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Difference Between a Trial and a Hearing

Sarah Edwards | November 07, 2022

Sarah Edwards
Legal Expert
Sarah Edwards, BS

Sarah Edwards is a professional researcher and writer specializing in legal content. An Emerson College alumna, she holds a Bachelor of Science in Communication from the prestigious Boston institution.

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: In most states, a hearing is an informal appearance before a judge where both parties in a case are given a few minutes to present their argument. A trial is usually a longer process which involves presenting all evidence before a judge and jury. Keep in mind that hearing and trial processes vary by state.

If a creditor has recently sued you, you’re likely wondering what your options are. Generally, you can pay off the debt before the court date, set up payment arrangements, or attend the hearing. In many cases, your creditor will ask for a summary judgment granted by the court in their favor. Or they’ll hope that you don’t respond in time and a default judgment is granted.

Regardless, you should respond to a debt lawsuit with a written Answer as soon as you’re notified of the case. An Answer disputes your creditor’s claims and allows you to state your case. A judge will review your Answer and the information given by your creditor when deciding on your case.

Draft and file your Answer in just 15 minutes with SoloSuit.

What is a hearing?

When a creditor files a suit against you, your case goes before a judge for a hearing. If you’ve submitted an Answer, they’ll review your documentation and compare it with the details given by your creditor.

However, you will still have a hearing if you haven't given an Answer. You can state your claims during the hearing, but the judge will be less likely to incorporate them into their decision if you haven’t submitted any evidence before your court date.

Hearings are typically informal and short. You may have only a few minutes in front of the judge before they make a decision. A representative of your creditor will appear on their behalf to add credibility to their case.

Let’s look at an example of a hearing.

Example: Vicki is being sued for a debt in Illinois. She receives the court Summons and Complaint. She must file a written Appearance into the case or show up at the court hearing which has been scheduled and listed in the Summons. Vicki decides to file her Appearance and Answer, with SoloSuit’s help, and this serves as her declaration that she plans to contest the case and fight back.

Creditors typically process numerous lawsuits against debtors on one single court date. For instance, they may file suit against 30 different individuals living in the same area and schedule the hearings in one day. Scheduling the hearings before one judge reduces expenses and is generally more efficient.

At the conclusion of a hearing, the judge will decide on the case. If you’ve given an Answer to your creditor’s lawsuit, they may rule to dismiss the case. However, if they don’t find your Answer sufficient to overcome your creditor’s claims, they will give a summary judgment in favor of your creditor.

If you lose your case, you’ll owe the creditor the entire amount they are suing you for, as well as court costs and filing fees. If you win, you’ll walk away from the lawsuit and won’t owe the creditor any money.

Both parties have the option to appeal the outcome of a hearing. If the judge issues a motion for summary judgment in your favor, your creditor can request an appeal. Similarly, you may appeal the summary judgment if the judge finds it in the creditor’s favor and you disagree with their findings.

In very rare cases, the judge may order a trial. A trial is much more lengthy than a hearing, and you’ll likely need a lawyer to represent you.

What is a trial?

A trial is more formal and much longer than a hearing. In some cases, your trial may take several hours to complete.

In a debt case, both you and your creditor will present evidence. Your creditor will try to prove that you owe money and that they have the right to collect it. They will present evidence, like a signed contract, receipts of your transactions, or billing statements.

You can present your own evidence. For instance, you can provide the court with proof that the statute of limitations expired or that you are the victim of identity theft and the debt isn’t yours.

If your case goes to trial, it’s best to hire an attorney. Your attorney will assemble the evidence to argue against the creditor. They’ll answer the judge’s questions and provide legal arguments to substantiate your claims.

The most common types of debt that go to trial include tax obligations, government debts, and large debts between businesses. Few minor debts, like credit cards or medical obligations, end up in a trial unless there are significant doubts that the judge can’t reconcile in a hearing.

Once both sides have presented evidence and concurred they have nothing more to add to the case, the judge will make a decision. The judge’s decision is typically final unless one party decides to appeal the case.

Now, let’s consider an example of a trial.

Example: Marie was sued for a debt by LVNV Funding in California. She used SoloSuit to draft and file her Answer to the case. Several months go by before the court schedules a remote court trial. At the trial, LVNV Funding fails to show, so Marie presents her side of the case to the court, who rules to dismiss the case without prejudice.

Will my debt case go to trial?

Very few cases involving monetary obligations end up in a trial. Most resolve through a hearing when the judge issues a summary judgment.

However, if your case involves more than $10K in debt, or your creditor is the IRS or another governmental agency, it may go to trial.

If your case doesn’t involve much money but has discrepancies concerning the evidence, the judge may order a trial.

Most judges try to avoid trials in debt cases because they clog up the court system. Other civil claims tend to take precedence over debts.

Hearings and trials vary by state

While the above information serves as a general rule for most courts, keep in mind that the process may vary depending on where you live. Some states have a slightly different hearing or trial system than others. Certain courts also have different requirements for how they handle cases.

You can feel more prepared for your hearing or trial by using SoloSuit to respond to your case and learn more about how to defend yourself in court.

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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"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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