Credit card lawyers can help if you’re struggling with credit card debt

By Aaron Crowe

Reviewed by Kimberly Rotter

Aug 27, 2023 - Updated May 27, 2024

Read time: 6 min

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Key takeaways:

  • You can be sued for not paying your credit card debt.

  • It may feel scary, but the best course of action when you’re sued is to engage. Don’t ignore it.

  • A credit card lawyer can help defend you in court and can negotiate your debt.

The information provided herein is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. For personalized legal advice, consult with a qualified attorney licensed to practice law in your state.

When to consider hiring a credit card lawyer

Credit card companies can sue you for unpaid debt, and lawsuits are serious. If the plaintiff (the company suing you) wins in court, they might also win the right to garnish your wages. That means your employer would be forced to send part of your paychecks to the company you owe. A company that wins a judgment against you might also go after your bank accounts, homes, cars, or other property.

If you don't appear in court or hire a lawyer to appear for you, the judge will probably enter a default judgment. That means an automatic win for the plaintiff and an automatic loss for you. 

Failing to appear to defend yourself is the worst thing you can do.

You might think it doesn't matter because you'll lose in court anyway. But there are many defenses to creditor lawsuits and many ways to work things out with a creditor. Don’t consider your situation a lost cause yet. A credit card lawyer can work through the options with you.

Why use a credit card lawyer if you get sued

A credit card lawyer can help decide which defense is best in your case and can argue it in court for you. Here are some defenses that a law firm may use against your lenders:

The statute of limitations has expired

State laws limit the time a creditor or debt collector can sue you for an unpaid debt. This is called the statute of limitations. This time limit varies by state, but for credit card debt, it usually ranges from three to six years.

Your defense could be that the timeline has passed, and an attorney could help get the case dismissed.

They've sued the wrong person

Sometimes debt collectors sue the wrong person. They may have misidentified you, or they may be pursuing you without caring about whether it’s really your debt. Either way, you must still respond to the lawsuit.

A lawyer can help you fight off a debt that isn't yours if the collector is being very aggressive. And a lawyer can help you sue the collector if they’ve broken the law by coming after you.

Plaintiff can't prove it owns the debt

When the plaintiff isn't the original creditor, it must provide documents proving that it has the right to collect from you. Debt collectors or debt buyers fall into this category.

If the plaintiff can't supply these documents, you may be able to fight the lawsuit by claiming "lack of standing." Lack of standing means the party suing you doesn't have the right to collect the debt.

The first step in finding out if the plaintiff has the right to sue you is to send a debt validation letter. If you do this and the plaintiff can’t prove it owns the debt, a credit card lawyer can help you fight them.

You don't understand the suit

Lawyers often offer free consultations. A quick chat might help you understand what the lawsuit is about and what could happen if you lose the suit. A credit card lawyer can explain the consequences of not filing a defense and can help you present evidence.

You want to negotiate the debt

A lawyer may help you negotiate with your credit card company to make the lawsuit go away. Sometimes creditors agree to resolve the debt by letting you make a series of payments or pay a lump sum that's less than what you owe.

Understanding the role of a credit card lawyer

Credit card lawyers have experience and training in dealing with creditors and debt collectors. They understand the laws that bill collectors and creditors must follow, and they can make sure your rights are respected. They can also help you sue creditors that violate the law.

Credit card lawyers can help you if you receive a court summons. They evaluate your situation and determine your best options. They handle the paperwork for your case and may present your defense to a judge.

Credit card lawyers may also be able to help you file for bankruptcy if necessary.

The process of working with a credit card lawyer

You'll typically begin with a free consultation -- generally30 to 60 minutes. A debt attorney helps you understand why you're being sued and will go over your options.

The solution may be as simple as correcting the information in your file. It may be a case of mistaken identity. The creditor or bill collector may have the wrong phone number, bank account, last name, first name, or other identifying information. Or you may need a strong defense because a collector is illegally harassing you.

If the lawsuit is legitimate, a lawyer can go through your possible defenses. They can file a response for you with the court. Outside the court, they may help you reach a settlement or an affordable payment plan with your creditor. 

Finally, the attorney will go over the cost of handling your lawsuit. That way, you can decide if the cost of professional help is acceptable for the situation or if you'll be okay going it alone.

How to choose the right credit card lawyer

There are many ways to choose the best credit card lawyer for your case, but you may want to start by using a referral service.

There may be a lawyer referral service in your area, or you may want to contact an attorney with experience in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Your state bar association or the American Bar Association can also help. Low-income defendants may be eligible for legal aid in their state.

You may want to contact an attorney who you know or have worked with before or ask friends if they know any consumer law attorneys. A bankruptcy lawyer can also be helpful.

Ask any attorneys that you're considering hiring if they've handled cases like yours before. You'll also want to know their up-front fee (retainer) and if you'll have to pay even if you lose your case in court.

Bring copies of records about your debt to your first meeting with a lawyer. Don't give them your original records.

Alternatives to hiring a credit card lawyer

Hiring a lawyer can be expensive. Here are some alternatives:

  • Book one hour or so with a credit card lawyer for their advice on how to proceed.

  • In small claims court, where you're likely to go if you don't owe much money, it's common for defendants to represent themselves. Oftentimes, an attorney isn't allowed to represent you in small claims court.

  • Check into professional services that help you resolve your debt without charging upfront fees. You only pay if they reach a settlement agreement that you agree to.

  • Contact the lender yourself about setting up a payment plan. Credit card debt forgiveness is possible, but it’s usually easier to negotiate before a lawsuit is filed.

If you’re enrolled in a debt resolution program and a creditor sues you, you might already have access to the right help. If a creditor sues you while you’re in a debt resolution program, a reputable company may be able to provide or refer you to legal support so that attorneys can negotiate the debt for you.

Aaron Crowe

Aaron Crowe is an Achieve contributor. He is a freelance journalist who specializes in writing about personal finances. He has worked as a reporter and editor at newspapers and websites for his entire career.

kim rotter 2022 2

Kimberly is Achieve’s senior editor. She is a financial counselor accredited by the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education®, and a mortgage expert for The Motley Fool. She owns and manages a 350-writer content agency.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, if you're in default. Default happens when you’re seriously delinquent. That could mean you’ve gone six months in a row without making the minimum payment. Either the credit card company or a debt collector can sue you for unpaid credit card debt. If you are sued, open all of the mail you receive and follow the instructions given. The first thing you'll need to do is file an answer to the summons (the summons is the notification that you’re being sued).

A credit card debt attorney can help prepare your defense in a lawsuit. Credit card debt lawyers can also negotiate with the creditor and can help you file for bankruptcy if necessary.

Yes. Even if you're not being sued, a debt lawyer can help you by negotiating with creditors for lower payoff amounts. They can refer you to credit and debt experts and can help you file for bankruptcy and learn what your other options are.

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