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What Happens When You Are Sued Over Old Credit Card Debt?
Have you ever received a summons for default on an old credit card debt? Or, do you have collectors calling you every day and threatening legal action? For many “junk debt collectors,” filing lawsuits over old credit card debt (which may have been canceled, leading you to believe you’re a “pariah”) has become big business.
If you’re like most Americans who are being hounded by creditors, you probably ignore their calls and letters, thinking they’ll eventually disappear. wrong. A new breed of junk bond buyers will serve you with a complaint subpoena!
What is a Junk Bond Buyer?
There are many, many of these companies, and they all have different names and aliases. The company can purchase the offset debt from your original lender for pennies. It is not uncommon for these debts to be bought and sold over and over again.
What does it mean?
Well, let’s say you have an old credit card from 1999 that you defaulted on and eventually stopped paying. The original creditor (OC) writes off the debt, closing the books and selling your debt to a third-party junk debt buyer (JDB). JDB pays pennies on your debt.
If you agree to pay half of the debt (if you are going to pay debt collectors, always negotiate to lower the debt, they will usually pay 70% of the original amount because they are still making huge profits!) JDB is still getting money from you Make shameful profits on them.
However… if you have one or more JDBs, there is good news. They’re pinning their hopes on the fact that the majority (some estimates as high as 97%) of Americans sued for old credit card debt don’t show up for hearings or try to litigate in any way. Even if you do owe debt, this is The worst thing you can do!
Here’s the scoop…
If the creditor determines that you have a good chance of repaying the debt, and you fail to respond to their demand for payment, then you will be transferred to their “legal department”.
Many of these junk bond buyers or collection agencies employ law firms, which are essentially collection agencies masquerading as law firms. They usually have a legal attorney working for them and the rest of the staff are just plain old collection agents. All these JDBs have to do is file a complaint (usually a complaint for breach of contract) with the civil or district court in the county where you live. They will pay a nominal fee and the process server to deliver the subpoena to you in person.
You can receive services at work or at home!
You typically only have (20) days to respond to a summons and answer, which is a document that you must personally file in court with a certified mail and return receipt with a copy sent to the attorney representing the creditor.
If you do not respond within 20 days (from the date you received the service), a default judgment will be entered against you, which gives the receiver the green light to freeze your bank account and garnish your wages!
Note: Often, “collection agents” are buyers of junk bonds themselves and actually own the claims.
Most breach of contract lawsuits are filed in civil court, not small claims. Creditors are smart enough to know that in civil court you must be represented by an attorney, or you can buy on your own behalf and must follow standard court rules and procedures. This is known as a “Pro Se” litigant.
“Pro Se” litigants must file the proper legal pleadings and represent themselves as an attorney. It’s really simple, but you can understand why this scares away so many litigants and why civil judges often spend an afternoon or two a week hearing complaints and issuing default judgments when few defendants know how/nor Time to figure out how to respond within the (20) day time frame.
If a default judgment is entered (which happens over 90% of these cases because people don’t have the time and knowledge to fight back!) your creditor automatically wins the lawsuit!
Creditors don’t even have to appear in court, and often don’t! If you fail to answer, judgment is automatically awarded to the plaintiff (creditor)!
Over 90% of credit card debt lawsuits end in default judgments because the defendant did not show up and/or failed to respond. This is a goldmine for creditors!
They hope you don’t fight back, and are actually counting on over 90% of debtors to roll over and accept judgment. Often, these companies sue for wildly inflated amounts, and they don’t have any records to support their claims, plus they’re notorious for violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and attempting to collect past-due debts. The statute of limitations period for debt collection varies from 3 to 10 years, depending on your state’s statutes. You can easily Google your state’s SOL.
If you respond with an appropriate “answer” within the allotted time frame (usually 20 days), the chances of them dropping the complaint are very good! They don’t want to actually fight you in court, it’s a waste of their time and money. Also, they often don’t have any records to back up their claims.
When JDB bought the debt, they received very little information. In many cases, the actual credit card contract (and statement) you signed is not available because the original creditor closed the books on your account years ago. Also, you never entered into any contract with the collection agency…that’s another defense you can raise.
If you’re still hesitant to fight back, consider the following:
They will monitor your credit report electronically… any purchase or even credit request will raise red flags. They’ll know if you bought a new car, house, boat, or anything of value they can put on a lien.
You need to avoid default judgments at all costs! It will destroy your credit for at least 7-10 years!
good news –
In May 2007, I received a citation for breach of contract. I immediately started researching… researching… researching.
I’m a middle class guy who was in debt in my early twenties. I made sporadic payments and didn’t realize the adverse effect it was having on my credit report. All told, I believe I actually charged about $1,000 on the VISA card. My account was transferred to a different payee where I would make a large payment or two and then I would hear nothing…then another payee would pop up. I eventually stopped paying. The sporadic payments I made didn’t even make a difference because they just kept adding fees to my balance.
Add in all the late fees, excess fees, and interest charges, and I feel like I may have paid more than I originally owed, but at the time I just couldn’t keep up. They almost fell off the face of the earth for many years, I forgot. I got married, bought a house (ridiculously high interest rates), a car, had kids, etc…then last May, a car was parked at my house and gave me a citation to watch while I was outside My daughter rides a bicycle. This is very disturbing. I was sued for $5,000 plus legal fees and I have 20 days to respond. The wording is such that I can tell the “collection attorney” wants me to accept judgment.
So, I started my research and it wasn’t easy but so worth it. I started doing research in the law library, poring over legal message boards, NOLO law books, and credit repair blogs and websites. I spoke with a very helpful court clerk who gave me factual information on how these companies operate, and I had the pleasure of consulting a consumer affairs attorney.
All my work paid off and my creditors dismissed the suit.
Regardless of your specific situation, the first step is to submit an answer. Your creditor will either drop the lawsuit, or you will get a court date. Creditors will most likely not show up for the court date (allowing you to automatically dismiss), and if they do, you will be better able to negotiate a settlement or payment plan with them.
With the Internet, there are many, many people in the same boat as you. There are many helpful message boards that are a good place to start.
Remember, even if the debt is yours, you have every right to have their claims against you proven. These companies make huge profits off of hardworking Americans, and for yourself and your financial future, you should face the facts and fight the lawsuit to the best of your ability.
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