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How to Answer a Summons for Debt Collection in Arizona (2023 Guide)

George Simons | December 06, 2023

Edited by Hannah Locklear

Fact-checked by Patrick Austin, J.D.

Summary: You have 20 days to respond to a debt lawsuit in Arizona. If you don't respond in time, you will lose automatically by default judgment. SoloSuit can help you respond to the lawsuit with an Answer and settle your debt before going to court. Keep reading to learn more about how to respond to a debt collection case in AZ.

Not sure how to Answer a Summons for debt collection in Arizona? Or if you should even Answer at all? Once a debt hits the point where a creditor is filing papers with the courts, it's essential to formally respond, or you risk having a default judgment entered against you. This can have serious financial consequences like wage garnishment, seizure of property, etc.

When answering a debt lawsuit, it's important to know and follow Arizona debt collection laws to give yourself the best footing possible with the courts.

On this page, you'll find FAQs and details on:

What are a Summons and Complaint?

When a creditor sues you for debt, you'll generally receive two documents: a Summons and a Complaint. These are typically given to you by a process server, though sometimes a sheriff may deliver the documents or they may come via certified mail. This is referred to as “service of process” or “being served”. Without proper service, the person or business suing you does not have a valid lawsuit.

However, dodging the process server won't help your case, as servers are often allowed some leniency in regards to service. For example, if the server has made several, unsuccessful attempts to serve you the court documents, the court may accept notice in a publication in lieu of personal serving.

The Summons is an official document that explains you're being sued in civil claims court. The Complaint outlines what the other party says you've done and what they want in return. It does not necessarily mean you have done these things, only that they're alleging you have.

What's an Answer?

Just as the creditor who is suing you, or the plaintiff, must provide you with written information about the lawsuit, you, the defendant, are expected to provide a written response. This is referred to as an Answer. The Answer is a brief summary of whether or not you agree with the plaintiff on each allegation listed in the Complaint. It is not detailed narrative of events or explanation of financial hardship.

Do you have to Answer a Complaint and Summons?

Technically speaking, you aren't required to Answer an Arizona Summons or Complaint. However, ignoring one means a judgement can be made against you without the judge receiving your input or hearing your response. Oftentimes, the plaintiff receives everything they ask for when the defendant doesn't respond. The big debt collection agencies count on you taking no action because it lets them collect with minimal effort on their part. The allegations don't even need to be true.

Here's a video on how to respond to a summons in Arizona for debt collection:

Can You Answer a Summons for Debt Collection in Arizona without an Attorney?

You aren't forced to to hire a lawyer to respond to a debt collection Summons. While you may prefer to work with an attorney if you have a more complicated case or believe the creditor behaved unethically, you can also complete the Answer on your own or use a tool like SoloSuit to walk you through the paperwork and submission process quickly. See the SoloSuit FAQ for details.

What if my Arizona Summons and Complaint list a Jane Doe?

The inclusion of “John Doe” or “Jane Doe” as a defendant on court paperwork generally means the plaintiff believes the defendant is married and is suing the spouse as well. In these cases, the spouse should file alongside the named defendant and sign the paperwork too.

What's the Arizona deadline for answering a debt collection Summons?

In most cases, you have 20 days from the date of service to respond. That means 20 days from the time you received the documents, not 20 days from the date stamped on the papers or the date they were filed with the court. However, the deadline for Answering a debt collection Summons in Arizona depends on how you were served.

For example, if you were served an Arizona Summons while you were in another state, the deadline is 30 days, not 20 days. If the creditor published a notice of your Summons in a publication rather than serving you personally, you have a 50-day window in state or a 60-day window out-of-state.

What's the statute of limitations on debt in Arizona?

Per the AZ statute of limitations, debt typically cannot be collected after six years. For example, A.R.S. § 12-548 addresses contracts in writing and credit cards. it allows the plaintiff to sue for up to six years “after the cause of action accrues.” On the other hand, the AZ statute of limitations on debt is reduced to three years if there was only an oral agreement, per A.R.S. § 12-543.

Statute of Limitations on Debt in Arizona

Debt Type Deadline
Oral Contract 3 years
Open Account 3 years
Credit Card 6 years
Medical 6 years
Student Loan 6 years
Auto Loan 6 years
Mortgage 6 years
Personal Loan 6 years
Judgment 10 years
Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-543, § 12-548, and§ 12-1551

See SoloSuit's Statute of Limitations on Debt Collection by State for additional limitations and a state-by-state comparison.

Where can I get Answer to Summons forms in Arizona?

Generic Arizona Answer to Summons forms are available through county court websites as well as through the official Arizona Judicial Branch website.

What are the steps to respond to a debt collection case in Arizona?

There are four primary steps involved in Answering or responding to a debt collection case in Arizona.

Step 1: Create the Answer Document

Use an Answer form as provided above and include the unique details of your case including:

  • Your personal contact information such as name, address, and phone number
  • The plaintiff's contact information
  • The court's information
  • Case details such as the case number

Step 2: Answer Each Item in the Complaint

As you'll see in the Answer forms, you should respond to each allegation/paragraph in the Complaint. There are three ways to respond:

  • Admit the allegation
  • Deny the allegation
  • State that you do not have enough information to know whether the allegation is true or false

It's important to note that the plaintiff has the burden of proof in the beginning stages of a lawsuit. This means that, if you deny the allegations, the plaintiff must prove otherwise. This usually requires more work and time on the plaintiff's part. Because of this, attorneys generally recommend not to admit anything is true that you're not wholly certain of.

For example, if you don't know your account number, don't admit that you owe a certain amount of money on that account. If you're not sure that the plaintiff has jurisdiction or the right to sue, don't admit it's true. Some attorneys even advise defendants to deny every allegation in their Answer.

Step 3: List Affirmative Defenses if Applicable

The standardized Arizona Answer form contains roughly 20 potential affirmative defenses in the “Defenses and Denials” section as well as the opportunity to write in your own Answer. These assert that the plaintiff does not have a case because they've done something wrong. Some of the most commonly used affirmative defenses include:

  • Statute of Limitations: It's been more than six years since you broke your written agreement or three years since you broke a verbal agreement to pay the debt.
  • Insufficient Service of Process: You weren't given the Summons and/or Complaint or some part of the process was not handled properly.
  • Estoppel: The plaintiff led you to believe they would not enforce the contract.
  • Payment: You've paid some or all the debt.
  • Statute of Frauds (SOF): The agreement between plaintiff and defendant was not in writing but it needed to be in writing for it to be legally enforceable. This only applies in certain situations, such as when the value of goods being sold exceeds a certain amount or when the agreement cannot be fulfilled within a year.

In most cases, the only time you can bring certain defenses forth is when you provide your written Answer. In other words, if you fail to mention an affirmative defense at the onset, the court may not recognize it later. For this reason, it's important to consider every avenue you might take before submitting your Answer and check every box that's applicable. Also bear in mind that this is not the time to tell your side of the story, since the burden of proof is on the plaintiff and not you. Keep your Answers as brief as possible to avoid potentially weakening your case.

Step 4: File with the Court and Serve the Plaintiff

Once your paperwork is completed and signed, you should file the original copy with the court. Provided you've allowed enough time for processing, you can send the documents to the court through the U.S. mail. However, you can also deliver the papers to the court clerk or SoloSuit can file for you and can even handle overnight delivery.

You must also send a copy of the Answer to the plaintiff or, if they have a lawyer, to their attorney. Despite being referred to as “service,” you do not need to hire a process server. It can be sent via regular mail to the address included in the paperwork you received.

The Answer should include a Proof of Service, which declares that you have submitted the Answer to the court and plaintiff's attorney and includes the mailing addresses.

Remember to keep a copy of the Answer for yourself as well.

Possible routes you can take in a debt lawsuit

There are several routes you can take if you've been sued for debt. Each debt collection lawsuit is unique, but this flowchart can give you an idea of the possible actions you can take in your case:

Debt Collection Lawsuit Flowchart

Your Arizona court may charge you a filing fee

Unfortunately, some state courts charge an Answer filing fee. And Arizona is one of those states.

Answer filing fees by state. Courts that charge a filing fee to respond to a debt colleciton lawsuit.

In Arizona, you must pay anywhere from $40 to $245 to file an Answer to your debt lawsuit. It all depends on which court your case is in.

We know what you're thinking. And we agree! The practice of courts charging an Answer filing fee is absurd. We think it's one of the biggest impediments to justice in the United States.

If you have SoloSuit file your response and your court charges a filing fee, we'll let you know. We automatically calculate your filing fee, make it easy for you to pay it, and make sure that payment gets to your court on time.

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

Settle your debt in Arizona

After you've taken the proper steps necessary to respond to your debt lawsuit, consider reaching out to your creditor or debt collector to negotiate a debt settlement.

As part of a debt settlement, you will make an agreement with the plaintiff to pay off your a portion of your debt in order to clear your name of it. If you are experiencing financial hardship, many creditors and collectors will work with you. Whether it's setting up a payment plan or paying a lump-sum percentage of the debt, settling is better than waiting for your wages to be garnished in the event that you lose the case.

Check out our guide on How to Settle a Debt in Arizona and watch the following video to learn more.

Do the Arizona Fair Debt Collection Practices Act guidelines apply when filing?

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) creates federal guidelines that protect consumers from companies that harass or behave unethically. The FDCPA outlines several things creditors cannot do and others that they must do when attetmpting to collect a debt. A few examples are listed below.

A creditor cannot:
  • Call you before 8am or 9pm
  • Make threats of any kind (including threats of wage garnishment, property seizure, or arrest)
  • Contact you if you've said debt is not yours
  • Make false statements

A creditor must:

  • Send you a written Validation Notice within five days of their first contact to you
  • Include in the Validation Notice who you owe money to, the total amount owed, and what to do if you think the debt isn't yours
  • Communicate only with the lawyer if you've found an attorney to represent you

Here are some further restrictions directly listed in the FDCPA:

FDCPA §805 and 806 place some restrictions on how debt collectors may contact you:

Without the prior consent of the consumer given directly to the debt collector or the express permission of a court of competent jurisdiction, a debt collector may not communicate with a consumer in connection with the collection of any debt --

(1) at any unusual time or place or a time or place known or which should be known to be inconvenient to the consumer. In the absence of knowledge of circumstances to the contrary, a debt collector shall assume that the convenient time for communicating with a consumer is after 8 o'clock antemeridian and before 9 o'clock postmeridian, local time at the consumer's location;

(2) if the debt collector knows the consumer is represented by an attorney with respect to such debt and has knowledge of, or can readily ascertain, such attorney's name and address, unless the attorney fails to respond within a reasonable period of time to a communication from the debt collector or unless the attorney consents to direct communication with the consumer; or

(3) at the consumer's place of employment if the debt collector knows or has reason to know that the consumer's employer prohibits the consumer from receiving such communication.

A debt collector may not engage in any conduct the natural consequence of which is to harass, oppress, or abuse any person in connection with the collection of a debt. Without limiting the general application of the foregoing, the following conduct is a violation of this section:

(1) The use or threat of use of violence or other criminal means to harm the physical person, reputation, or property of any person.

(2) The use of obscene or profane language or language the natural consequence of which is to abuse the hearer or reader.

(3) The publication of a list of consumers who allegedly refuse to pay debts, except to a consumer reporting agency or to persons meeting the requirements of section 1681a(f) or 1681b(3)1 of this title.

(4) The advertisement for sale of any debt to coerce payment of the debt.

(5) Causing a telephone to ring or engaging any person in telephone conversation repeatedly or continuously with intent to annoy, abuse, or harass any person at the called number.

(6) Except as provided in section 1692b of this title, the placement of telephone calls without meaningful disclosure of the caller's identity.

You still need to respond to a Complaint even if the creditor violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. However, the FDCPA offers recourse if a debt collector is behaving unethically or harassing you. The Arizona Attorney General's website offers a consumer reporting portal that may result in criminal charges against the creditor in violation of the act. In a separate case, you may be entitled to statutory and actual damages which cover everything from emotional distress through lost wages.

View How to File an FDCPA Complaint Against Your Debt Collector for additional information on the process, see some of the shady practices debt collection companies use, or explore how debt collectors use the FDCPA to their benefit on the SoloSuit blog. Note that, as of 2021, debt collectors may contact debtors via social media channels.

Additional protections under Arizona law

Arizona requires debt collections agencies to register and be licensed with the state. In addition to compliance with the FDCPA, Arizona has further regulations regarding debt collection.

Arizona 32-1055 describes the following unlawful acts:

A. It is unlawful for a person to conduct a collection agency in this state without having first applied for and obtained a license under this chapter.

B. A collection agency licensed under this chapter shall not directly or indirectly aid, abet or receive compensation from an unlicensed person. Nothing in this chapter shall prevent a licensed agency from accepting, as forwardee, claims for collection from a collection agency or attorney whose place of business is outside this state.

C. A licensee shall not advertise a claim for sale or threaten to so advertise a claim as a means of endeavoring to enforce payment, nor shall a licensee agree to do so for the purpose of soliciting claims. This subsection shall not be deemed to affect a licensee acting as assignee for the benefit of a creditor or acting under a court order.

D. It is unlawful for a person conducting a collection agency in this state to:

1. Fail to render an account of and pay to the client for whom collection has been made the proceeds collected, less collection charges as agreed to by the person and the client, within thirty days from the last day of the month in which the proceeds were collected. If the amount due the client is less than five dollars, payment may be deferred for an additional thirty days.

2. Fail to deposit with a local depository all monies collected by the person and due to the person's clients, and to fail to keep these monies deposited until these monies or equivalent amounts are remitted to the person's clients. Notwithstanding this paragraph, if a person conducting a collection agency does not maintain an office in this state, the person may deposit and keep these monies in a depository in a state where the person maintains the person's principal office.

3. Fail to keep a record of monies collected and the remittance of these monies.

4. Fail to notify the department within ten days of any change of name under which the person does business as a collection agency or address at which the person conducts business.

5. Aid or abet, directly or indirectly, any person, persons or organizations in evading or violating any of the provisions of this chapter.

There are several organizations in the state of Arizona that offer low-cost or free legal services to those who can demonstrate financial need. If you need legal assistance and cannot afford to hire a lawyer at their standard rates, you may wish to contact one of the organizations listed below.

Community Legal Services, Inc.
(800) 852-9075
305 South 2nd Avenue, P.O. Box 21538, Phoenix, AZ 85036-1538
Counties Served: La Paz, Maricopa, Mojave, Yavapai, Yuma

DNA-Peoples Legal Services, Inc.
(800) 789-7287
Route 12, Highway 264, P.O. Box 306, Window Rock, AZ 86515
Counties Served: Coconino and reservation areas in Apache and Navajo

Southern Arizona Legal Aid, Inc.
(520) 623-9461
2343 E Broadway Blvd #200, Tucson AZ
Counties Served: Pima, Santa Cruz, Pinal, Navajo, Apache, Gila, Cochise, Graham, Greenlee

It's also worth noting that personal finance courses are available online for those who want to get their finances back on track after a debt lawsuit and there are alternatives for people facing issues like zombie debt too.

Recap: How to Answer a Summons for debt collection in Arizona

Complete the Arizona Answer form and file it within 20 days of receipt of your Summons and Complaint. Ensure that you:

  • Answer each issue/ paragraph on your Complaint
  • Assert your affirmative defenses
  • File your Answer with the court and send a copy to the plaintiff

You can use SoloSuit to streamline the process and submit your paperwork to the court.

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