Here’s What to Expect if You are Sued for Debt

Debt-related cases have grown to dominate the civil court’s landscape over the last few decades. According to data released by Pew Charitable Trusts, the number of debt collection lawsuits increased from around 1.7 million in 1993 to around 4 million 20 years later. The same report suggests that while most people being sued for debt don’t have legal representation, ones who do usually get more desirable outcomes.

How Do You Get to Being Sued?

You typically don’t get sued for debt out of the blue. If you find yourself embroiled in a debt collection lawsuit, start by determining if the creditor or credit agency has followed due protocol, as set forth in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). This is the path creditors and credit agencies need to follow:

  • You receive a letter or a phone call notifying of you the debt.
  • Within five days from making initial contact, a debt collector needs to send a debt validation notice to you.
  • If you feel the debt is not yours, you may request its validation.
  • If you owe the money, you need to work with your creditor in arriving at a revised payment plan or a relief.

It is only when you don’t come up with a suitable repayment alternative that you may expect to get sued.

What Happens When You Get Sued for Debt?

You find out that you are being sued for debt when you receive a summons and a copy of a legal complaint. The complaint informs you of the complainant’s name, the nature of the debt, and the amount you owe. The summons tells you when you are required to appear in court – should you choose to defend your case.

It is best not to ignore any such lawsuit notification because doing so might lead to a default judgment. This can result in a debt collector getting the right to garnish your bank account or your wages. Even if you plan to settle the debt, responding to the complaint is in your best interest.

The Alternatives You Have

If you don’t recognize the debt or feel you don’t owe it, you can ask the creditor to prove the debt’s validity in court. This will involve providing a copy of the original contract as well as all account-related purchases and payment history. If a creditor is unable to provide the required documentation, the judge may dismiss the case. If you’re unsure about how to proceed in this matter, consider getting advice from an attorney.

What if You Owe the Money?

The Pew Charitable Trusts study highlights that consumers involved in debt claim lawsuits stand a better chance of winning their cases or reaching to reliefs when they have legal representation. Therefore, getting advice from an attorney who specializes in debt-related cases is the best way forward. While a number of such attorneys provide initial consultations for free, you might consider getting assistance through your local legal aid if you fall in the low-income bracket.

Based on your situation, your attorney might help you by:

  • Arriving at a revised payment plan so you keep making reduced monthly payments to repay the debt
  • Negotiating for a relief, where you pay a reduced lump sum amount to repay the debt

If the debt is yours but you think you are not obliged to pay, you might benefit through an affirmative defense. Examples of situations in which this might apply include:

  • The contract is illegal, unenforceable, or signed under falsehood
  • You terminated the contract within a stipulated time period
  • It involves the purchase of a product/service that you never received or was faulty


If you have been sued for a debt, or feel that you might be in the near future, it is important that you take remedial measures. Know that much that can be done – provided you act in time. If you cannot resolve the matter with your creditor directly, consider contacting an attorney at the earliest.