Can Debt Collection Agencies Send You a Summons to Appear in Court?


Your inability to pay off your collection accounts does not negate the debt collection agency’s right to recover the unpaid balance you owe. In an effort to collect your debt, the collection agency can file a lawsuit against you. A summons serves as a formal notification of the impending lawsuit directing you to appear in court on the hearing date.

Summons Delivery

Collection agencies have the right to sue you for any unpaid balance you owe if you do not pay the debt voluntarily. Upon filing a lawsuit, the company must notify you of the suit, giving you the opportunity to defend yourself in court. This notification comes by way of a formal summons and complaint. State laws vary regarding the way the plaintiff must deliver a summons to a defendant. Typically, a summons will arrive via certified mail.

The Summons' Contents

Each state has its own requirements for the information a summons must contain. In general, a summons lists the name and address of the plaintiff and the defendant, the date, the case number and the time set for the hearing. The summons also has instructions for properly filing a formal answer with your local court. Summons from debt collection agencies arrive with a formal complaint. The complaint details the charges levied against you and the amount you supposedly owe.

Responding to a Summons

If you receive a summons and complaint from a collection agency, you can either respond to the summons or ignore it. Ignoring the summons, while common among debtors, results in an automatic judgment in favor of the collection agency. This is a "default judgment." The court views your failure to submit a timely response as your agreement to the collection agency's claim. You must respond to the summons within the time frame specified in the paperwork. If you have a valid legal defense, such as you do not owe the debt in question, you must specify your defense in your answer. You must also arrive in court on the hearing date to present your defense to the judge.

Lack of a Summons

Sometimes, collection agencies sue debtors because they cannot locate the individuals to conduct collection activity. If the agency cannot locate you, it will serve its summons and complaint upon your last known address. If you no longer live there, this can result in the court levying a default judgment against you without your ever realizing there was a lawsuit pending. Some unscrupulous collectors have intentionally served a summons inaccurately – or not at all – in an effort to secure a default judgment against consumers who would otherwise raise a valid defense in court. If you discover a judgment against you, but never received appropriate notice of a lawsuit, you can file a motion to vacate with the court that awarded the judgment. You can ask that it overturn its previous decision due to the collection agency’s failure to follow proper legal procedure.

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