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

George Simons

September 10, 2021

Summary: Sued for a debt in Pennsylvania? Use SoloSuit to respond. Get started for free.

“Man, I am really psyched to talk to this debt collector again on the phone!” — said no one ever.

Getting sued for a debt that has gone to collections is definitely no picnic, but it doesn't necessarily have to be a traumatic experience. While facing a debt collector can be frightening, under the Pennsylvania Fair Credit Extension Uniformity Act, you have legal rights that protect you from debt collectors who act unfairly or abusively. The Pennsylvania Fair Debt Collection Practices Act also protects you.

In addition, SoloSuit is here to help you get through the process of responding to a debt lawsuit in Pennsylvania as painlessly as possible. In this guide, you'll get the information you need to meet key deadlines, properly answer your summons, get debt collectors off your back, and maybe even end up paying less than you were anticipating.

Table of Contents

Read on to learn more!

Pennsylvania Deadline for Answering a Debt Collection Summons

Under Pennsylvania debt collection laws, if you are a resident of the state and are served with a debt collection Summons and Complaint, you must respond within 20 days of being served. While this is definitely plenty of time to submit a response (known in legal terms as an “answer” to the summons), it is always in your best interest to respond as soon as possible. The worst thing you can do is ignore a summons.

If you happen to miss the 20-day deadline to answer your debt collection summons, on the 21st day you will then receive a 10-Day Notice. In a nutshell, this is a final reminder that you have not yet answered or objected to the complaint. After this, if 10 additional days pass and you have not yet responded, the plaintiff's attorney will file a Motion for Default Judgment.

This is the last thing you want to happen. If a default judgment is granted, you will automatically lose your case. The judge will enter a judgment against you and award the plaintiff the amount they asked for. This is true even if a mistake was made or you do not owe as much as the creditor claims, so it's best to answer by the deadline.

Pennsylvania Answer to Summons Forms

Pennsylvania does not have an official form you can use to answer a summons. Don't worry: you can use SoloSuit to create your Answer in under 20 minutes. We'll even have an attorney review and file it so you know everything has been done right.

If you prefer, you can also write up your own Answer. If you decide to do this, you will need to send it to both the court and the opposing attorney. (There are instructions on how to do this later in the guide.)

Here is an example answer form you can use as a reference as you move forward.

Steps to Respond to a Debt Collection Case in Pennsylvania

In this section, we'll guide you through the steps you need to follow to respond to your debt collection case. First, let's start with some background: the first thing that happens when a debt collection lawsuit begins is that the plaintiff serves you with two documents, known as the Summons and the Complaint.

The documents may be served in person or by mail. Regardless of how they are delivered, you have 20 days to respond and file an Answer. As we mentioned under Deadlines, if you fail to respond within 20 days, you will be issued a default judgment, lose your case, and have to pay the plaintiff the amount they say you owe. To avoid a default judgment and give yourself the best chance of winning your lawsuit, you should follow the steps below.

Bonus: there are only three steps.

  1. Answer each allegation listed in the Complaint
  2. Assert affirmative defenses that apply to your case
  3. File a copy of your Answer with the court and also serve the plaintiff with a copy

The language is a little technical, but we will explain in detail how each step works. Let's check them out!

1. Create an Answer Document

The first step you need to take when responding to a debt collection lawsuit is to create your answer document. Although it's possible to write up a brief, one-sentence answer and have it accepted by the court, it is always in your best interest to write the strongest answer possible. This means the document should look professional (aka, be word-processed and proofread, not scrawled in messy ink pen). If you show that you put in the time to create your answer, a judge is more likely to take your answer seriously which could help your case.

SoloSuit helps find this basic information.

To set up your document, start by putting all of the information included in your Complaint and Summons at the top of your Answer document. Don't skip anything: this information, known legally as “styling” must be included within your Answer document.

The information at the top of your Answer document should include:

  • Your name, address, and other personal information appearing on the Complaint and Summons
  • The plaintiff's information including the name and address of the attorney suing you as well as the name and address of the company suing you
  • Information for the court, including the official name of the court where your case will be held, the state, and the court's address
  • Information on your case, including a case number, an index number, or a civil number, the amount of the lawsuit, and any other information

Now that your document is ready to go and has all of the required information, it's time to use Step 2 and Step 3 to make an in-depth Answer that will help you win your case.

2. Answer each issue of the Complaint.

If answering the complaint makes you feel anxious, you are definitely not alone, but by following the simple instructions below, you can get through it with no sweat. Start by reading through the numbered paragraphs on the Complaint to make sure you understand the details of the allegations against you.

You will notice that for each accusation, you have three response options: agree, disagree, and don't know. For each numbered paragraph, choose one response and include it in your Answer. Also include the number of the paragraph in front of each response.

If you're like many people, you may be wondering if there is a strategy you need to use to answer accusations in a Complaint. Ideally, you should avoid overthinking it and answer honestly. If an accusation is incorrect, disagree. If it is correct, agree. If you are truly unsure, state that you don't know.

This sounds straightforward, but it can get a bit tricky when it comes to allegations you are uncertain about. If this is the case, saying that you don't know won't hurt you. A second option is to be cautious and disagree. When you disagree with an accusation, also write a brief sentence explaining why you disagree.

Disagreeing is a strategy some lawyers suggest, and some even go so far as to recommend disagreeing with all of the accusations, known as responding with a General Denial. This way, the burden of proof is transferred to the opposing counsel and they will have to prove that each of the allegations against you is true.

SoloSuit helps you respond the right way.

It is up to you how you decide to respond to each allegation. Don't stress too much: during your court hearing, you can always amend your Answer or change your strategy.

3. Assert affirmative defenses.

The parts of your answer where you explain why the entity suing you does not have a case are known as affirmative defenses. There are many affirmative defenses, and one or more may apply to your case. You should list each affirmative defense that applies to your Answer and, if necessary, explain it.

Examples of affirmative defenses include:

  • The account or debt in question does not belong to you
  • You canceled your contract with the creditor and owe nothing
  • The statute of limitations for the debt has expired. The Pennsylvania statute of limitations for debt collection is four years, so any debt that is older than four years is off limits for a lawsuit against you.
  • You believe you are a victim of identity theft and the debt actually belongs to someone else who used your name and information
  • You believe the amount of the debt is incorrect (for example, you owe a debt, but a mistake was made by the creditor in terms of the amount)
  • The plaintiff is a debt buyer, not the original creditor. (In this case, since you signed a contract with the original creditor but did not the debt buyer, you can challenge their right to sue.)

SoloSuit makes it easy to make the right defense.

To learn more about how statutes of limitations work, check out SoloSuit's Statutes of Limitations on Debt Collections by State guide. Something important to keep in mind is that an inability to pay your debt does not typically qualify as an affirmative defense. The exception to this is if your debt was discharged because you previously filed for bankruptcy. If this is your situation, make sure you have documentation showing that the debt was discharged.

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

Once you've completed your answer, you have one step left to go, but it's an important one so don't forget it.

Here's what to do to officially file your answer:

  1. Print two copies of your answer document
  2. Mail the first copy to the court
  3. Mail the second copy to the plaintiff's attorney

SoloSuit files for you and even has an attorney review your document.

Make sure to look up the correct mailing address of the court listed on your Summons and Complaint; it can be a pain to find. It's a good idea to mail both copies using the United States Postal Service's Certified Mail and to request a receipt confirming that it was delivered. This will give you proof that all required parties received your answer.

Once you receive your receipt, take the time to make a copy of your answer document and your receipt. In addition, take a photo of it with your phone's camera so you always have proof that your Answer was delivered.

What is SoloSuit?

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

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

Respond with SoloSuit

"First time getting sued by a debt collector and their attorney and I was searching all over YouTube and ran across SoloSuit and their services so I decided to buy their services with their attorney reviewed documentation which cost extra but was it 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 Pennsylvania

The state of Pennsylvania typically has a 4-year statute of limitations for most debts. This means that if your last made a payment on your debt was four years ago, a creditor cannot legally sue you. If they do, they are in violation of the statute of limitations. Regardless, creditors will still try to sue you beyond the statute of limitations and many succeed. Remember that in order to avoid being held responsible for the debt you'll still need to mention the statute of limitations as an affirmative defense in your Answer.

Pennsylvania Statute of Limitations on Debt

Debt Type

Deadline in Years

Oral

4

Written

4

Promissory

4

Open

4

Credit Card

4

Judgements

4


Source: Findlaw


Pennsylvania has several government-funded organizations that provide free legal services. If you have questions or need help, you can contact them using the information below.

Legal Aid of Southwest Pennsylvania - Main Branch
625-627 Swede St.
Norristown, PA 19401
(877) 429-5994
https://www.lasp.org/

MidPenn Legal Services, Inc.
213-A North Front Street
Harrisburg, PA 17101
(717)234-0492
https://www.midpenn.org/

Philadelphia Legal Assistance
718 Arch Street, Suite 300N
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 981-3800
https://www.philalegal.org

North Penn Legal Services
559 Main Street, Suite 200
Bethlehem, PA 18018
877-953-4250
https://www.northpennlegal.org/

What If I Haven't Been Sued Yet?

If you've only received a collections notice, but not a lawsuit, the best way to respond is with a Debt Validation Letter. When a debt collector contacts you in any way, whether it's by phone or mail, you can respond with a Debt Validaiton Letter. This letter notifies the collector that you dispute the debt and requires they provide proof you owe the debt. They can't call you or continue collecting until they provide validation of the debt. This flowchart shows how you can use a Debt Validation Letter to win.

Learn more about the Debt Validation Letter here.

How to win a debt collection lawsuit flowchart. Litigation Flowchart.

Get started with a Debt Validation Letter here.

Key Takeaways

In a nutshell, here's a quick refresher on how to answer a summons for debt collection in Pennsylvania.

  • Remember that your deadline for answering a summons is 21 days
  • Create an Answer document that looks professional
  • Answer each accusation presented in the complaint.
  • Assert your affirmative defenses in your Answer document
  • File and serve the Answer to both the court and the plaintiff

We hope this guide was helpful! Good Luck answering your summons!

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