George Simons | March 21, 2023
Summary: You have 30 days to respond to a debt collection lawsutin in Illinois, and you must file both Appearance and Answer document. Filing fees range from $109-$251. Use SoloSuit to draft your Answer and file both documents in minutes.
What do you call a smiling, courteous person at a debt collector convention? — The caterer.
Debt collectors can be very aggressive, and there are few things worse than having to deal with a lawsuit from an overzealous debt collector when you are simply struggling to stay afloat. So, if you are a resident of Illinois and you have just been served with a debt collection lawsuit, then you need to know how to respond.
If you do respond, you will greatly increase your chances of not having to pay the debt at all. That is because debt collectors love to initiate lawsuits, but they rarely have the evidence or resources to follow through with the case.
Indeed, a lot of debt collectors file lawsuits with the expectation that a debtor will simply not show up to court—because that is typically what happens. When a debtor fails to respond to a lawsuit, the debtor automatically loses the case, and the debt collector wins. Don't fall victim to that strategy.
SoloSuit can give you the tools, consistent with Illinois debt collection laws, to effectively push back against a debt collector's lawsuit. By doing so, you might just be able to show the court that the debt collector is wrong and that you do not owe anything on the alleged debt.
In this blog, we cover the basics of responding to a debt collection lawsuit in the state of Illinois. We will cover how, when, and where to respond to a lawsuit so that you can feel confident to stand up for your rights in court and win.
Let's jump right in.
Generally, the deadline to respond to a debt collection lawsuit in Illinois is 30 days. The clock starts on the deadline as soon as the Summons and Complaint have been officially served to the defendant.
More specifically, Illinois Rules of Civil Procedure 735 ILCS 5/2-208 states:
“No default shall be entered until the expiration of at least 30 days after service. A default judgment entered on such service may be set aside only on a showing which would be timely and sufficient to set aside a default judgment entered on personal service within this State.”
This is just a fancy, legal way of saying that you have 30 days from the day you received the Summons and Complaint to file your Appearance and Answer forms in the court before you lose by default. After the deadline, the debt collector can file a motion for default judgment, and if it is granted, will have the right to garnish your wages and seize your property.
There are a number of ways to create an “Answer,” or response, to a debt collection lawsuit. The first, and easiest, way is to use this Answer Form.
At SoloSuit, we can help you in Illinois (or any State in the United States). Our method of walking you through the process of responding to a debt collection suit in Illinois is second to none. Check out our easy-to-use automated service. Here's a sample of the Answer form you can create with SoloSuit:
The other way to respond in Illinois is to use the forms provided by the State of Illinois court system, if you would like to do it on your own. The form is found here: AR-A 1403.4.
You must also file an “Appearance” at the same time you file an Answer. While an Answer essentially responds to the Complaint, the Appearance is the way you tell the court that you wish to be heard in the lawsuit. As with the Answer, SoloSuit can help you create your Appearance document. That said, if you want to do it on your own, you can also find the Appearance form here: AP-P 503.5.
Given that you need to respond in a format that an Illinois court will accept, it is important to take advantage of either SoloSuit's automated service, or the forms provided by the Illinois courts.
In order to file an Answer in Illinois, you must first file an Appearance form. This is an official declaration that you plan to appear in court and fight the case. The fee to file an Answer is technically free, but you must pay a fee in all Illinois courts to file an Appearance. Without an Appearance, your Answer will not be considered.
Each court in Illinois has specific fee amounts to file an Appearance and Answer. In general, the filing fee in Illinois ranges from $109-$251, depending on the amount in question and the court that has jurisdiction over the case.
You can also try calling the court clerk to figure out your filing fee amount. There are two different Appearance filing fee amounts for each Illinois court: one for small claims cases that involve $2,500 or less, and another for cases with more than $2,500 at stake. Knowing how much you are being sued for will help you figure out how much you have to pay to file your response. If you cannot afford to pay the filing fee, you can ask the court to waive the fee. Of course, as with all bureaucracies, you will need to fill out yet another form. To request a fee waiver, fill out the Application for Waiver of Court Fees form, which is basically you asking the court to allow you to file your Appearance and Answer documents for free.
Now that we have talked a little about filing deadlines and fees, let's quickly review the basics of a debt collection case in Illinois so you understand the process and the necessary documents that are part of that process.
A debt collection lawsuit begins when the plaintiff (debt collector or the collector's lawyer) files a lawsuit in court. Then, the plaintiff must send a court Summons and Complaint to the defendant (the person being sued). The titles of these documents really help explain what they are.
The “Summons” literally summons, or calls, you into court. It is an official notification that you are being sued for a debt that you supposedly owe.
The “Complaint,” on the other hand, is what the debt collector is literally complaining about. It lists all the specific allegations, or claims, being made against you. In a debt collection lawsuit, the Complaint essentially states the following: “You owe me money, and you have not paid.”
Once you get the Summons and Complaint in hand, it is your turn to respond. Just like in any dispute in regular life, when someone complains about something, you respond by either admitting guilt or defending yourself.
In Illinois, you must respond with an Appearance form and an Answer form. The Appearance document is a statewide form that declares you plan to appear in court. It lets you choose if you want a trial with just a judge or one with both a judge and jury. The Answer document is where you respond to each claim from the Complaint and give your defenses.
To respond to a debt collection Summons and Complaint in Illinois, follow these three steps:
If you don't like reading, check out this video instead:
The first section of your Answer document should focus on responding to each claim that is listed in the Complaint document.
Illinois Rules of Civil Procedure Section 735 ILCS 5/2-610(a-b) states:
“Every answer and subsequent pleading shall contain an explicit admission or denial of each allegation of the pleading to which it relates.”
Every allegation, except allegations of damages, not explicitly denied is admitted, unless the party states in his or her pleading that he or she has no knowledge thereof sufficient to form a belief, and attaches an affidavit of the truth of the statement of want of knowledge, or unless the party has had no opportunity to deny.”
In other words, you must respond to each allegation, or claim, listed in the Complaint. If you don't respond to one of the claims, the court will consider it an admission.
As you look at the Complaint you received, find the list of numbered paragraphs that contain the specific claims being made against you. You should respond to each claim in a numbered list on your Answer document.
Choose one of the following responses to each of the Complaint's claims:
Most attorneys recommend that you deny as many claims as possible. This forces the other side to prove what they are claiming is true. If they don't have enough documentation or evidence to do so, they might dismiss the case altogether.
Remember, if the Complaint has information that you both agree and disagree with, then you would be wise to choose “Deny” for those paragraphs. You will have time later to clarify what exactly you are denying in those paragraphs that are only partially true.
Now that you have addressed every single numbered claim in the Complaint, you're ready to assert your affirmative defenses. As we said before, when you get in a dispute, you not only disagree with the other person's comments, but you give reasons for why you took the actions you took. In short, you provide defenses for why you are not guilty of what you are being accused of—these are called affirmative defenses.
Section 735 ILCS 5/2-613(d) of Illinois Rules of Civil Procedure states:
“The facts constituting any affirmative defense, such as payment, release, satisfaction, discharge, license, fraud, duress, estoppel, laches, statute of frauds, illegality, that the negligence of a complaining party contributed in whole or in part to the injury of which he complains, that an instrument or transaction is either void or voidable in point of law, or cannot be recovered upon by reason of any statute or by reason of nondelivery, want or failure of consideration in whole or in part, and any defense which by other affirmative matter seeks to avoid the legal effect of or defeat the cause of action set forth in the complaint, counterclaim, or third-party complaint, in whole or in part, and any ground or defense, whether affirmative or not, which, if not expressly stated in the pleading, would be likely to take the opposite party by surprise, must be plainly set forth in the answer or reply.”
This law means that you have the option of adding what are called “affirmative defenses” to your Answer document. These are legal reasons that explain why you do not owe the debt in question, or why the legal action being taken against you is invalid. If you plan to use any affirmative defenses in your case, you must include them in your initial Answer document. Some of the most common affirmative defenses that people use in responding to a debt collection lawsuit include the following:
The Answer form may not provide space for affirmative defenses, but the form does allow you to attach additional statements to the form. You should be sure to include your affirmative defenses (as many listed above as apply to you) on that separate sheet of paper.
Unfortunately, an inability to pay a debt does not count as a valid affirmative defense.
Once you have taken the time to create your Answer document, all you have left to do is (1) file the Answer with the court, and (2) make sure that the plaintiff gets a copy. Let's talk about those two steps.
To file your Answer with the court, Illinois requires that you file online. The way to do that is to follow the instructions for e-filing. If you do not have access to a computer, then you can go to the Circuit Court Clerk's office for help e-filing your Answer; in some areas, you may be required to use a public terminal to e-file. The Answer can either be on paper or saved on a flash drive. E-filing can be surprisingly complicated; here is more information.
The court will not consider your Answer document if it is not filed with an Appearance document. This rule is only specific to Illinois. So, when filing your Answer, be sure to file an Appearance form as well.
To send a copy to your adversary, you can send your Answer by hand delivery, by regular mail, by FedEx or UPS, or email (if the adversary provided an email address). Remember the debt collector should get a copy of your Answer. But if the debt collector has an attorney, then the Answer should go to that attorney's address instead.
Make sure that you keep a copy of your Appearance and Answer for your records.
Finally, the State of Illinois asks that you include a “Proof of Delivery” section in your Answer. Room on the Answer form is provided for this Proof of Delivery information. Simply put, the Proof of Delivery is the way that you tell the court how you sent a copy of your Answer to the debt collector, or his lawyer. SoloSuit's Answer form includes this section.
SoloSuit makes it easy to fight debt collectors.
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.
"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
You can ask your questions on the SoloSuit forum and the community will help you out. Whether you need help now or are just looking for support, we're here for you.
Debt collectors cannot hold a debt over your head forever. There is an Illinois debt collection statute of limitations, which means that creditors only have a limited amount of time to sue you for a debt. The limitations period depends upon the kind of debt it is.
The statute of limitations clock starts to run on the date of your last payment. This means that if a debt collector reaches out about an old debt, and you start making payments on the account, the clock on the statute of limitations will restart. This is why you should always check the statute of limitations on your debt before making any payments or payment plans, or acknowledging that you owe it.
In Illinois, the statute of limitations on credit card debt, medical debt, and oral contracts is five years, according to Illinois Rules of Civil Procedure 735 ILCS 5/13-205. For written contracts, including mortgages, the Illinois statute of limitations is 10 years (735 ILCS 5/13-206).
The table below outlines the Illinois statute of limitations on different types of debt:
Illinois Statute of Limitations
Deadline in Years
Now, let's consider an example.
Example: Sarah, who is from Illinois, stopped making payments on her credit card account about six years ago. Recently, she was contacted by a debt collector about the debt. She found out that the credit card company had sold her debt account to the collection agency who was now trying to get her to pay off her debt of $800. The debt collectors kept contacting Sarah, and eventually they filed a lawsuit. After doing some research online, Sarah found out that the debt's statute of limitations was five years and had already passed. Sarah used SoloSuit to draft an Answer to the lawsuit where she added that the statute of limitations had expired on the debt as one of her affirmative defenses. A few weeks later, she found out the debt collection agency dismissed the case.
Hiring an attorney can be tricky and expensive. Luckily, the state of Illinois 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 Illinois:
Prairie State Legal Services, Inc. (for Northern Illinois)
303 North Main Street, Suite 600
Rockford, IL 61101
Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation, Inc. (for Southern Illinois)
8787 State Street, Suite 201
East St. Louis, IL 62203
Online Legal Aid
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 Illinois Courts Directory tool to find the address of your courthouse. You can also use this list of Illinois court clerks if you want to call and ask any questions about filing.
Knowing where your courthouse is located can help you be better prepared for your trial and stay updated on your case status.
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.
To learn more about how a Debt Validation Letter can help you, check out this video:
There you are: the basic tools to respond to a debt collection lawsuit in the State of Illinois. Remember, you do not need to give away your power when being sued by a debt collector. If you take just a little time to respond to the lawsuit, you may find that the debt collector will fold. Then, you no longer have to worry about the debt. Yet, even if the debt collector follows through, you are in a better position by responding to the lawsuit than if you automatically lose the suit by not responding.
So, five key takeaways for responding to a debt collection suit in Illinois are:
Sending a fake Summons is against the law, but that doesn't always stop debt collectors from doing so. Here are some ways you can spot a fake Summons from a debt collector, and how to confirm if your debt collection lawsuit is real or not:
Here's a list of guides for other states.
Being sued by a different debt collector? Were making guides on how to beat each one.
Is your credit card company suing you? Learn how you can beat each one.
Need more info on statutes of limitations? Read our 50-state guide.
Need help managing your finances? Check out these resources.