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

Hannah Locklear | December 29, 2023

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 George Simons, JD/MBA

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.

Summary: You have 20 days to respond to a debt collection lawsuit in Pennsylvania before you lose by default. There is no fee to file, but some courts have special filing requirements that you should know. You can use SoloSuit to draft and file your Answer in 15 minutes and be assured that all Pennsylvania rules are being followed.

“Man, I am really psyched to talk to this debt collector again on the phone!” — said no one ever.

Getting sued for a debt that has gone to collections is definitely no picnic, but it doesn't necessarily have to be a traumatic experience. While facing a debt collector can be frightening, under PA debt collection laws, you have legal rights that protect you from debt collectors who act unfairly or abusively. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act also protects you.

In addition, SoloSuit is here to help you get through the process of responding to a debt lawsuit in Pennsylvania as painlessly as possible. In this guide, you'll get the information you need to meet key deadlines, properly respond to your Summons, get debt collectors off your back, and maybe even end up paying less than you were anticipating.

You have 20 days to respond to a debt collection lawsuit in Pennsylvania

Under the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 1007.1(a) states:

“In any action in which the right to jury trial exists, that right shall be deemed waived unless a party files and serves a written demand for a jury trial not later than twenty days after service of the last permissible pleading. The demand shall be made by endorsement on a pleading or by a separate writing.”

This means that you have 20 days to respond to a debt collection lawsuit in Pennsylvania if you want to fight back.

While this is definitely plenty of time to submit a response (known in legal terms as an “Answer”), it is always in your best interest to respond as soon as possible. The worst thing you can do is ignore the Summons and Complaint.

If you happen to miss the 20-day deadline to answer your debt collection Summons, on the 21st day you will then receive a 10-Day Notice. This is a final reminder that you have not yet answered or objected to the complaint. After this, if 10 additional days pass and you have not yet responded, the plaintiff's attorney will file a Motion for Default Judgment.

This is the last thing you want to happen. If a default judgment is granted, you will automatically lose your case. The judge will enter a judgment against you and award the plaintiff the amount they asked for. This is true even if a mistake was made or you do not owe as much as the creditor claims, so it's best to answer by the deadline.

Pennsylvania Answer to Summons forms

Pennsylvania does not have an official form you can use to answer a Summons.

But don't worry: you can use SoloSuit's Answer form to prepare your response in just 15 minutes. We'll even have an attorney review the document, and we will file it so you know everything has been done right.

Here's a sample of SoloSuit's Answer form, so you know what yours will end up looking like.

If you prefer, you can also write up your own Answer. If you decide to do this, you will need to send it to both the court and the opposing attorney. (There are instructions on how to do this later in the guide.)

Most Pennsylvania courts do not charge an Answer filing fee

Great news! You don't have to pay to file your Answer in Pennsylvania in most courts.

However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, The Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia charged $154.54 to file an Answer to a Summons and Complaint. If you cannot afford to pay the fee, you can apply for a fee waiver. Just fill out your court's fee waiver form.

If you try to send your Answer to the court without paying the filing fee, it will be rejected. Make sure you check the filing fee schedule for your court before taking any action. Luckily, there is no fee in most courts.

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

When you get sued for debt in Pennsylvania, you should receive a Pennsylvania Summons and Complaint document in the mail. The Summons notifies you of the lawsuit, while the Complaint lists the specific claims being made against you. You must respond with an Answer document before 20 days have passed since you received the court documents.

To set up your document, start by putting all of the information included in your Complaint and Summons at the top of your Answer document. Don't skip anything: this information, known legally as “styling” must be included within your Answer document.

The information at the top of your Answer document should include:

  • Your name, address, and other personal information appearing on the Complaint and Summons
  • The plaintiff's information including the name and address of the attorney suing you as well as the name and address of the company suing you
  • Information for the court, including the official name of the court where your case will be held, the state, and the court's address
  • Information on your case, including a case number, an index number, or a civil number, the amount of the lawsuit, and any other information

After you've set up the formatting of your Answer, you're ready to add the content that will help you present a strong case to the court.

Follow these three steps to respond to your Pennsylvania debt collection case:

  1. Answer each claim from the Complaint.
  2. Assert affirmative defenses.
  3. File your Answer with the court and serve the plaintiff.

The language is a little technical, but below we will explain in detail how each step works. Don't like reading? Watch this video instead:

1. Answer each claim from the Complaint

If answering the complaint makes you feel anxious, you are definitely not alone, but by following the simple instructions below, you can get through it with no sweat.

Rule 1029(a) of Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure states:

“A responsive pleading shall admit or deny each averment of fact in the preceding pleading or any part thereof to which it is responsive. A party denying only a part of an averment shall specify so much of it as is admitted and shall deny the remainder. Admissions and denials in a responsive pleading shall refer specifically to the paragraph in which the averment admitted or denied is set forth.”

In other words, the first section of your Answer document should focus on responding to each claim (also known as averment) listed in the Complaint.

Start by reading through the numbered paragraphs on the Complaint to make sure you understand the details of the claims against you. You should create a corresponding list where you answer each claim with one of the following responses:

  • Admit: this is like saying, “This is true.”
  • Deny: this is like saying, “Prove it.”
  • Deny due to lack of knowledge: this is like saying, “I don't know.”

If you're like many people, you may be wondering if there is a strategy you need to use to answer the accusations in a Complaint. Ideally, you should avoid overthinking it and answer honestly. If an accusation is incorrect, disagree. If it is correct, agree. If you are truly unsure, state that you don't know.

Most attorneys recommend denying as many claims as possible, if not all. When you deny everything, it is known as a General Denial. With this type of response, the burden of proof is transferred to the opposing counsel and they will have to prove that each of the allegations against you is true.

Respond to each claim in the Complaint in fifteen minutes with SoloSuit.

2. Assert affirmative defenses

Once you've responded to each claim from the Complaint, it's time to assert your affirmative defenses.

An affirmative defense is any legal reason that the person or company suing you does not have a valid case against you. There are many affirmative defenses, and one or more may apply to your case. You should list each affirmative defense that applies to your Answer and, if necessary, explain it.

In Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 1030(b) states:

“All affirmative defenses including but not limited to the defenses of accord and satisfaction, arbitration and award, consent, discharge in bankruptcy, duress, estoppel, failure of consideration, fair comment, fraud, illegality, immunity from suit, impossibility of performance, justification, laches, license, payment, privilege, release, res judicata, statute of frauds, statute of limitations, truth and waiver shall be pleaded in a responsive pleading under the heading 'New Matter.' A party may set forth as new matter any other material facts which are not merely denials of the averments of the preceding pleading.”

This is simply a list of affirmative defenses with their fancy, and confusing, legal names. Below is a list of examples of affirmative defenses that are often used in debt collection cases (in simplified language):

  • The account or debt in question does not belong to you.
  • You canceled your contract with the creditor and owe nothing.
  • The statute of limitations for the debt has expired. The Pennsylvania statute of limitations for debt collection is four years, so any debt account that has been inactive for four years or more is past the statute of limitations, and you cannot be sued for it.
  • You believe you are a victim of identity theft and the debt actually belongs to someone else who used your name and information.
  • You believe the amount of the debt is incorrect (for example, you owe a debt, but a mistake was made by the creditor in terms of the amount).
  • The plaintiff is a debt buyer, not the original creditor. (In this case, since you signed a contract with the original creditor but not the debt buyer, you can challenge their right to sue.)

Now, let's take a look at an example.

Example: Janet is being sued by a debt collector for a credit card debt in Pennsylvania. Her debt is so old that Janet doesn't even remember it. After doing some research, Janet learns that she hasn't made any payments on this credit card account for more than five years. This means that the debt is past the statute of limitations on credit card debt in Pennsylvania, and she cannot be sued for it. Janet uses SoloSuit to draft and file her Answer, where she mentions that the debt's statute of limitations has expired. The case is reviewed and dismissed.

Make the right affirmative defense the right way with SoloSuit.

To learn more about how statutes of limitations work, check out SoloSuit's Statutes of Limitations on Debt Collections by State guide. Something important to keep in mind is that an inability to pay your debt does not typically qualify as an affirmative defense. The exception to this is if your debt was discharged because you previously filed for bankruptcy. If this is your situation, make sure you have documentation showing that the debt was discharged.

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

Once you've completed your Answer, you have one step left to go, but it's an important one so don't forget it.

Before you ship off your Answer, you should include a Certificate of Compliance at the end of the document.

The Certificate of Compliance certifies that the person filing a document has followed Pennsylvania rules on filing confidential information and documents differently than non-confidential information and documents. An Answer is generally a non-confidential document.

SoloSuit’s Answer form includes the Certificate of Compliance for Pennsylvania cases. It looks something like this:

“I certify that this filing complies with the provisions of the Public Access Policy of the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania: Case Records of the Appellate and Trial Courts that require filing confidential information and documents differently than non-confidential information and documents.”

Now, you're ready to file. Here's what to do to officially file your Answer:

  1. Print two copies of your answer document.
  2. Mail the first copy to the court.
  3. Mail the second copy to the plaintiff's attorney.

Make sure to look up the correct mailing address of the court listed on your Summons and Complaint. It can be a pain to find, it's a good idea to mail both copies using the United States Postal Service's Certified Mail and to request a receipt confirming that it was delivered. This will give you proof that all required parties received your Answer.

Once you receive your receipt, take the time to make a copy of your Answer document and your receipt. In addition, take a photo of it with your phone's camera so you always have proof that your Answer was delivered.

SoloSuit files for you and even has an attorney review your document.

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.

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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Check the statute of limitations on debt in Pennsylvania

The state of Pennsylvania typically has a 4-year statute of limitations for most debts.

This means that ​​the credit card debt statute of limitations in Pennsylvania is four years. It also means that if your last payment on your debt was more than four years ago, a creditor cannot legally sue you. If they do, they are in violation of the statute of limitations.

Regardless, creditors will still try to sue you beyond the statute of limitations and many succeed. Remember that in order to avoid being held responsible for the debt, you need to bring up the expired statute of limitations as an affirmative defense in your Answer.

The table below further outlines the statute of limitations on different types of debt in Pennsylvania:

Statute of Limitations on Debt in Pennsylvania

Debt Type Deadline
Credit Card 4 years
Medical 4 years
Student Loan 4 years
Auto Loan 4 years
Personal Loan 4 years
Mortgage 4 years
Judgment 4 years
Source: 42 Pa. C.S. § 5525

Now, let's take a look at what the law actually says. Title 42 of Pennsylvania law, Section § 5525 states:

“General rule. Except as provided for in subsection (b), the following actions and proceedings must be commenced within four years:

(1) An action upon a contract, under seal or otherwise, for the sale, construction or furnishing of tangible personal property or fixtures.
(2) Any action subject to 13 Pa.C.S. § 2725 (relating to statute of limitations in contracts for sale).
(3) An action upon an express contract not founded upon an instrument in writing.
(4) An action upon a contract implied in law, except an action subject to another limitation specified in this subchapter.
(5) An action upon a judgment or decree of any court of the United States or of any state.
(6) An action upon any official bond of a public official, officer or employee.
(7) An action upon a negotiable or nonnegotiable bond, note or other similar instrument in writing. Where such an instrument is payable upon demand, the time within which an action on it must be commenced shall be computed from the later of either demand or any payment of principal of or interest on the instrument.
(8) An action upon a contract, obligation or liability founded upon a writing not specified in paragraph (7), under seal or otherwise, except an action subject to another limitation specified in this subchapter.”

So, there's your proof that the PA statute of limitations is four years for most debts.

Magistrate courts do not require a written Answer, but it can still help

Most magisterial district courts in Pennsylvania do not require defendants to file an Answer like the one you can generate with SoloSuit. Instead, you must call the court to confirm your “Intent to Defend” and show up at the scheduled hearing. Some courts may require you to sign an “Intent to Defend” form and submit it to the court as well, which form usually comes in the packet with the Summons and Complaint.

Magisterial judges do not review the case documents until the hearing, so filing an Answer is unnecessary before the hearing. That being said, the Answer document can help you when you present your case when you show up to your hearing.

While the Answer will help you strengthen your side of a magisterial case, you must give your notice of Intent to Defend in order to officially respond to a magisterial district court debt collection case.

Pennsylvania has several government-funded organizations that provide free legal services. If you have questions or need help, you can contact them using the information below.

Legal Aid of Southwest Pennsylvania - Main Branch
625-627 Swede St.
Norristown, PA 19401
(877) 429-5994

MidPenn Legal Services, Inc.
213-A North Front Street
Harrisburg, PA 17101

Philadelphia Legal Assistance
718 Arch Street, Suite 300N
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 981-3800

North Penn Legal Services
559 Main Street, Suite 200
Bethlehem, PA 18018

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.

Learn more about the Debt Validation Letter here.

Debt Collection Lawsuit Flowchart

Key Takeaways

In a nutshell, here's a quick refresher on how to Answer a Summons for debt collection in Pennsylvania.

  • You have 20 days to respond to a debt collection lawsuit in Pennsylvania.
  • You can use SoloSuit's Answer form to prepare your response.
  • Most Pennsylvania courts do not charge an Answer filing fee.
  • Respond to the lawsuit by filing a written Answer where you respond to each claim listed in the Complaint and assert your affirmative defenses.
  • After completing the Answer, file it in the court and send a copy to the plaintiff's attorney.
  • The statute of limitations on debt in Pennsylvania is four years.
  • Some Pennsylvania courts have special requirements for responding to a debt collection lawsuit. SoloSuit can help you respond the right way in minutes.

We hope this guide was helpful! Good Luck answering your Summons!

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