How to Beat a Debt Collector in Court

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23 Apr, 2024
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how to win a debt collection lawsuit

Debt collectors don’t have the upper hand just because you’re the debtor. Here are some strategies to level the playing field.

Knowing how aggressive debt collectors are, lawmakers passed laws and courts implemented procedures to level the playing field when professional debt collectors take regular consumers to court. We share what we’ve learned to give you a head start. For insight and legal advice tailored to your circumstances, contact Consumer Attorneys.

As a consumer law firm, we see how debt collectors, consumer reporting agencies, background check companies, and financial institutions of all kinds treat consumers and debtors (the very people they rely on to stay in business). Far too often, consumers and debtors simply let debt collectors win. We understand this. We understand the anxiety and uncertainty that being in debt can cause. We understand how debt collection companies can use legal tactics and legal jargon to steamroll debtors. We understand how intimidating it is to be one person fighting against a large and powerful corporation that does this sort of fighting all the time. We understand how if you have never been in court before, you may not know what to say to the judge.

But we also see how frequently and brazenly debt collectors overplay their hand. We see how debt collectors make mistakes. We see how debt collectors disobey the laws put in place to protect consumers against aggressive and unfair debt collection practices. We understand the time and energy it takes to deal with debt collectors and how those working hard to repay their debts likely have neither the time nor the energy to spare for such dealing.

We have made it our practice to defend consumers and debtors from unfair debt collection practices. We have prepared this guide to offer some insight and guidance on how you can defend yourself against a lawsuit and even win a debt collection lawsuit.

Respond to the Lawsuit or Debt Claim

The very first step in defending yourself against a lawsuit filed against you by a debt collector is to simply respond to the lawsuit. We know how difficult this can be. You were likely served papers that looked very official and relied on lots of legal terms. You also may actually owe the debt. But ignoring the lawsuit will not make it go away and in fact, will likely make the situation much worse. You will get a judgment against you and the amount of debt you owe will be significantly greater.

To respond to the lawsuit, you need to file an answer. The answer should address all the points the debt collector makes in their complaint, assert your defenses, and announce your intent to defend yourself. The time you have to respond to the complaint and the format and the method you need to file it will vary depending on in what court the debt collector filed suit. The attorneys for debt collection harassment at Consumer Attorneys can help you with this.

Ignoring the lawsuit will not make it go away. Ignoring the lawsuit will only make it worse. If you do not respond, the debt collector's lawsuit will likely result in a default judgment. That means the court automatically hands the debt collector a win. It also means that you will have a judgment against you for the amount that the debt collector says you owe, along with attorney's fees, interest, and other penalties and fees. Again, some rules will depend on what court the debt collector filed suit. This default judgment will appear on your credit report, further eroding your creditworthiness all while doing nothing to diminish the amount of debt you owe. To the contrary, your debt will increase.

Challenge the Debt Collector's Right to Sue

One of the defenses available to debtors is to challenge the debt collector's right to sue. The debt collector or debt collection agency is almost certainly not your original creditor. The debt collector is either collecting the debt on behalf of the original creditor or the debt collector purchased the debt from the original creditor. The original documents between you and the original creditor, along with the history of the debt, including any transfers or sales of the debt, could reveal that the debt collector does not have the right to sue. If the debt collector is unable to prove that they own the debt, they may not have a legal right to sue you. For example, if the debt collector is collecting credit card debt. You could ask them to produce your agreement with the original credit card company. A provision in that agreement could be helpful.

Bring up the Burden of Proof

In litigation, the burden of proof determines who has to prove what to win and how they have to prove it. To win a lawsuit against you, the debt collector will have to prove that you have a debt, the amount of the debt, and that it is the proper party to recover the debt. You have the right and the responsibility to make them prove this. They must provide evidence that everything they allege is true. Anything you can do to dispute the accuracy of that evidence or create doubt that the evidence is accurate will be helpful to you.

Hire an Attorney

While you can defend yourself against the debt collection lawsuit, you do not have to. At any point between the debt collector’s first attempt to contact you to the first day of trial, you can contact and engage a debt collection attorney to represent you. Litigation attorneys know court procedures, know the appropriate defenses to help you, offer support, and handle all the filing and logistics that being a party in a lawsuit requires. A consumer protection attorney will know the laws in place to protect consumers, the rights those laws give consumers, and the responsibilities and restrictions those laws impose on debt collectors.

Review the Statute of Limitations

Different courts in different jurisdictions have different requirements for when different types of lawsuits can be filed. Depending on your specific circumstances, you may be able to argue that the relevant statute of limitations in your case prohibits the lawsuit. This might be the case if the debt is sufficiently old, if the debt collector purchased the debt too long ago, or if the debt collector has waited too long after payments to file suit.

File a Countersuit

A law called the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA) provides a host of restrictions on when and how debt collectors can contact you and the substance of what they can say to you. If the debt collector that has sued you has violated any provision of the FDCPA, you may have grounds for a countersuit. This can give you some valuable leverage in your defense against the debt collector and some basis for negotiation. It can also lead to sue for debt collection and win and you being compensated for your damages. Imagine turning your defense against a debt collection lawsuit into a lawsuit from which you could get awarded damages! 

Decide if it's Time to File Bankruptcy

In some circumstances, filing for bankruptcy may be appropriate. If you feel overwhelmed by all the debt you have or if you have multiple debt collectors filing or threatening to file lawsuits to collect debt, then bankruptcy can be a good solution. Of course debt collection from a mortgage company is different than being late on credit card payments. You have to prioritize and discern what your debt looks like and what life looks like after filing bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy can give people in debt a fresh start. You should talk to a consumer protection attorney about this, about its effect on your credit score, and to determine what type of bankruptcy might be right for you. But the result of most bankruptcies is a clean slate with your debt discharged. Note that some bankruptcies may require you to sell your assets.

Some Tips to Win a Debt Collection Lawsuit

Know Your Rights

Congress passed the FDCPA to prevent aggressive debt collection practices by debt collectors. This law and others give consumers rights, but to successfully defend yourself against a debt collection lawsuit and to be victorious in a countersuit, you must know these rights. additionally, you have rights as a party to the lawsuit. You should know those rights too. You have the right to representation and you have the right to call witnesses. To take advantage of all your rights, you must be aware of them.

Keep Detailed Records

Much of the FDCPA imposes restrictions on when, where, and how a debt collector can contact you. From its very first attempt to contact you, you should keep detailed records of when, how, and where the debt collector contacts you. In addition, you should write down everything any representative of the debt collector says. Save every correspondence, email, text, or letter the debt collector sends you.

Negotiate a Settlement

Debt collectors know that getting some money is better than getting no money. As such, most should be amenable to negotiating a settlement. This means that you will have to pay the debt collector something but not the entire amount that you owe or that they allege that you owe. Additionally, most debt collectors are amenable to a payment plan or some other creative solution that will allow you to repay them something.

An experienced consumer protection attorney can help you negotiate a settlement. Consumer Attorneys’ attorneys know how to negotiate with debt collectors and have experience doing so. 

Attend All Court Dates

Showing up in court lets the judge know that you are taking the case seriously. Additionally, showing up in court means that the debt collector will not automatically win. It means that you are saying to the debt collector that they have to do their job and prove everything they are alleging.

We are happy to represent you in court. We know it can be difficult to work to pay off debt and take time off from work to attend court dates at the same time.

What if You Lose?

Even if you lose in court, you still may have some options. You still may be able to negotiate a settlement with the debt collector. In some circumstances, you may even be able to appeal the decision. If there was some fundamental flaw in the court's decision or in the way the court handled the proceedings, then appealing the decision may be a good idea.

How We Can Help You to Beat a Debt Collector in Court

At Consumer Attorneys, all we do is consumer protection law. We know the tactics debt collectors use to intimidate debtors and we know to respond to them effectively. We know the substance of consumer protection laws. We know the laws that give consumers rights. We know the laws that govern the behavior of debt collectors. We know litigation. We know courtroom procedures. We know how to negotiate.

Contact Us

We have represented thousands of consumers who find themselves at odds with debt collectors, consumer reporting agencies, background check companies, and many others. Our goal is to hold these companies accountable when they make mistakes that hurt you, to get consumers the compensation they deserve, and to make sure things are as fair as they can be.

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Daniel Cohen is the Founding Partner of Consumer Attorneys
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Daniel Cohen
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Daniel Cohen is the Founder of Consumer Attorneys. Daniel manages the firm’s branding, marketing, client intake and business development efforts. Since 2017, he is a member of the National Association of Consumer Advocates and the National Consumer Law Center. Mr. Cohen is a nationally-recognized practitioner of consumer protection law. He has a wealth of proven legal experience in the US in: collective claims, representing visually impaired people who believe their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act have been violated in both the physical and digital environments, corporate governance and dispute resolution. Read more

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