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

Hannah Locklear | February 01, 2023

That feeling when you win your Rhode Island debt lawsuit ^^

Summary: You have 20 days to respond to a debt collection lawsuit in Rhode Island. To respond, you should create an Answer document where you reply to each claim against you and assert your affirmative defense. Next, be sure to file your Answer with the court and send a copy to the opposing attorney. SoloSuit can help you draft and file a personalized Answer in minutes. Keep reading to learn more.

Finding out that you are being sued in a debt collection lawsuit is very stressful. Chances are that you're already working as hard as you can to make ends meet, and there isn't anything extra to pay for an attorney.

Responding to a lawsuit on your own probably feels intimidating, and you may be tempted to just ignore it. This, however, is the last thing that you should do, because it won't just go away on its own and will probably leave you in a worse financial bind.

If you’ve been sued for debt in Rhode Island, handling your own response is easier than you might think. In this article, we will show you how to fight debt collectors in Rhode Island. We'll include information specific to Rhode Island, including deadlines, frees, and online forms for Rhode Island courts.

Let’s jump right in.

Respond to the lawsuit before the Rhode Island deadline

Rhode Island Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 12(a) states:

“(a) When Presented.
(1) A defendant shall serve an answer:
(A) Within twenty (20) days after the service of the summons, complaint, Language Assistance Notice, and all other required documents upon the defendant, unless the court directs otherwise when service of process is made pursuant to an order of court.”

In other words, you have 20 days to respond to a debt collection lawsuit in Rhode Island. If you don’t respond before the deadline, you run the risk of losing by default judgment.

Let’s explain.

A lawsuit begins when one party (the plaintiff) files a Summons and Complaint against the other party (you, the defendant). The Summons notifies you of the lawsuit, while the Complaint lists the specific claims against you.

They file these documents with the court and then serve them by mail or in-person on you; oftentimes they'll use the Rhode Island Constable Service. Once the legal action begins, in Rhode Island you only have 20 days to respond to the Summons and Complaint.

If you do not respond within that timeframe then the plaintiff (either your original creditor or more likely a third-party debt collection company) will ask the Court for a default judgment in their favor. This means that by simply not responding, the plaintiff will win the lawsuit.

With a court-ordered default judgment, creditors and debt collectors can garnish your wages: this means they can take money out of your paycheck before you ever see it. That's likely to put you in an even worse financial situation than before. So, responding before the deadline is one of the most crucial steps to fighting off debt collectors in Rhode Island.

Answer Filing Fees for Rhode Island

There is no fee to file an Answer to a debt lawsuit in Rhode Island. This is great news for you!

That being said, there are filing fees for other types of documents in civil cases. Check out the Rhode Island Court Fees schedule to learn more.

Rhode Island Answer to Summons Forms

SoloSuit’s Answer form is the easiest way to respond to a debt collection case in Rhode Island. All you have to do is respond to a few questions about your case, and SoloSuit’s software generates a customized Answer for you, which includes all the proper legal language and defenses to help you present a strong case.

If you prefer to do it on your own, you can use a form from the courts. Rhode Island courts offer an online form to fill in for Small Claims Notice of Suit - Answer. Small claims cases are handled in the District Court when the parties are claiming damages of $5,000 or less.

Your case will be heard by the District Court if your debt is between $5,000 and $10,000. District Court has exclusive jurisdiction of all civil actions at law wherein the amount in controversy is under $10,000. For debts larger than $10,000 you could find yourself in the Superior Court.

Now, the good news is you do not need to determine which court is appropriate for your case, because it has already been determined when the case was filed. Just check the Summons and Complaint to be sure. The bad news is that if it's in District or Superior Court, there is no form to easily draft and file your Answer. That's why we made SoloSuit.

Keep reading to learn how to make an Answer.

Follow these steps to respond to a Rhode Island debt collection case

A lawsuit begins when the plaintiff files a Summons and Complaint against you. When you receive these documents, you have a limited time to reply. As we discussed above, this deadline to respond is 20 days in Rhode Island.

Responding to a lawsuit is probably much easier than you expect. All you need to do is follow the three steps below:

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

Below we will go over each step in detail. You can also watch this video to learn more about each step:

1. Answer each issue of the Complaint

Like we said, the Complaint document lists all the claims that your creditor or debt collector is making against you.

In your Answer, you have the opportunity to respond to each claim and refute anything you disagree with. You should list your answers in the same order as the claims. You can:

  • Admit: This means “I Agree”
  • Deny: This means “I disagree”
  • Deny for lack of knowledge: This means “I don't know”

Consider each paragraph/allegation and use the most appropriate response in your Answer document. It's important to number your list of responses, so that it is clear which response goes with each allegation.

Note that most attorneys recommend that you deny as many claims as possible. This forces the plaintiff to prove each claim, and if they can’t, they might just drop the case altogether.

It's also important to note that you don't need to deny every allegation in order to win. It's fine to admit to facts that are true, like your name or account number. The third response is for when you can't verify something, for example, the debt collection company suing you may state that they are incorporated in Rhode Island. If you have no way to independently verify that claim, saying “I don't know” as your response is perfectly fine.

SoloSuit makes it simple to respond the right way. Our Answer form includes a section where you can respond to each claim, and our software translates your responses into the proper legal language.

Let's consider an example.

Example: Jan is being sued by LVNV Funding for an old credit card debt in Rhode Island. They claim she owes $5,000, but Jan doesn't recall the debt. Jan uses SoloSuit to respond to the case, denying all of the claims against her. SoloSuit files the Answer for her before the 20-day deadline in Rhode Island. After a few weeks, Jan is pleased to hear that LVNV Funding has withdran the case entirely.

If your case is in Small Claims, you can use the Small Claims Answer form to fill out your responses. Make certain to check the box next to the court address listed on the Summons itself.

The first place on the form where you have room to explain in more detail is after you check the initial answer document, which gives you the prompt “I disagree with the claim of the Plaintiff(s) because:” Here you can list anything you take issues with—perhaps your name is spelled incorrectly, or the amount listed is incorrect, anything else along these lines.

There is also an opportunity for you to check a box indicating that you owe the debt but need more time to pay, and then explain the reasons for the same. This will allow for the opportunity to create a payment plan that works for both you and the creditor.

2. Assert you affirmative defenses

This next step gives you another chance to fight back, by asserting affirmative defenses. An affirmative defense is any reason why the party suing you does not have a case. You can use any and all affirmative defenses that apply to you.

Making the right affirmative defense the right way is easy with SoloSuit.

Below we will discuss some of the more common affirmative defenses we see in debt collection cases:

  • Not your account: It could be that the account number listed in the Complaint isn't yours. Perhaps you've been a victim of identity theft and someone else opened the account. If you have any documentation to support this defense (like a statement with your actual account number and/or name, or a police report you filed about the identity theft) you should reference it and include a copy in your Answer as an exhibit.
  • Payment: If you already paid this debt, they can't collect it again.
  • Accord and satisfaction: perhaps you came to an agreement with the creditor to pay a lesser amount to satisfy the debt in full satisfaction. Again, reference and attach any supporting documentation such as bank records showing a cashed check or online payment, or any correspondence between you and the creditor regarding a lower payment.
  • The debt was already discharged in a bankruptcy: If you previously filed a bankruptcy case and this debt was included and successfully discharged then the plaintiff cannot try to collect it through the Court. You are no longer legally responsible for a debt that has been discharged in bankruptcy.
  • Statute of limitations has expired: A statute of limitations is a law that sets a deadline for legal action. We will discuss the Rhode Island statute of limitations on debt collection in more detail later in this article.
  • You can't confirm that the plaintiff holds the debt: There is every chance that the party suing you is not your original creditor. Usually creditors sell off uncollected debt to third-party debt collection companies after a period of time (minimum of 90 days) has passed for only a small percentage of the original debt. If the company suing you is not the original debt holder you can insist that they provide a paper trail to prove that they legally own this debt.

These are just a few of the many affirmative defenses you can use to present a strong case. Please note, however, that inability to pay the debt is not normally a legal defense to the debt.

Beyond affirmative defenses, you can also assert any counterclaims against the Plaintiff in your response. A counterclaim could be warranted if you can show that the creditor violated the Rhode Island Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which offers protection to Rhode Island residents under the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and other consumer protection laws.

Please keep in mind that counterclaims can get very complicated, so if you believe you have a basis for one (or more) it's in your best interest to consult an attorney. You should also note that the last fill-in portion on the Small Claims court form states that, if checked, you are waiving your right to appeal based on counterclaim only. Again, if you think you might have an argument that the act was violated, seeking legal assistance is your best route.

3. File the Answer with the court, and serve the plaintiff a copy

The final step is to file your Answer with the Court. You'd be amazed how many people complete the above steps and then forget to file their response. If that happens, then all the work you've put in is wasted.

Instead, make sure that you file your Answer with the Court within the 20 day timeframe. Here's all you need to do to file your answer.

  • Print off your Answer.
  • Mail the original copy to the court.
  • Mail a copy to the plaintiff's attorney.

You should send all documents via USPS certified mail with a return receipt requested, which will serve as proof that your Answer was properly delivered.

Some courts have specific requirements for filing. They might only accept filing electronically, or you may have to include other forms with your Answer. SoloSuit has done the heavy lifting to determine your court’s filing requirements.

It's never a bad idea to print an extra copy for your own records. If you're using the Small Claims online form make sure to fill out the “Certificate of Service” portion at the end of the form.

SoloSuit files for you in all 50 states.

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.

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Statute of Limitations on Debt in Rhode Island

As discussed briefly above, a statute of limitations is a period of time through which a creditor can enforce payment of a debt through the legal system.

In other words, the statute of limitations on debt is the deadline to file a debt lawsuit against someone. Once the statute of limitations on debt has expired, the creditor or debt collector can no longer pursue repayment through the courts.

Under R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-1-13, it states:

“Except as otherwise specially provided, all civil actions shall be commenced within ten (10) years next after the cause of action shall accrue, and not after.”

This means that the statute of limitations on debt is 10 years in Rhode Island. This includes Rhode Island’s statute of limitations on credit card debt and medical debt, which are both 10 years.

Similarly, R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-1-17 states:

“The following actions shall be commenced and sued within twenty (20) years next after the cause of action shall accrue and not after: actions on contracts or liabilities under seal; and actions on judgments or decrees of any court of record of the United States, or of any state.”

This means that, if granted a judgment, creditors and debt collectors only have 20 years to take action based on that judgment. The table below further outlines the Rhode Island statute of limitations on different types of debt:

Statute of Limitations on Debt in Rhode Island

Debt Type Deadline
Credit Card 10 years
Medical 10 years
Auto Loan 10 years
State Tax 10 years
Mortgage 10 years
Written contract 10 years
Open contract 10 years
Oral contract 10 years
Judgment 20 years

You should always check the statute of limitations on your debt before you agree to pay a debt collector. If the statute of limitations has already expired, and you make a payment on the debt, then you will most likely restart the clock on the statute of limitations. Most debt collectors know this, so if they can trick you into paying, they will have more leverage over you to continue collecting your money.

If you have gone 10 years or more without any action on a debt account, and a debt collector reaches out to you about it, be very careful. You may be off the hook legally, according to the Rhode Island statute of limitations on debt.

Rhode Island debt collection laws protect you

The ​​Rhode Island Fair Debt Collection Practices Act protect consumers, like you, from unfair and abusive debt collectors.

Under this law, there are several actions that debt collectors cannot take. Here’s a list of the most relevant Rhode Island debt collection laws:

Knowing these laws can help you protect yourself from abusive debt collectors. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, a federal law, also outlines other debt collection laws that can help you defend yourself.

Rhode Island legal aid organizations can help you

Every state has a number of organizations, often government-funded, that provide free legal services to people who cannot otherwise afford to hire their own legal assistance. These below Rhode Island resources can be good place to start:

Find Rhode Island court locations

Rhode Island Court Locations

Key Takeaways

So, in short, here's the review on how to answer a summons for debt collection in Rhode Island.

Make certain you know the deadline and complete the process before it expires. Rhode Island debt collection regulations allow 20 days to file your response.

Use the proper Rhode Island Answer form/format, or SoloSuit’s Answer form, to draft your response. When you fill out the form complete the following three steps:

  1. Answer each issue in the complaint.
  2. Assert any and all of your affirmative defenses.
  3. File and serve the Answer with the Court and the plaintiff's attorney.

Finally, note that the statute of limitations on debt is 10 years in Rhode Island. So, if your creditor or debt collector is trying to sue you for a debt that is more than 10 years old, you have a very strong defense that will likely win you the case.

Good Luck!

>>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.)

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