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How to Answer a Summons for Debt Collection in California (2024 Guide)

George Simons | January 15, 2024

George Simons
Co-Founder of SoloSuit
George Simons, JD/MBA

George Simons is the co-founder and CEO of SoloSuit. He has helped Americans protect over $1 billion from predatory debt lawsuits. George graduated from BYU Law school in 2020 with a JD-MBA. In his spare time, George likes to cook, because he likes to eat.

Edited by Hannah Locklear

Hannah Locklear
Editor at SoloSuit
Hannah Locklear, BA

Hannah Locklear is SoloSuit’s Marketing and Impact Manager. With an educational background in Linguistics, Spanish, and International Development from Brigham Young University, Hannah has also worked as a legal support specialist for several years.

Fact-checked by Patrick Austin, J.D.

Patrick Austin
Attorney from George Mason
Patrick Austin, JD

Patrick Austin is a licensed attorney with a background in data privacy and information security law. Patrick received his law degree at George Mason University's Antonin Scalia Law School, where he served as the Editor-in-Chief for the National Security Law Journal.

Summary: You have 30 days to respond to a debt lawsuit in California. In order to respond, you must file an Answer into the case, which costs $225-$450 depending on how much debt is owed and in which court the case is filed. In your Answer, you should respond to each claim against you and assert your affirmative defenses. You can draft and file an Answer online in minutes with the help of SoloSuit.

“I love getting sued for a debt,” — said no one ever.

Being sued for debt can be stressful and overwhelming. Ignoring the Summons may cause more financial challenges than what you are already handling. The best approach is to respond to the Summons, no matter what your financial situation is. This article will simplify the process by telling you exactly how to respond to a debt collection lawsuit in California. This includes information specific to filing in California, like state deadlines and forms.

Let's dive right in.

You have 30 days to respond to a Summons for debt in California

In California, the deadline to respond to a Summons for debt is 30 days (including weekends and court holidays).

If you did not receive the lawsuit documents directly, the court gives you 40 days to respond. Such a situation occurs if the Summons and Complaint were served to someone else in your household or at work, if it was sent to an old address, or it was mailed to you. Before counting these ten extra days, ensure the plaintiff's documents say you were substitute served or call the creditor's lawyer to confirm.

Be aware of these other exceptions on deadlines in California.

Use these California Answer forms to respond to a Summons

It can be confusing and challenging for an inexperienced person to know which forms to send to respond to a debt collection Summons. SoloSuit solves this challenge by giving you several options that will help you fill the correct form.

Use SoloSuit's free Answer form to respond to a debt collection lawsuit in California.

It's quick and easy to fill, takes less than 15 minutes, and it has the best track record for debt collection lawsuits (we get cases dismissed every day). And did we mention it's free?

California Answer to Summons forms

Here are other forms provided by the state.

  • The General Denial Form - Use this form if you disagree with the entire complaint. This form doesn't provide support for affirmative defenses.
  • Answer Form - Use this legal form if you disagree with a section or agree with the entire complaint.

If you decide to use the state forms, you can use these official instructions to fill out the forms. SoloSuit's Answer is free and easy to fill out, and no instructions are needed.

Follow these steps to respond to a debt collection case in California

You know you're being sued for debt when you receive court documents that say you need to appear in court on a certain date. These documents are called the Summons and Complaint. The Summons notifies you of the lawsuit, while the Complaint lists the specific allegations (or claims) that the plaintiff is making against you.

Remember, you usually have only 30 days to respond to the Complaint. The ideal document for responding is the Answer. Here are three steps to responding to a Summons and Complaint:

  1. Answer each claim listed in the complaint
  2. Assert your affirmative defenses
  3. File the Answer with the court and serve the plaintiff

You can also watch the following video to learn more about these steps to answer a Summons for debt in California:

If you haven't been sued yet, use SoloSuit's Debt Validation Letter to fight debt collectors.

1. Answer each issue of the Complaint

Answering the Complaint can be scary, but the process is simple if you follow these guidelines. First, read the Complaint and decide how you want to respond to each numbered paragraph. You can respond in one of three ways:

  • Admit—like saying, “This is true.”
  • Deny—like saying, “Not true” or “Deny in full."
  • Deny due to lack of knowledge—like saying, “Based on the information provided, I lack the requisite knowledge to answer definitively.”

SoloSuit can help you respond in less than 15 minutes—for free!

Choose one of the options above to respond to each claim that is listed in the Complaint document. Essentially, your Answer should be a list of responses. Most attorneys recommend that you deny as many of the allegations as possible. This forces the plaintiff (or debt collector) to do more work to prove their claims. You may deny a claim if the debt is not yours, you cleared the debt, or the debt has expired.

California-specific forms give you the option to admit (agree), deny (disagree), or deny because of a lack of sufficient information (I don't know). The responding process remains the same.

2. Assert affirmative defenses

“Assert affirmative defenses” means giving legal reasons why you shouldn't lose the lawsuit or why you don't owe the debt. You should include a section in your Answer document for these relevant defenses.

Here are some of the most common affirmative defenses in debt collection cases:

  • The debt account is not yours.
  • The debt was canceled and, therefore, you don't owe the creditor.
  • The statute of limitations has expired. A statute of limitations on debt is a law that sets a time period that a debt collector or creditor can sue someone for a debt. In California, the statute of limitations on debt is at six years, so you can't be sued for a debt based on a contract that has had no activity on it for six or more years.
  • The debt was paid or excused.
  • The debt was partially paid.
  • You were a co-signer but were not informed of your obligation.

SoloSuit makes it easy to make the right defense, the right way.

These are examples of affirmative defenses acceptable in court. Being unable to pay the debt is not a legal defense and may harm your case.

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

Filing an Answer can be the most difficult part of responding to a Summons for debt collection. California 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
  • Pay the filing fee to the court.
  • Mail the other copy to the plaintiff's attorney.

SoloSuit can file your Answer for you and serve the opposing party.

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.

Pay the California Answer filing fee

California courts charge a mandatory filing fee to file your papers with the courts. Unfortunately, California also charges the highest filing fees in the nation; they range from $225–$435. SoloSuit calculates the fee for you and makes sure it gets to the court. The following is a breakdown of the filing fee across the 58 Counties:

California Answer Filing Fees

County Debt amount: $0 to $10K Debt amount: $10,000.001
to $25K
Debt amount: $25,000.001
or more
Riverside $225 $395 $450
San Bernardino $240 $380 $435
San Francisco $225 $370 $450
All other counties $225 $370 $435

Watch this video to learn more about filing fees in California:

After filing your response, serve a copy to the plaintiff within thirty days. You can send it to the creditor or their lawyer. Ensure the person who delivers the response fills out a proof of service by mail. Send a copy of this form to the court after confirming delivery. There are several courts throughout California that do not accept Answers without a proof of service. SoloSuit has done the preliminary research to know which courts require a proof of service, and this form will be included with your Answer if you file through SoloSuit.

Fill out a fee waiver form if you cannot afford to pay the filing fee

In some cases, a person may not have the money to pay the filing fee because they earn a low income. The courts allow you to apply for a waiver. You can qualify for a waiver if:

  • You receive public benefits such as food stamps (CalFresh), general assistance, cal-works, and Medi-Cal.
  • Your overall income before taxes is less than the amount listed in the waiver form FW-001 section 5b.
  • The court concludes that you don't have the money to pay for your basic needs in addition to the court fees.

If you fall in the above category, make an official request by filling in Form FW-001. The steps to follow as you fill the form are:

  1. Read the entire document and ensure you understand the requirements.
  2. Fill out the form as you read each section carefully. Use this instruction form that highlights key areas that need special attention.
  3. Sign the form in the section labeled penalty of perjury. Ensure the information you enter is truthful and can be verified.
  4. Print out two copies
  5. Submit the request to the court clerk, and they will tell you when you will get a response.

If the courts grant your request to waive filing fees, your papers will be accepted, and the court process will continue. Afterward, you can decide if you prefer to negotiate with the creditor out of court or proceed to court. If you take the case to court and win the lawsuit, you may be asked to pay the waived court fees after receiving compensation.

Use these other documents to win your debt collection lawsuit

SoloSuit can help you with the next step after answering a Summons and Complaint. You can send our Motion to Compel Arbitration to the creditor, which compels them to follow through with the arbitration clause in the contract. You can also send our Debt Lawsuit Settlement Letter, which requests the creditor to settle the debt out of court. Our customizable documents help you solve your debt issues without a lawyer.

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

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>>Read the FastCompany article: Debt Lawsuits Are Complicated: This Website Makes Them Simpler To Navigate

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