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How to Fight Debt Collectors in Court and Win

Hannah Locklear | December 20, 2023

Fact-checked by George Simons, J.D.

Summary: If you're being sued by a debt collector, here are five ways you can fight back in court and win: 1) Respond to the lawsuit, 2) make the debt collector prove their case, 3) use the statute of limitations as a defense, 4) file a Motion to Compel Arbitration, and 5) negotiate a settlement offer. Use SoloSuit to draft and file your legal documents in minutes.

Dealing with debt collectors is stressful, exhausting, and can cause major worry.

Unfortunately, millions of Americans are forced to endure this type of anxiety. In addition to endless calls, many debt collectors take legal action and file a lawsuit to get the money they're trying to collect.

If you are served with a debt collection lawsuit, it is important to be proactive and take steps to protect your rights. You should try to get a deeper understanding of what happens when you get served with a Summons for debt collection—and how to fight debt collectors in court and win.

Here are some tips on defending yourself in court against a debt collector. Let's jump right in.

How to beat a debt collector in court

Like we said, debt collectors can be intimidating. And finding a lawyer to represent you can be just as stressful—plus expensive.

Luckily, you can represent yourself in court and beat debt collectors at their own game. Here are five ways you can win your debt collection lawsuit:

  1. Respond to the lawsuit.
  2. Make the debt collector prove their case.
  3. Use the statute of limitations as a defense.
  4. File a Motion to Compel Arbitration.
  5. Negotiate a settlement offer.

Now, let's break down each of these steps in detail.

1. Respond to the lawsuit

If you were served a Summons and Complaint by a debt collector, it is extremely important that you respond to it as quickly as possible. One of the most common mistakes people make in this situation is ignoring the Summons and Complaint. Whether you owe the debt, or you think you are being sued by mistake, be sure you respond to the allegations. In legal terms, your response to the Complaint is known as an Answer.

Filing your Answer in a timely manner is so important because if you fail to do so, the debt collector will probably request a default judgment against you. If the court grants the default judgment, it means the debt collector will be given the right to garnish your wages, take money out of your checking account, and even try to recover attorney's fees and related court costs.

Draft and file an Answer to your debt collection lawsuit with SoloSuit.

Responding to the lawsuit is also important because it actually gives you an edge in the case. Many debt collection companies actually bet on people failing to file an Answer and then getting the default judgment as mentioned above. When you respond to their lawsuit, many debt collectors are genuinely surprised and may even be inclined to offer a negotiated settlement in the hopes of avoiding the cost of actually litigating your case. They might even dismiss the case altogether.

You have up to 35 days to respond to your debt collection lawsuit, depending on where you live. Filing an Answer forces the debt collector to prove their case, and it's the first step to beating them in court.

Check out this video to learn more about how to prepare an Answer to a debt collection lawsuit:

What does a debt collector have to prove in court?

When you get sued by a debt collector, the burden of proof is on their shoulders. This means that, in the beginning stages of the lawsuit, you're not the one that has to do the work to prove your side of the case.

First and foremost, a debt collector must prove that you're the person who owes the debt, the debt amount (including interest and fees) is accurate, and that you owe the debt to them and not someone else.

This is the tricky part for debt collectors. Many debt collectors purchase old debts from credit card companies, banks, and other financial institutions for a fraction of the original debt amount and then try to collect it in full. When the debt is transferred to collection, it is common that they do not receive the necessary documentation to prove their new ownership of the debt account. If they don't have the evidence, they don't have a case.

When you deny all the allegations listed in the Complaint, the debt collector must prove each one. If a debt collector can't prove their claims with real evidence and records of the debt, they might even dismiss the case voluntarily.

2. Make the debt collector prove their case

When a debt collector files a lawsuit against you, you have the right to raise affirmative defenses in your Answer to challenge the collector's claims against you.

An affirmative defense is any legal reason that the debt collector's case in invalid, or any reason why you should win and they should lose. For example, you should consider challenging the debt collector's ability to even file a lawsuit against you. If a debt collector is attempting to recover on a delinquent credit card, the debt collector must prove that they possess the legal right to collect on this debt by producing evidence, such as a transfer of the signed credit card agreement.

If the debt collector is unable to produce this type of evidence, you can request the court dismiss the debt collector's case because the debt collector lacks the "chain of custody" evidence required to take you to court for the debt.

This isn't the only affirmative defense you can use. According to the US Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 8(c) states:

“(c) Affirmative Defenses.

(1) In General. In responding to a pleading, a party must affirmatively state any avoidance or affirmative defense, including:

  • accord and satisfaction;
  • arbitration and award;
  • assumption of risk;
  • contributory negligence;
  • duress;
  • estoppel;
  • failure of consideration;
  • fraud;
  • illegality;
  • injury by fellow servant;v
  • laches;
  • license;
  • payment;
  • release;
  • res judicata;
  • statute of frauds;
  • statute of limitations; and
  • waiver.”

As you can see, there are all sorts of affirmative defenses you can state in your Answer to a debt collection lawsuit. These will strengthen your side of the case and force the debt collector to do more work to prove why they should win.

Make the right affirmative defense the right way with SoloSuit.

3. Use the statute of limitations as a defense

In the vast majority of states, creditors have a limited period of time to try and collect on a debt by filing a lawsuit. After this time has elapsed, the statute of limitations has expired and the debt collector loses their right to sue for the debt. If it turns out that a debt collector sued you on a debt where the statute of limitations had already expired, you can use this as an affirmative defense and likely get the case dismissed.

Use the statute of limitations as an affirmative defense in your debt collection case.

The statute of limitations varies by state and by the type of debt. The clock starts ticking on the debt from the day of the last payment on the account. So, before you agree to making any payments to a debt collector, check the statute of limitations on your debt. Otherwise, you run the risk of restarting the clock on the statute of limitations.

Let's take a look at an example.

Example: Anna receives a Summons and Complaint in the mail, notifying her that a debt collector is suing her for an old credit card debt of $500 in Texas. The debt is so old that Anna doesn't even remember owing it. She goes online to do some research and finds SoloSuit. She learns about the statute of limitations on credit card debt, which is only four years in Texas. Anna finds out that no activity has been made on her account for more than six years. She uses SoloSuit to draft and file an Answer to the lawsuit where she includes the expired statute of limitations as one of her affirmative defenses. At this point, the debt collector has no case against her, and the court orders to dismiss the lawsuit.

If you need assistance in drafting your response to the debt collection lawsuit, including the affirmative defenses that may be included in your Answer, take advantage of the resources offered through SoloSuit.

4. File a Motion to Compel Arbitration

The thought of going to court, with a judge and jury, is pretty intimidating. But court isn't the only option. It may be possible to resolve the debt collection lawsuit before going to court through an alternative form of dispute resolution known as arbitration.

Arbitration is a private process outside of the court. It involves an agreement between the disputing parties in a legal case. Arbitration is overseen by one or more neutral individuals who are trained to make decisions about the legal dispute after listening to both sides of the case and reviewing any evidence. This individual is known as an arbitrator.

If you are being sued for credit card debt, check your credit card agreement. If it has an arbitration clause, you can file a Motion to Compel Arbitration with your Answer and force the case out of court.

Most debt collectors do not want to deal with arbitration because the process is expensive, and they usually have to cover all the costs. In many cases, debt collectors will stop collecting on a debt after they receive a Motion to Compel Arbitration. This is why compelling arbitration might be the best defense against a credit card lawsuit.

Draft a Motion to Compel Arbitration in minutes with SoloSuit.

The video below outlines how the arbitration process works:

Let's consider another example.

Example: Sam, who is from California, is being sued by a debt collector for an old credit card debt of $800. After some investigating, Sam finds out that his original credit card agreement included an arbitration clause. He uses SoloSuit to draft and file an Answer to the lawsuit and a Motion to Compel Arbitration. The debt collectors realize that it will cost almost the same amount as the debt to move the case to arbitration. At this point, they decide it's not worth continuing with the case. Sam's debt collection lawsuit is dismissed, and he's off the hook.

5. Negotiate a settlement offer

Many debt collection agencies are actually professional debt buyers. This means that they purchase charged-off debt accounts from creditors at a fraction of the original debt amount.

On average, debt collectors buy old debts for 4% of the debt amount. When they come to collect the debt in full, they are hoping to make a huge profit. And they usually do.

However, since most debt collectors purchase debts for such a small fraction of the original amount, they are also willing to settle for less than that amount. It's better for them to settle, for example, than to worry about getting too deep into a legal battle over the debt.

You can settle your debt for good. Just file your Answer to the lawsuit in court first, then use SoloSettle to send and receive settlement offers to and from the debt collector. You should start with a small offer so you give yourself room to build. Expect several rounds of counteroffers before you reach an actual settlement.

But remember, even if you only pay around half of the debt amount, the debt collector will probably still make a profit. So, settlement can be considered a win-win situation for some cases.

Check out this video to learn more about how SoloSettle can help you settle a debt once and for all:

Remember, SoloSuit can help you draft and file most, if not all, of these documents. Check out our services to learn more.

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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