NY 10601
Counties served: Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster, Westchester
Nassau/Suffolk Law Services Committee, Inc.
One Helen Keller Way, 5th Floor, Hempstead, NY 11550
Counties Served: Nassau, Suffolk
Neighborhood Legal Services, Inc.
Main Seneca Building, 237 Main Street, 4th Floor, Buffalo, NY 14203
Counties served: Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans, Wyoming
Your Summons will tell you the civil court in which you're being sued. If you have questions about how to properly prepare and file your Answer, you can usually talk to the court clerk. You can find the contact information for any court on NYCourts.gov.
If you're sued for unpaid debt, the most important thing to remember is to file your Answer before the deadline!
Otherwise, the plaintiff may automatically win.
The deadline is 20 days from receipt if the Summons and Complaint was delivered to you personally, or 30 days if it was delivered any other way.
Here's a recap of the process:
If you need help with this process, SoloSuit can help.
SoloSuit is a simple-to-use online application for preparing an Answer to a debt collection Complaint. Preparing your Answer with SoloSuit is free. We can also review, file, and serve the Answer for you for an additional fee.
Don't risk losing your case because you missed the Answer deadline — click here to get started with SoloSuit today.
If you're being sued in a state other than New York, be sure to read the appropriate guide below. Each state has its own rules and procedures for debt collection lawsuits and a different statute of limitations.