Plaintiff vs Defendant — What's the difference

George Simons

March 22, 2022

Figuring out the difference between plaintiff and defendant^^

Summary: If you're the defendant in a debt collections lawsuit, SoloSuit can help you take a stand and win in court. But first, here's the difference between plaintiffs and defendants.

In a civil case, a plaintiff is the party that brings legal action or in whose name such action is brought. The defendant is the party targeted by the legal action filed by the plaintiff. This article discusses the key differences between plaintiffs and defendants in debt collection lawsuits. More specifically, in a debt lawsuit:

  • Plaintiff = the person or company that is suing someone else for debt
  • Defendant = the person or company that is being sued for a debt (whether they owe it or not)

Understanding the plaintiff in debt collection lawsuits

The plaintiff is usually the person or entity filing the case in debt collection lawsuits. So, the plaintiff could be a creditor or debt collection agency.

For example, Jane signs up for a credit card with American Express and is accepted. She starts using the card for most of her purchases, but when she loses her job during the COVID-19 pandemic, she falls behind on her credit card payments. After a few months of missed payments, American Express charges off Jane's account and sells the debt to a debt collection agency called Midland Funding LLC. At this point, Midland keeps contacting Jane about the debt, but she is unable to pay due to financial hardship during the pandemic. Eventually, Midland Funding LLC files a lawsuit against Jane to try to get her to pay off the debt.

In this example, Midland Funding LLC is the plaintiff in the case, and Jane is the defendant.The term plaintiff is related to the word complain. Midland Funding LLC, otherwise referred to as the plaintiff, is filing a complaint against Jane in this context.

Is plaintiff the same as complainant?

In most criminal cases, the plaintiff is usually referred to as the complainant. The word plaintiff is mostly used in civil cases such as personal injury, debt collection, among others. So, if you're involved in a debt lawsuit case, you probably won't hear the word complainant to describe the person or company suing you.

Understanding the defendant in debt collection lawsuits

In civil cases, the defendant is the party or entity being sued by the plaintiff.

Using the example above, Jane would be the defendant in the case. A helpful hint to remember this term is that the defendant is the one who must defend themself against the allegations or claims that the plaintiff is making..

The word 'defendant' derives from the term 'defense' and the action of defending yourself against a claim (complaint filed by the plaintiff). So, if you're being sued for debt like Jane, the law allows you to defend yourself against the plaintiff's allegations.

The Burden of Proof for the plaintiff and defendant in debt collection lawsuits

The term burden of proof describes the responsibility one party has to prove the truth of their claim against the other. For example, when Midland Funding LLC files a debt collection lawsuit against Jane, they must prove that she owes the debt.

However, the burden of proof varies depending on the nature of the case. For example, in civil cases such as those involving debt collection, the plaintiff doesn't have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant owes them the debt in question. Instead, they only have to convince the judge or jury that there is more than a 50% chance that the claim filed against the defendant is true. In most cases, the heavier the evidence against the defendant, the better it is for the plaintiff.

On the other hand, criminal cases require the plaintiff to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the allegations being adjudicated.

Examples of burden of proof in debt collection laws

To further understand the difference between a plaintiff and a defendant in debt collection laws, let's discuss how the burden of proof switches from one party to the other throughout the case. Again, we'll use the Midland Funding LLC vs Jane example for reference.

When Midland Funding LLC files the debt collection lawsuit, Jane receives a court Summons and Complaint. The Summons informs Jane (the defendant) of the lawsuit, and the Complaint lists each specific claim against her. When Janes receives this document, she can answer each claim with one of the following response:

  • Admit (like saying This is true.)
  • Deny (like saying Prove it.)
  • Deny due to lack of knowledge (like saying I don't know.)

Most attorneys recommend denying everything listed in the Complaint. By doing so, the burden of proof shifts back to the plaintiff. So, if Jane denies everything in her Answer to the Complaint, It'll be Midland Funding's responsibility to prove that she owes the debt in question.

Midland can't seek further legal action against Jane during that time unless they prove that she owes the debt. It's pretty common for debt collection agencies to give up at this point, because they often lack the proper documentation to prove that the debt was actually transferred to them. Jane may be surprised to find that Midland Funding is claiming an incorrect amount too. This is because while Midland Funding purchased the debt, they may not have enough resources or even time to prove the debt is valid..

Since the burden of proof is on the plaintiff, Jane should not elaborately explain her side of the story in her response to the Complaint. Rather, she should simply respond to each paragraph listed in the Complaint, and wait to hear back from Midland Funding (like we said, many debt collection agencies would rather dismiss the case at this point than continue paying court costs and attorney fees).

If, however, Midland proves that Jane owes the debt but she still disputes it, the burden or proof now shifts back to her. For example, if Jane's affirmative defenses state that the debt has already been paid, she'll need to provide proof of this.

Ultimately, a judge might have the final word regarding the debt collection lawsuit. In some cases, the judge may recommend mediation or arbitration if deemed necessary to have the issue solved out of court.

Verify your debt before paying

By the time a lawsuit is filed against you, the debt might have switched hands several times, increasing the chances of discrepancies. For example, if the original amount owed is $10,000, a debt collection agency might mistakenly or intentionally add an extra zero to the amount, meaning you supposedly owe $100,000.

Such cases happen all the time, and unfortunately, consumers end up paying for debt they don't even owe in the first place. This explains why it's necessary to request further verification of the debt before making any payments on it. Besides, requesting a debt validation also buys you more time to plan the best strategy to approach the lawsuit. You can do this by sending a Debt Validation Letter.

You can learn more about Debt Validation Letters (i.e. how to draft one, what debt validation means, etc.) in this video:

The bottom line

Whether or not you owe a debt, it's always advisable to respond to a debt collection Summons. Ignoring the Summons doesn't mean that everything has been settled or will magically disappear. Instead, ignoring allows the plaintiff to convince the court to pass a default judgment against you. A default judgment gives the plaintiff legal authority to seek other lawful ways to recover the debt. In most cases, the plaintiff will seek a wage garnishment order which requires your employer to deduct a portion of your wages and forward it to the plaintiff to settle the debt.

SoloSuit makes it easy to respond. You can draft an Answer in less than 15 minutes, have it reviewed by an attorney, and get it filed in the court, all in one stop!

What is SoloSuit?

SoloSuit helps people get debt collectors and creditors off their back.

How it works: SoloSuit is a step-by-step web-app that asks you all the necessary questions to complete your written Answer. It generates an automatic Answer for you, based on your Upon completion, you can either print the completed forms and mail in the hard copies to the courts or you can pay SoloSuit to file it for you and to have an attorney review the document.

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


Get Started


We have answers.
Join our community of over 40,000 people.

You can ask your questions on the SoloSuit forum and the community will help you out. Whether you need help now or are just looking for support, we're here for you.


Ask a Question


>>Read the FastCompany article: Debt Lawsuits Are Complicated: This Website Makes Them Simpler To Navigate

>>Read the NPR story on SoloSuit: A Student Solution To Give Utah Debtors A Fighting Chance

How to answer a summons for debt collection in your state

Here's a list of guides for other states.

All 50 states.

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah; File a Motion to Satisfy Judgment
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

    Guides on how to beat every debt collector

    Being sued by a different debt collector? Were making guides on how to beat each one.

    Win against credit card companies

    Is your credit card company suing you? Learn how you can beat each one.

    Going to Court for Credit Card Debt — Key Tips

    How to Negotiate Credit Card Debts

    How to Settle a Credit Card Debt Lawsuit — Ultimate Guide

    Get answers to these FAQs

    Need more info on statutes of limitations? Read our 50-state guide.

    Why do debt collectors block their phone numbers?

    How long do debt collectors take to respond to debt validation letters?

    What are the biggest debt collector companies in the US?

    Is Zombie Debt Still a Problem in 2019?

    SoloSuit FAQ

    If a car is repossessed, do I still owe the debt?

    Is Portfolio Recovery Associates Legit?

    Is There a Judgment Against Me Without my Knowledge?

    Should I File Bankruptcy Before or After a Judgment?

    What is a default judgment?— What do I do?

    Summoned to Court for Medical Bills — What Do I Do?

    What Happens If Someone Sues You and You Have No Money?

    What Happens If You Never Answer Debt Collectors?

    What Happens When a Debt Is Sold to a Collection Agency

    What is a Stipulated Judgment?

    What is the Deadline for a Defendants Answer to Avoid a Default Judgment?

    Can a Judgement Creditor Take my Car?

    Can I Settle a Debt After Being Served?

    Can I Stop Wage Garnishment?

    Can You Appeal a Default Judgement?

    Do I Need a Debt Collection Defense Attorney?

    Do I Need a Payday Loans Lawyer?

    Do student loans go away after 7 years? — Student Loan Debt Guide

    Am I Responsible for My Spouses Medical Debt?

    Should I Marry Someone With Debt?

    Can a Debt Collector Leave a Voicemail?

    How Does Debt Assignment Work?

    What Happens If a Defendant Does Not Pay a Judgment?

    How Does Debt Assignment Work?

    Can You Serve Someone with a Collections Lawsuit at Their Work?

    What Is a Warrant in Debt?

    How Many Times Can a Judgment be Renewed in Oklahoma?

    Can an Eviction Be Reversed?

    Does Debt Consolidation Have Risks?

    What Happens If You Avoid Getting Served Court Papers?

    Does Student Debt Die With You?

    Can Debt Collectors Call You at Work in Texas?

    How Much Do You Have to Be in Debt to File for Chapter 7?

    What Is the Statute of Limitations on Debt in Washington?

    How Long Does a Judgment Last?

    Can Private Disability Payments Be Garnished?

    Can Debt Collectors Call From Local Numbers?

    Does the Fair Credit Reporting Act Work in Florida?

    The Truth: Should You Never Pay a Debt Collection Agency?

    Should You Communicate with a Debt Collector in Writing or by Telephone?

    Do I Need a Debt Negotiator?

    What Happens After a Motion for Default Is Filed?

    Can a Process Server Leave a Summons Taped to My Door?

    Learn More With These Additional Resources:

    Need help managing your finances? Check out these resources.

    How to Make a Debt Validation Letter - The Ultimate Guide

    How to Make a Motion to Compel Arbitration Without an Attorney

    How to Stop Wage Garnishment — Everything You Need to Know

    How to File an FDCPA Complaint Against Your Debt Collector (Ultimate Guide)

    Defending Yourself in Court Against a Debt Collector

    Tips on you can to file an FDCPA lawsuit against a debt collection agency

    Advice on how to answer a summons for debt collection.

    Effective strategies for how to get back on track after a debt lawsuit

    New Hampshire Statute of Limitations on Debt

    Sample Cease and Desist Letter Against Debt Collectors

    The Ultimate Guide to Responding to a Debt Collection Lawsuit in Utah

    West Virginia Statute of Limitations on Debt

    What debt collectors cannot do — FDCPA explained

    Defending Yourself in Court Against Debt Collector

    How to Liquidate Debt

    Arkansas Statute of Limitations on Debt

    Youre Drowning in Debt — Heres How to Swim

    Help! Im Being Sued by My Debt Collector

    How to Make a Motion to Vacate Judgment

    How to Answer Summons for Debt Collection in Vermont

    North Dakota Statute of Limitations on Debt

    ClearPoint Debt Management Review

    Indiana Statute of Limitations on Debt

    Oregon Eviction Laws - What They Say

    CuraDebt Debt Settlement Review

    How to Write a Re-Aging Debt Letter

    How to Appear in Court by Phone

    How to Use the Doctrine of Unclean Hands

    Debt Consolidation in Eugene, Oregon

    Summoned to Court for Medical Bills? What to Do Next

    How to Make a Debt Settlement Agreement

    Received a 3-Day Eviction Notice? Heres What to Do

    How to Answer a Lawsuit for Debt Collection

    Tips for Leaving the Country With Unpaid Credit Card Debt

    Kansas Statute of Limitations on Debt Collection

    How to File in Small Claims Court in Iowa

    How to File a Civil Answer in Kings County Supreme Court

    Roseland Associates Debt Consolidation Review

    How to Stop a Garnishment

    Debt Eraser Review

    Do Debt Collectors Ever Give Up?

    Can They Garnish Your Wages for Credit Card Debt?

    How Often Do Credit Card Companies Sue for Non-Payment?

    How Long Does a Judgement Last?

    ​​How Long Before a Creditor Can Garnish Wages?

    How to Beat a Bill Collector in Court