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

George Simons | July 11, 2023

Edited by Hannah Locklear

Summary: You have 30 days to respond to a debt collection lawsuit in North Carolina. You should respond with a written Answer and assert your affirmative defenses. File the Answer with the court before the deadline. SoloSuit can help you draft and file an Answer to your North Carolina lawsuit in just 15 minutes.

“You know what sounds fun? Getting sued by a debt collector!” — said no one ever.

No one wants to get sued for a debt. These days it can feel harder than even to keep up with your bills. Sometimes you just can't pay all of them, so you have to make some hard choices about which to prioritize. Even if you know it's coming, it can still feel overwhelming to receive an official court document stating that you are being sued.

Chances are you haven't been sued before, let alone represented yourself in court. And hiring an attorney to help you out might be off the table just based on cost. Besides, if you had extra money lying around to pay an attorney you probably would have just paid off your debt in the first place!

This article can help make the process of responding to a debt collection lawsuit a little bit easier: it will walk you through how to answer a Summons for debt collection in North Carolina.

How does a debt lawsuit work in North Carolina?

We know that receiving a court notice can be scary and might very well feel like too much to handle on your own. But we also know that is exactly what your creditor (the person or company you owe money to) wants you to feel. See, if your creditor files a lawsuit for debt collection in North Carolina and you don't respond within the allowed time-frame, then they win, just by waiting out the clock.

The creditor, or plaintiff (the party who begins a lawsuit), will be awarded something called a “default judgment” by the Court: this means they win. And since you didn't defend yourself, that judgment will be for the amount that they say you owe. Even worse, now with an official court order, the creditor can garnish your wages or tax refund, and possibly even your bank account. This can put you into an even worse financial situation than when you started.

So now that you understand the stakes involved and the tactics your creditor is using to try to intimidate you into not responding, let's take that power back. Below we will go over how to answer a summons for debt collection in North Carolina, including specific information, deadlines, and forms needed to respond to this lawsuit.

The graphic below illustrates all the possible routes a debt lawsuit may take:

debt lawsuit flowchart

North Carolina has a deadline for responding to a aebt collection Summons

North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 12(a) states:

“(1) When Presented. – A defendant shall serve his answer within 30 days after service of the summons and complaint upon him.”

This means that, in North Carolina, you have 30 days to file an Answer with the court after being served with a Summons and Complaint.

Let's take a quick step back and Answer some basic questions, like what is a civil Summons in North Carolina? The “Summons and Complaint” refers to the written documents you receive that begin a lawsuit.

The Summons is the official notification of the lawsuit that outlines the parties involved, the court venue, and other basic information. The Complaint, on the other hands, lists all the specific claims that are being made against you.

Being “served” refers to how you receive the initial legal documents, likely either in person or by mail. There will be a signed certificate of service in the paperwork you receive that will tell you when the clock starts for your reply. The reply by the defendant to the complaint is also referred to as an “Answer.”

Again, you have only 30 days to create and file your Answer with the court in North Carolina.

There are a few important details to keep in mind here.

  • These deadlines are strict and will be enforced.
  • The clock begins as soon as you are served.
  • The 30 day response period can include days that the Court is not open, like weekends or holidays. If the 30th day falls on a date that the Court is closed, you will have until the next business day to file your Answer. It's best not to cut it this close.

There might be an option to request an extension to file your Answer which can vary by location. If you do miss the deadline entirely there could be an opportunity to ask the Court to set aside a default judgment and allow you a chance to respond, but these are only granted rarely, if ever. Knowing your deadlines and filing your response within that time frame is perhaps the most important defense that you can offer under North Carolina debt collection laws.

Use these North Carolina Answer to Summons Forms

The easiest way to draft and file an Answer to your North Carolina debt collection lawsuit is to use SoloSuit’s Answer form. SoloSuit’s software allows you to create an Answer that is customized to your case, in the proper format, with the proper legal wording. All you have to do is respond to a few simple questions.

Additionally, we'll have an attorney review and file the completed documents, so you can rest assured that all the details and deadlines have been followed to the letter.

Check to see if this form will work for you with this sample Answer form.

Respond with SoloSuit

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The court system in North Carolina does not offer a blank template form for your Answer in a debt collection lawsuit. However, you can find North Carolina specific instructions for drafting your response and a sample Answer to follow.

Follow these steps to respond to a debt collection case in North Carolina

The lawsuit begins with the Summons and Complaint being served on you either in person or by mail. You have 30 days to file your response in North Carolina.

If you fail to respond within the 30 day period, you will lose the case by inaction, and the court will file a default judgment against you. Obviously, you want to avoid this outcome

Use these three steps to respond to your North Carolina debt lawsuit:

  1. Answer each issue of the Complaint.
  2. Assert your affirmative defenses.
  3. File the Answer document with the court, and serve the opposing party with a copy.

It's a good idea to also keep a copy for your own records and for use at the hearing. Make certain to also fill out a certificate of service with the date on it that you intend to mail out a copy to the opposing side and sign it.

Now, let's look at each step in detail. Don’t like reading? Check out this video instead:

1. Answer each issue of the Complaint.

Next, you need to answer the complaint.

You can do so in a few different ways. First, you can offer a “general denial,” which is a tactic often used by attorneys because it places the burden of proof for everything contained in the Complaint on the plaintiff. More commonly, however, it's best to respond to each numbered paragraph separately. Your response can be as simple as one of the following:

  • Admit
  • Deny
  • Deny due to lack of knowledge

SoloSuit helps you respond the right way.

Choose the appropriate response and write it in your Answer, making certain that you are properly listing the corresponding paragraph number. It's important to be brief, yet truthful in your responses as they can be determined to be an admission of facts.

When you deny a claim, it’s kind of like saying, “Prove it.” If the plaintiff doesn’t have enough evidence to prove each claim that you deny, they might just throw out the case entirely. This is why many attorneys recommend denying as many claims as possible.

That being said, there is no harm in admitting to facts that are true, such as your name and address. You can admit with an explanation if you feel that is necessary. It's also fine to admit in part and deny in part if some of the numbered paragraph is true but not all of it. You can also refer to and attach documents as exhibits if you have any that are relevant to this matter.

2. Assert your affirmative defenses

The next part is where you can assert your argument by using any of a number of “affirmative defenses.” Affirmative defenses are claims that you can assert to show why the plaintiff does not have a case against you. You can list any affirmative defenses that apply in your response.

Common affirmative defenses can include the following:

  • The account listed in the complaint is not yours. Perhaps the account number listed in the complaint is not the same as yours. Or perhaps you have been the victim of identity theft and someone else took out this debt illegally in your name. In this scenario, you might have documentation that is helpful to your defense, such as a statement for your account listing a different account number or name, or a police report you filed because of identity theft.
  • You have already paid off the debt. Having already paid off a debt is an excellent defense. Whether you paid it off in full or came to an agreement with your creditor to accept a lower amount in full satisfaction of the debt, paid is paid. Here again, documentation can be very helpful to attach as exhibits to your Answer.
  • You disagree with the amount of debt listed in the complaint. This could very well be a legitimate debt that you owed that grew over time to an amount that you believe to now be excessive. Here perhaps a satisfactory resolution to the lawsuit would be coming to an agreement with your creditor for an amount that you can reasonably repay and a payment plan you can follow.
  • The debt was discharged in a bankruptcy. If you have previously filed for bankruptcy and included this debt in your case that successfully received a discharge, then the debt is no longer your obligation.
  • The North Carolina debt collection statute of limitations has expired. A statute of limitations is a length of time that a debt collector has to legally come after you to pay a debt. Once that time has expired, they can no longer seek to collect through the courts.
  • You do not have enough information to confirm that the plaintiff holds the debt. This is a very common scenario as many creditors make a practice to sell off their uncollected debt for pennies on the dollar after a period of non-payment (usually a minimum of 90 days) to debt collection agencies. These agencies don't always verify that the debts are valid, haven't been discharged in a bankruptcy case, or have the correct information. Since they often purchase uncollected debts in bulk it can be difficult, if not impossible, for them to prove that they truly own a debt with a verifiable paper trail.

These are just a few of the many possible affirmative defenses that you can assert in your Answer. It's important to note, however, that inability to pay is not a legal defense to this action.

Rule 8(c) of North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure states:

“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, truth in actions for defamation, usury, waiver, and any other matter constituting an avoidance or affirmative defense. Such pleading shall contain a short and plain statement of any matter constituting an avoidance or affirmative defense sufficiently particular to give the court and the parties notice of the transactions, occurrences, or series of transactions or occurrences, intended to be proved.”

These are the legal terms used for affirmative defenses. SoloSuit simplifies the language for you by asking you some questions about your case and translating your answers into the proper legal wording.

Make the right defense the right way with SoloSuit.

There is also an opportunity to list any counterclaims if you believe you have additional claims against the plaintiff. This may come up if the creditor has violated the North Carolina Fair Debt Collection Practices Act or the North Carolina Debt Collection Act in their collection actions. Filing any counterclaims can make your response much more complicated and is probably best done with an attorney's assistance.

3. File the Answer document with the court, and serve the opposing party with a copy

After you've put in the time and effort to draft your Answer you will need to file it with the court and serve it on the plaintiff’s attorney, which has to be done in a particular way.

Don't have a printer? SoloSuit can take care of all the filing details for you.

Make certain that you also fill out a certificate of service with the date on it that you intend to mail out a copy to the opposing side and sign it. You'll need to do so within that 30 day time period, otherwise all the hard work you've put in already will go to waste.

To complete this final step of filing your Answer, you will need to do the following:

  • Print at least two copies of your Answer
  • Mail one copy to the court
  • Mail the other copy to the plaintiff's attorney.

It's always a good idea to print an additional copy to keep for your own records. It may also prove useful for you to have a copy at your hearing. If you don't have access to a printer at home or at work you can try your North Carolina public library system or a copy store chain to print your documents for the lowest possible cost. To mail out the copies for the Court and to the plaintiff;s attorney you can use the addresses that are listed in your Summons and Complaint you received in the mail.

What is SoloSuit?

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.

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

>>Read the NPR story on SoloSuit. (We can help you in all 50 states.)

North Carolina statute of limitations on debt

North Carolina General Statutes § 1-52 outlines the statute of limitations on most types of debt in North Carolina.

North Carolina does not have a single statute of limitations for debt collection, rather it varies depending on what type of debt it is. For example, a mortgage has a statute of limitations of 10 years in North Carolina. On the other hands, the North Carolina statute of limitations on credit card debt and medical debt is only three years.
The table below further outlines the statute of limitations on debt in North Carolina:

Statute of Limitations on Debt in North Carolina

Debt Type Deadline
Credit Card 3 years
Medical 3 years
Student Loan 3 years
Auto Loan 3 years
Mortgage 3 years
Personal Loan 3 years
Judgment 10 years
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1-47, 1-52

(Check out the different statutes of limitations on debt in all 50 states)

North Carolina Legal Aid Organizations

North Carolina has a number of legal aid organizations, some of which are funded by the government available to assist residents who cannot afford an attorney to help them with legal actions. Here are some:

Let's consider an example.

Example: Willy has a credit card debt, and the last time he made a payment towards the debt was eight years ago. A debt collector tries to sue him for the debt. In this case, the statute of limitations has expired and Willy needs to bring that up as an affirmative defense.

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 Validation 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.

Get started with a Debt Validation Letter here.

Key Takeaways

So, in short, here's the review on how to answer a Summons for debt collection in North Carolina.

  • Remember that the Deadline for North Carolina is 30 days.
  • Use the SoloSuit Answer form to draft and file your response.
  • In your Answer, you should respond to each claim listed in the Complaint and assert your affirmative defenses.
  • File the Answer with the court before the deadline, and send a copy to the opposing attorney.
  • The North Carolina statute of limitations on credit card debt is three years.
  • There are several North Carolina legal aid organizations that can assist you with your lawsuit.

Good Luck!

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