How to Answer a Summons for Debt Collection in Alabama (2023 Guide)
George Simons | December 05, 2023
Edited by Hannah Locklear
Summary: It is free to file an Answer to a debt collection lawsuit in Alabama, but you only have 14 or 30 days to respond to a debt, depending on which court has jurisdiction over your case. Use SoloSuit to respond to your debt lawsuit in minutes.
Getting sued for a debt is just the worst. This article will make the process a little bit easier and tell you how to respond to a Summons for debt collection in Alabama.
This blog post covers the basics of the debt collection lawsuit process in Alabama, including information specific to filing in Alabama, like state deadlines and forms, and steps on how to respond.
Let's get right to it.
Respond to the debt collection Summons before the deadline in Alabama
Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 12(a) states:
“A defendant shall serve an answer within thirty (30) days after the service of the summons and complaint upon that defendant except when service is made by publication and a different time is prescribed under the applicable procedure.”
In other words, the deadline to respond to a debt collection lawsuit is 30 days in Alabama Circuit Court.
The 30-day clock begins after you have received the Summons and Complaint documents. If you fail to respond within the deadline, you will probably lose by default. This means that the court will order a default judgment against you, giving the debt collector the right to garnish your wages or seize your property.
However, if your case is in the District Court or Small Claims Court, you only have 14 days to respond to the lawsuit. District Court handles debt lawsuits involving $3,000-$10,000, while Small Claims Court has jurisdiction over cases under $3,000. Civil Court handles cases involving $10,000 or more, but also cases that have been appealed from the lower level courts.
Alabama Answer to Summons forms
When you get sued for a debt, it won't take long before you realize just how tricky and expensive hiring an attorney can be. Luckily, you can avoid the stress and cost of lawyers and represent yourself. The first step is to create your Answer document.
The easiest and fastest way to draft a response to a debt collection lawsuit is this Answer form. SoloSuit walks you through the process of drafting your Answer in minutes. All you have to do is respond to a few questions about the case.
Here's a sample of SoloSuit's Answer form:
If you would rather draft your own Answer, try one of these Alabama court forms:
Great news! There is no Answer filing fee in Alabama. This means that you can file your Answer document in person or through the mail without having to pay the court.
That being said, some courts throughout Alabama may charge to file other types of documents like counterclaims or motions. It depends on the court in question and the document you are trying to file.
Now that you know you won't have to pay to file your Answer, let's explore specific steps that will help you draft and file an Answer that will increase your chances of winning the case.
Follow these steps to respond to a debt collection lawsuit in Alabama
You know you're being sued for a debt if you receive court documents in the mail called the Summons and Complaint. The Summons is an official notification of the lawsuit, while the Complaint lists the specific claims being made against you.
In a debt lawsuit, the person or company suing (usually a debt collector) is called the plaintiff. The person or company being sued is called the defendant. So, if a debt collection agency is suing you, then you are the defendant in the case.
Normally, you only have 14-30 days to respond to the Summons and Complaint in Alabama before you lose by default. You should draft and file a written Answer document to respond to the case.
Follow these three steps to respond to the Summons and Complaint:
Answer each allegation listed in the complaint.
Assert your affirmative defenses.
File the Answer with the court, and serve the plaintiff.
Now, let's take a closer look at each step. Don't like reading? Check out this video instead:
1. Answer each allegation listed in the Complaint
Answering a Complaint may seem very intimidating, but the process is really quite simple.
The first section of your Answer document should focus on responding to each claim that is listed in the Complaint document. All you need to do is read the Complaint carefully and then decide how you want to respond to each numbered paragraph. You can respond in one of three ways:
Admit: this is like saying, “I agree.”
Disagree: this is like saying, “Prove it.”
I don't know: this is like saying, “I don't know.”
You should know that most attorneys recommend denying as many allegations as possible. This is because the burden of proof is upon the plaintiff's shoulders at this stage in the case. If they cannot prove their claims with proper evidence and documentation, there is a good chance the case will be dismissed.
Alabama's form linked above also provides a simplified approach, where you can simply admit to all, deny all, or claim that you're not sure.
Let's consider an example.
Example: Emily's credit card debt of $5,000 is charged-off after six months of missed payments in Alabama. The credit card company sells her debt to a debt collection agency called LVNV Funding for just $200. LVNV hopes Emily will pay off at least a portion of the debt so they can make a profit. After contacting Emily for a few months, LVNV files a lawsuit against her. Emily uses SoloSuit to respond to the case, denying all of LVNV's claims in her Answer document. She finds out that when LVNV purchased her charged-off debt account, they did not get access to the proper documentation needed to prove that they now own the debt. LVNV cannot provide the proof that Emily requested in her Answer when she denied all the claims, and they end up dismissing the case altogether.
2. Assert your affirmative defenses
After you've responded to each claim from the Complaint document, you're ready to assert your affirmative defenses.
“Assert affirmative defenses” means list reasons that you shouldn't lose the lawsuit or why you don't owe the debt. These defenses are written into your Answer.
Here are some common affirmative defenses used in debt collection cases:
The account with the debt is not your account
The contract was already canceled; therefore, you don't owe the creditor anything.
The statute of limitations has expired. A statute of limitations is a law that sets a deadline on taking legal action. In Alabama, the statute of limitations on credit card debt is three years. So, you can't be sued for a debt based on a contract that has been inactive for six years or more.
The debt has been paid or excused.
The debt has been partially paid.
You were a co-signer but were not informed of your rights as a co-signer.
These are a few of the many affirmative defenses. Being unable to pay the debt is not a legal defense to the debt.
“Affirmative defenses. In pleading to a preceding pleading, a party shall set forth affirmatively accord and satisfaction, arbitration and award, assumption of risk, contributory negligence, discharge in bankruptcy, duress, estoppel, failure of consideration, fraud, illegality, injury by fellow servant, laches, license, payment, release, res judicata, statute of frauds, statute of limitations, waiver, and any other matter constituting an avoidance or affirmative defense.”
This is just a list of affirmative defenses you can raise in a debt collection lawsuit in fancy legal terms. In order to include your defenses easily, all you have to do is respond to a few questions on SoloSuit's website and the defenses will be automatically included in your Answer document.
3. File the Answer with the court, and serve the plaintiff
Now that you've drafted your Answer with your responses and affirmative defenses, you're ready to file it with the court.
Somewhat surprisingly, this is oftentimes the hardest part of the process. Alabama courts require defendant debtors who don't have an attorney to file the answer by mail or in person. So here's what you need to do:
Print two copies of your Answer.
Mail one copy to the court.
Mail the other copy to the plaintiff's attorney.
The address for both should be in the Summons and Complaint you received in the mail. The attorney's address should be on the top left of the first page. The court's address should be in the first two paragraphs.
Remember, there is no fee for filing an Answer. The Answer needs to arrive at the court before the deadline, which is 14 days for District Court and Small Claims cases and 30 days for Circuit Court cases.
You can use SoloSuit to respond to a debt lawsuit, to send letters to collectors, and even to settle a debt.
SoloSuit's Answer service is a step-by-step web-app that asks you all the necessary questions to complete your Answer. Upon completion, we'll have an attorney review your document and we'll file it for you.
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
Check the statute of limitations on debt in Alabama before paying
It's pretty common for debt collectors to file lawsuits against people for expired debts. This is why you should always check the statute of limitations on your debt before responding to a debt collector, especially if it's been several years since you made payments on the account.
The statute of limitations on open accounts in Alabama is three years, which includes credit cards. In other words, debt collectors only have three years to sue someone for credit card debt from the time of the last activity on the account.
So, if a debt collector contacts you about an old debt that you haven't paid off in years, check the statute of limitations before you acknowledge the debt or pay anything. Making payments on an old debt account will restart the clock on the statute of limitations.
More specifically, Alabama Code Title 6. Civil Practice § 6-2-37(1) states:
“The following must be commenced within three years:
(1) Actions to recover money due by open or unliquidated account, the time to be computed from the date of the last item of the account or from the time when, by contract or usage, the account is due.”
“The following must be commenced within six years: Actions founded on promises in writing not under seal; Actions for the recovery of money upon a loan, upon a stated or liquidated account or for arrears of rent due upon a parol demise.”
Finally, Alabama Code Title 7. Commercial Code § 7-2-725(1) states:
“An action for breach of any contract for sale must be commenced within four years after the cause of action has accrued. By the original agreement the parties may reduce the period of limitation to not less than one year but may not extend it.”
The table below lists the statute of limitations on different types of debt in Alabama, which explains the laws listed above:
Example: Joe, who lives in Alabama, hasn't made any payments on his credit card for almost five years. He's taken a major hit to his credit score, but he can't afford to pay off the debt of $1,200. Joe finds out that his account has been “charged off” and sold to a debt collection agency. The debt collectors start calling him every day about the money he owes, and at first Joe doesn't know what to do. After doing some research online, Joe finds out that the statute of limitations on his credit card debt has expired. When the debt collectors file a lawsuit against Joe, he uses SoloSuit to respond with an Answer where he uses the expired statute of limitations as one of his affirmative defenses. The debt collection agency dismisses the case a few weeks later.
Utilize Alabama legal aid organizations
Hiring an attorney can be tricky and expensive. Luckily, the state of Alabama has several legal aid organizations that can help people who cannot or do not want to hire a lawyer and are representing themselves. Here are some of the prominent legal aid organizations in Alabama:
If you don't feel comfortable sending your court documents over e-file, you can always visit your courthouse and file in person. Use this Alabama Courts Directory tool to find the address of your courthouse and the court clerk's contact information. Just click on the county in which you reside, and the county's judicial website will open in a new tab.
Knowing where your courthouse is located can help you be better prepared for your trial and stay updated on your case status
Now, you should have all the information you need to properly respond to a debt collection lawsuit in Alabama. Don't feel intimidated by debt collectors. While they're really good at the debt collection game, you can beat them when they least expect it.
So, five key takeaways for responding to a debt collection suit in Alabama are:
You have 14-30 days to respond to a debt collection lawsuit with an Answer document in Alabama.
There is no fee to file an Answer in Alabama.
SoloSuit can help you draft and file an Answer where you respond to each claim from the Complaint and assert your affirmative defenses.
The statute of limitations on credit card debt is three years in Alabama.
Alabama has several legal aid organizations that can help you, and you can visit the courthouse or call the court clerk if you have any basic questions about your case.
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 by formally requesting a debt validation with a Debt Validation Letter . This letter notifies the collector that you dispute the debt and forces them to 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.
Some creditors, banks, and lenders have an internal collections department. If they come after you for a debt, Solosuit can still help you respond and resolve the debt. Here’s a list of guides on how to resolve debt with different creditors.
If the thought of going to court stresses you out, you’re not alone. Many Americans who are sued for credit card debt utilize a Motion to Compel Arbitration to push their case out of court and into arbitration.
Below are some resources on how to use an arbitration clause to your advantage and win a debt lawsuit.
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It only takes 15 minutes. And 50% of our customers' cases have been dismissed in the past.
"Finding yourself on the wrong side of the law unexpectedly is kinda scary. I started researching on YouTube and found SoloSuit's channel. The videos were so helpful, easy to understand and encouraging. When I reached out to SoloSuit they were on it. Very professional, impeccably prompt. Thanks for the service!" – Heather