Sample answer to summons for credit card debt

By Gina Freeman

Reviewed by Betsalel Cohen

May 21, 2023

Read time: 8 min

Serious millennial couple worried about high utility bills or rent payment reading papers in kitchen

Key takeaways

  • Never ignore a summons for credit card debt. It’s the worst thing you can do.

  • A summons contains instructions for answering it and provides a deadline.

  • You may be able to negotiate a settlement instead of going to court.

No one likes to receive a summons for credit card debt, but this is something you can handle. Going to court isn’t horrible. No one will shame you, and there’s no firing squad. You’ll get to explain your side to the judge. Even if you lose your case, many courts will let you request a payment plan. And you might even win.

But first, you need to answer that summons.

What is a summons for credit card debt?

A credit card company or bill collector can start a lawsuit with a summons and a complaint. The summons tells you that you’re being sued, and the complaint (sometimes called a “petition”) tells you why. You are the defendant, and your creditor is the plaintiff. 

Read more: Credit card debt forgiveness

When you receive a summons, you must answer it to avoid a default judgment (an automatic loss). Default judgments can force you to surrender property or money to pay the creditor. They could also garnish your wages, which is when your employer is forced to withhold part of your paycheck and send the money to a designated agency that will forward it to your creditors.

The summons should tell you these things:

  • The names of all parties in the lawsuit

  • The court handling the case

  • The number of days you have to file an answer 

  • The name and address of the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s attorney

The summons also reminds you that if you fail to respond, the plaintiff’s (the creditor’s) request for relief will be granted. In other words, you'll lose by default. Read and review your summons. Make sure you know what to do next and when you need to do it.

Receiving a summons can feel scary or intimidating, but don’t let that keep you from taking action. There are basic steps to follow, and there’s nothing particularly hard about them. 

Take a deep breath, and just take it one step at a time. 

Step 1: Determine your deadline

Calculate your deadline for responding to the summons. Grab a calendar and put your finger on the date when the papers were handed to you. That’s Day Zero. Move your finger to the next date, and count “one,” then “two,” and so on until you get to the number of days set out in the summons. (It’s often 20 but not always.) Your finger should be pointing to the last date on which you can safely file your response with the court. If that’s a weekend or holiday, you can move your finger to the next business day.

If you receive your summons in the mail, you’ll get additional days, calculated from the mailing date. 

Step 2: Study the complaint

The complaint provides the details of the lawsuit. Read it carefully, because you’ll need to respond to the plaintiff’s claims, paragraph by paragraph. 

The complaint explains why the creditor is suing you, and what they want. Usually, creditors want the outstanding balance plus interest, and perhaps reimbursement for court costs and attorney fees.

Step 3: Decide what you want to do

At this point, you’ll decide how you want to proceed. Do you owe the money? Does the plaintiff have the right to collect it? Can you afford to pay what you owe? These are all considerations and will determine what you do next:

  • Pay the debt

  • Fight the lawsuit

  • Negotiate a settlement

Prepare to answer the complaint and plan to go to court. Even if the debt is uncollectible, you could lose automatically if you ignore the situation.

Step 4: Consider settling the debt

If you owe the debt and the plaintiff has the right to collect it, try to negotiate a settlement. 

You can negotiate with the creditor on your own or work with a professional debt resolution company who will negotiate for you.

You have an especially good shot at settling for much less than you owe if you’re being sued by a debt buyer. Debt buyers buy debts at a discount from creditors like credit card issuers. If the debt is old, the debt buyer might have paid very little for your debt.

Even if your credit card company is suing you to collect a fairly new debt, it may be willing to settle for less. Going to court is expensive, and collecting a judgment isn’t guaranteed.

Important: Don't let the settlement process distract you from filing your answer. You still need to meet your deadline. Also, filing an answer tells the plaintiff that you plan to fight—which might make it easier to reach a settlement and avoid going to court.

If you do settle with the plaintiff, they must update the court that they are dropping the case. Otherwise, it’s still pending, and you want to avoid a default judgment. Until you get official paperwork saying that the case is dismissed, make sure you meet every deadline.

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Step 5: Answer the summons

You’ll need to draft your answer using the correct form. There might already be one included with the summons. Or try downloading a form from the court’s website, picking one up in person at the courthouse, contacting your local legal aid society for help, or using an online service to fill out and print an answer. 

Gather any documents or information you need to answer correctly. For instance, the statute of limitations is the deadline for suing you. If you think it might have passed, you’ll need to know when you last made a payment. If the statute has run out, the judge might dismiss the case on that basis alone. 

Work your way through the complaint one paragraph at a time. For each claim the plaintiff makes, you’ll need to admit it, deny it, or say you lack knowledge—that means you don’t have enough information to admit or deny. You can also admit part of a paragraph and deny part. Add brief explanations when necessary, but don’t tell your life story here. You can also include documents that support your response. Refer to them as Exhibit 1, Exhibit 2, etc. Label them with the exhibit number and case number and attach them to your answer. 

Step 6: Prepare affirmative defenses

An affirmative defense cancels out your liability. This kind of defense tells the court why you don’t owe the plaintiff and provides new information for the court to consider. You must list affirmative defenses in your answer because you’re not allowed to surprise the plaintiff in court with a “gotcha” defense. 

Depending on the form your court requires, you’d either list your affirmative defenses separately or include them in your paragraph-by-paragraph responses. Here are some common affirmative defenses:

Statute of limitations

Every state limits the number of years in which a debt can be pursued. Once the time has passed, the debt is time-barred. That means it's too late to win a judgment against you in court. The statute of limitations is an affirmative defense.

The limit might be as low as 2 or 3 years, or as long as 10 or 15 years. There are different time limits for different types of agreements (written, oral, promissory note, etc.), so this is something you need to research in the state where you live. Statutes of limitations can be tricky because making even a partial payment or promise to pay can restart the clock. 

Fraud or identity theft

You can't be held responsible for more than $50 in fraudulent credit card charges. And if you report the charge promptly, your liability is zero. 

Improper venue

Bill collectors can only sue you in one of two places: the county where you signed the contract for the debt or the county where you live. Anything else violates the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). 

Debt has been paid, settled, or discharged

You’re in the clear if you've already paid the account, settled with the creditor, or discharged the debt in a bankruptcy. Pursuing you after you’ve discharged a debt in bankruptcy also violates the FDCPA. 

Improper service

You can't be sued if you weren't notified legally—for instance, if the wrong person was served because you moved, or because the summons went to someone with the same or similar name. In most (but not all) cases, you must be served personally by someone who isn't a party to the lawsuit. 

Step 7: Complete the form

Pay careful attention to the form and the instructions from the court. If you handwrite your responses on blank paper, for instance, you’ll need to add the caption for the case to the top of every section. (The “caption” is the blurb with the names of the parties, case number, and court. It appears on every official court document for your case.)

Before you start writing, it’s a good idea to make a few copies of the form so you don’t end up with a lot of scratch-outs and scribbles. Make sure you sign or initial your final copy everywhere it’s required. While some courts accept e-signatures, others require a “wet” signature (actual ink on paper). 

Step 8: File the answer

Once you have your final, fully-completed and signed answer, make two copies. You’ll file the original with the court, serve one copy to the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s attorney, and keep one for your records. You may have to pay court fees at this time. 

Your summons will include details about how and when to file your answer. Follow the instructions carefully to protect your rights and your affirmative defenses. You may be able to file your answer with the court online, by mail or in person. You might be required to serve the plaintiff (or their attorney) in person, or you might be allowed to mail your answer. There's a “Proof of Service” section that you’ll complete, stating how and when you served them their copy.

Just make sure you follow the instructions.

This document is an example of how you might answer a summons and complaint for debt.

Address your other credit card debt

If you have other debts that someone could sue you for, it’s a good idea to address the situation before you get another summons. Getting out of debt isn’t easy or quick, but you do have options:

  • Chapter 7 bankruptcy—Your enrolled debts can be wiped clean, but you could lose some assets.

  • Chapter 13 bankruptcy—You may not lose any assets, but you’ll be on a 3-5 year payment plan

  • Debt management plan—Pay off your debts in full in 3-5 years with guidance from a nonprofit credit counselor. You'll be expected to stop using credit during this time.

  • Debt resolution—Negotiate with your creditors to accept less than the full amount you owe. You can DIY this or get help from a professional.

A debt consultant can provide a free debt evaluation and help you figure out the best path forward.

Gina Freeman - Author

Gina Freeman has been covering personal finance topics for over 20 years. She loves helping consumers understand tough topics and make confident decisions. Her professional history includes mortgage lending, credit scoring, taxes, and bankruptcy. Gina has a BS in financial management from the University of Nevada.

Betsalel Cohen - Author

Betsalel is a contributing writer for Achieve. Passionate about helping people improve their finances. He worked in mortgage banking, private banking, and personal financial coaching. When he is not working, he loves running and spending time with his family.

Frequently asked questions

If you ignore a summons, the plaintiff (creditor or bill collector who is suing you) can ask for and receive a default judgment. A default judgment gives plaintiffs an automatic win and everything they asked for in the lawsuit. Once they have a default judgment, the creditor can take steps to garnish your wages, seize your bank accounts, or even take your property.

The original creditor (your credit card company) can sue you. So can a collection agency hired by your credit card company. And so can a debt buyer, who purchases your debt at a discount. Whenever you’re sued or receive a collection notice, make sure that you owe the money and that the collector has a legal right to pursue for it.

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