If a debt goes unpaid and you’ve made no plans to repay it, your credit card company may sue you in civil court for the balance. Not only could a judgment in the creditor’s favor possibly allow them to seize your property or take the money you owe directly from your bank account or salary, but it also could leave you responsible for all court-related costs associated with the lawsuit.
While any legal action taken against you is a serious matter, there are steps you can take after receiving a summons to appear in court that could lessen the blow.
Try to stop the lawsuit
Most creditors would rather settle a case without the hassle of going to court. If you’ve been sued, contact the creditor immediately to see if there is anything that can be done to stop the lawsuit from moving forward.
Contact a lawyer
Sometimes a creditor isn’t willing to withdraw the lawsuit, or you may believe you aren’t responsible for the debt. While you don’t have to get professional legal representation, a lawyer can help you construct a defense and guide you through the court proceedings.
If money is an issue, you may qualify for free or low-cost legal aid. You also can represent yourself, but hire an attorney for a limited-scope engagement, meaning he or she would consult with you on a limited basis, Mabrito says.
Consider your defense
Just because you’re sued by your credit card company doesn’t mean you should expect an automatic loss. The creditor must prove that you owe the money. For example, you may win if the creditor doesn’t have all of the records pertaining to your case, which is not uncommon particularly when you’re being sued by a company that bought your debt from a credit card issuer. Among the other reasons you might win your case is if you were only an authorized user on the account and not liable for the debt.
Respond to the summons
A failure to prepare and file a response is arguably the worst thing you can do because the creditor automatically wins a default judgment against you.
If you lose the lawsuit and are found liable for the debt, you can: file for bankruptcy — this is your nuclear option, and it has long-lasting consequences, so it is a step to be taken only with great care and professional guidance; fight the judgment – an option if you find yourself the victim of a “default judgment”; stay judgment-proof – laws limit how much of your property can be seized; or settle the debt – work with the creditor to come up with a payment plan, as you work to get back on course.