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

Eva Bacevice | December 06, 2023

Eva Bacevice
Eva Bacevice, JD

Eva Bacevice is a licensed attorney and Academic Advisor for the BBA program at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Before her role in higher education, Eva practiced law for close to a decade, specializing in consumer bankruptcy after earning a Juris Doctor at the University of Michigan Law School.

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.

Summary: This guide will show you how to respond to a debt collection lawsuit in Washington. You must file your Answer within 20 days of receiving the Summons and Complaint. In your Answer, respond to each claim against you and assert your affirmative defenses. You can also use SoloSuit to respond in just 15 minutes.

Have you received a dreaded Summons and Complaint about a debt? You might be tempted to ignore it but that is the worst thing that you can do! Not responding ensures that you automatically lose.

Just remember, you are not alone. Over 70 million people in the U.S. have to deal with debt collections every year. If you take care of the process correctly, then you will have far greater success than if you try to hide from the problem.

If you live in Washington state and you need help responding to a debt collection lawsuit then please check out SoloSuit's automated services. We can help you navigate the often-complicated Washington state debt collection laws.

We know that you don't want to face being sued over a debt and we understand exactly how you feel. This article was created to help you make it through the process so you can properly respond to the debt lawsuit. We will explain how to correctly answer a summons that you receive from a debt collection agency in Washington state.

Below you will find the proper way to respond to a summons issued by a debt collection agency in the Evergreen State. We will provide specific information on filing in Washington, any necessary WA deadlines, and information about the forms you might need to complete the process.

Washington Deadline for Answering a Debt Collection Summons

You will have 20 days to file an answer with the Washington court once you are served the Summons and Complaint, according to Washington Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 12(a)(1-2), which states:

“(a) When Presented. A defendant shall serve an answer within the following periods: (1) Within 20 days, exclusive of the day of service, after the service of the summons and complaint upon the defendant pursuant to rule 4.”

Please remember, this countdown does not start from the 20 days stamped on the Summons and Complaint, but it is 20 days from the date after the day you were handed or mailed the Summons.

Washington Answer to Summons forms

To respond to the Summons and Complaint, you need to create and file an Answer.

The easiest way to make your own Answer is with 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.

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Alternatively, you can use this form to do it on your own. This is a general form that covers civil lawsuits issued for debt collection cases in Washington, which you can use to respond to the Summons and Complaint documents. Filling out an Answer gives you a chance to tell the court that the debt collectors' claims are not true.

Know the requirements to respond to a debt collection case in Washington

After you receive a Summons and Complaint, you have the right to disagree in writing by delivering your Answer. It is imperative that you disagree with the statements made in the complaint, or the judge will see your silence as agreement and may give the debt collector what they are seeking. Remember, the debt collector wins by default if you do not respond with a written Answer. If a default judgment is entered against you, then you will receive a Notice of Judgement, this is especially true if you have not at least filed a Notice of Appearance.

Sadly, once the debt collector receives a judgment against you then they can take your money from your bank account and paycheck. They can even take property that you own in an effort to pay the judgment. It is imperative that you respond to the Summons and Complaint with an Answer or Notice of Appearance, so you do not lose by default.

According to the Washington state debt collection laws, this Answer must be filed within 20 days of receiving the Summons and Complaint.

In order to respond to a debt collection case in Washington, you must deliver to the debt collector's representative who signed the Summons and Complaint one of the following:

  • A Notice of Appearance
  • An Answer

You must also file a copy of your Answer or Notice of Appearance with the court and send another copy to the collector's attorney.

What is a Notice of Appearance?

A Notice of Appearance is a statement that says you will appear in the lawsuit. If you opt to deliver a Notice of Appearance then it will stop the debt collection, Washington State court will be unable to enter a default judgment without first providing a hearing. However, please remember that a Notice of Appearance does not explain your side of the story and position in the lawsuit. An Answer explains your case and is an important document to file.

Use these step to respond to a Washington debt collection lawsuit

The lawsuit starts when the debt collector serves you with two documents that are sent either via mail or delivered in person. The documents are referred to as the Summons and Complaint. The Summons is the official notification of the lawsuit, while the Complaint outlines all the specific claims that are being made against you.

In Washington State, you will have 20 days to respond either with a Notice of Appearance or an Answer. Ideally, you should use an Answer, so you have the chance to explain your side of things briefly. To respond with an Answer, you must use the proper document.

Remember, if you fail to respond within 20 days then you will lose your case and a default judgment will be entered. With a default judgment, creditors and debt collectors can garnish your wages and seize your property.

Follow these three steps to respond to a Complaint and Summons in Washington and avoid a default judgment:

  1. Answer each issue listed in the Complaint.
  2. Assert affirmative defenses.
  3. File the Answer with the court, and serve the plaintiff.

Below, we break down each of these steps in detail. Don’t like reading? Check out this video to learn more instead:

1. Answer each issue listed in the Complaint

You might hesitate to answer the Complaint, but with proper instructions, the entire process is relatively simple. You need to take the time to read the complaint and then completely fill out the Answer. Basically, you have three ways to respond to each paragraph of the Complaint :

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

SoloSuit makes it simple to respond the right way.

Pick the appropriate response and then fill in your answer. Be sure to list each answer with the number of the paragraph.

Choose one of these responses and write it into your Answer. List each answer with the number for the corresponding paragraph.

2. Assert affirmative defenses

With an affirmative defense, you are stating that the debt collector who is suing you does not have a case. This means that you must list your defenses in your Answer.

Typical defenses include:

  • The debt collector is mistaken, and the debt is not yours.
  • You do not owe the creditor because the debt was canceled.
  • The Washington state debt collection statute of limitations has expired (statute in Washington is three years).
  • You partially paid the debt.
  • The debt has been paid in full or excused.
  • You acted as a co-signer, but you were never told your rights when acting as a co-signer.

With SoloSuit you can make the right affirmative defenses the right way.

Merely stating that you are unable to pay the debt is not a defense.

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

You are almost to the end of completing the response so please do not forget to file your Answer. You would be amazed at how many people do not undertake this final step.

In order to file the Answer form:

  • Print two Answer forms
  • Mail or deliver one copy to the court
  • Mail the other copy to the debt collector or the debt collector's attorney

SoloSuit files for you.

You may find the needed address printed on the Summons and Complaint that you received. It may be absent. If you need the address, give us a call.

That is the basic process for responding to a debt lawsuit. Now that you know the process, let's consider a few frequently asked questions that many might have about filing an Answer to a Summons and Complaint.

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.)

Statute of Limitations on Debt in Washington

The statute of limitations is a law that sets a deadline on a debt. Once that debt deadline is past, a collector cannot legally sue you for the debt. But that doesn't mean they won't sue you. And it is still up to you to bring up this defense in your Answer. If you don't bring it up, it won't be enforced.

In Washington, the deadlines from the statute of limitations ranges from 3 years to 10 years, based on the type of debt.

According to Washington Rules of Civil Procedure, §4.16.040 states:

“The following actions shall be commenced within six years:
(1) An action upon a contract in writing, or liability express or implied arising out of a written agreement, except as provided for in RCW 64.04.007(2).
(2) An action upon an account receivable. For purposes of this section, an account receivable is any obligation for payment incurred in the ordinary course of the claimant's business or profession, whether arising from one or more transactions and whether or not earned by performance.
(3) An action for the rents and profits or for the use and occupation of real estate.”

This means that the Washington statute of limitations on credit card debt is six years. Likewise, the statute of limitations on writing contracts, other debts, and rental debt is all six years in Washington too.

Similarly, §4.16.080(3) states:

“(3) Except as provided in RCW 4.16.040(2), an action upon a contract or liability, express or implied, which is not in writing, and does not arise out of any written instrument.”

In other words, the Washington statute of limitations on open contracts or oral contracts is only three years.

The table below further outlines the statute of limitations on different types of debts in Washington:

Statute of Limitations on Debt in Vermont

Debt Type Deadline in Years
Open contracts 3
Oral contracts 3
Auto Loan 4
State Tax 4
Written contracts 6
Mortgage 6
Rental 6
Credit Card 6
Judgment 10

Know Washington state collection laws

Educating yourself on the debt collection laws that govern Washington state will help you protect yourself from abusive and manipulative debt collectors. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Washington State Legislature protect you from such abuse and manipulation. Here, we will explain everything you should know.

These are some of the most important debt collection laws you should know for Washington state:

  • A license is mandatory in order to "act, assume to act, or advertise as a collection agency or out-of-state collection agency" (RCW 19.16.110)
  • Collectors cannot call you before 7:30am or after 9:00pm
  • Harassment, threatening language, and offensive language are all violations of the FDCPA
  • Debt collectors cannot contact you or your spouse more than 3 times a week, and they are prohibited from discussing your debt with your family members, friends, or coworkers

If a debt collector has violated any of these laws, or used any of these tactics to get you to pay off a debt, you can report them to one of the following agencies:

Statute of Limitations on Debt in Vermont

Department of Licensing Washington State Attorney General Federal Trade Commission
Collection Agency Board
PO Box 9034
Olympia, WA 98507-9034
Phone: 800-451-7985
Consumer Protection Division
800 5th Ave., Suite 2000
Seattle, WA 98104-3188
Phone: 1-800-551-4636
Online Complaint:
915 Second Avenue, Room 2806
Seattle, Washington 98174
Phone: 1-877-382-4357

What exactly is a Summons and Complaint?

When you are sued for debt, you should receive a court Summons and Complaint. These are legal documents that initiate a debt lawsuit case. The Summons lets you know that a complaint has been filed with the court and that you are being sued. The Complaint outlines all the specific claims that are being made against you (how much you owe, who you owe, dates of missed payments, etc).

Do I have to respond to the Summons and Complaint?

Yes, you must file a written Answer to the Summons and Complaint if you want to avoid a default judgment. A default judgment means you automatically lose. At the very least, you must file a Notice of Appearance in Washington state to avoid the default judgment.

If you fail to file an Answer and a default judgment is entered against you, then the company or collector suing you has the legal right to garnish your wages, put liens on your property, and even freeze your bank account. This is why it is so crucial to respond to the Summons and Complaint.

What if I do not file the Answer to the Summons and Complaint?

If you do not file an Answer, you will automatically lose the case. Like we mentioned, this gives the collector the chance to file a default judgment against you, which gives them the right to access your paycheck and take money out of it each month. The debt collector will be given everything that they are asking for, including court fees and attorney costs.

Can the debt collector still file a Summons and Complaint against me if I offer to pay off the debt later?

Yes, the debt collector can still file a lawsuit against you. Also, if the debt collector wins, then the court will usually add on additional costs. Please remember, the debt collector is under no obligation to accept anything less than what they claim you owe.

If I cannot afford to pay the debt, can I still be sued?

Yes, the inability to pay the debt is not considered a valid defense.

That being said, you still have options. For example, if you've already been sued and you can't afford to pay the full amount, you can reach out to the collector and make a settlement offer. Here's how it works.

Since most debt collection agencies purchase old debts from credit card companies, banks, and other financial institutions for as little as 8% of the original debt amount, they will still make a profit when you pay back a portion of the debt. If you are stressed about paying off the debt in full, consider negotiating a settlement. Start by sending a Debt Lawsuit Settlement Letter. This video explains some helpful hints for negotiating a settlement that's ideal for you:

Washington Legal Aid Organizations

Washington state does have government-funded organizations that provides free legal services if you fit certain criteria. Here are some:

Key Takeaways

Overall, you should now have a general idea of how to successfully draft and file an Answer to a Summons and Complaint in Washington State. Here are some key takeaways:

  • You have 20 days to respond to a debt collection lawsuit in Washingtons, starting the day after receiving the Summons and Complaint.
  • You must respond with an Answer or a Notice of Appearance that you file with court.
  • When filling out your Answer form, you should respond to each claim against you and assert your affirmative defenses.
  • Make sure to file your Answer with the court ASAP, and send a copy to the opposing attorney.
  • The Washington statute of limitations on most debts is six years, but for oral contracts, it is three years.
  • Washington state has specific laws to protect you from unfair debt collection practices.

We hope this guide has been helpful. Contact us at SoloSuit if you have any additional questions, and good luck with your case!

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