What to Do When the Debt Collector Sues

If you're behind paying your bills – and who is not, these days? – it's tempting to let the mail pile up. After all, who wants to face yet another reminder that their financial house is not in order? Ignoring the bills and debt collection calls can have a significant drawback, however, if a debt collection agency decides to take you to court.

Increasingly, debt collectors are using the court system not as their last line of defense, but as their first line of indemnity. There have been numerous reports in the mainstream media about debt collection attorneys filing hundreds of cases a week using automated software. Nonprofit organizations in New York City recently issued a report detailing the ways in which debt collectors routinely target lower income residents with lawsuits.

According to the law, you must be informed if you're being sued. Often, however, debt collection agencies do an end run around the law and do not notify the consumer (that's what the New York City study revealed). Other times, consumers let the mail pile up, not knowing that it contains legal documents that require their attention. Still other times, consumers know that they're being sued, but do not know how to go about defending themselves, and so either show up for court unprepared or do not show up at all. A recent survey of sentences conducted by the American Bar Association found that consumers who represent themselves in court do so to their own detriment, in that the have less favorable outputs than consumers who are represented by attorneys. For consumers who do not attend the legal proceedings, the judge has no real choice but to rule in favor of the debt collector.

Once you have a legal judgment against you, life can become even more difficult than it already is. If you do not have a job or any assets, you may think that a legal judgment can not do any real harm. After all, they can not squeeze blood out of a proverbial turnip, can they? That may be true, but chances are good that, ever, your financial situation will change. When it does, a debt collection agency will swoop in to collect on the judgment. In fact, there's been buzz in the debt collection industry about how it's time to get out those old judgments. Their thinking is that the economy is slowly improving, people are starting to go back to work, and the judgments will soon be enforceable. What does that mean? If you have a lawsuit against you and you get a new job, the debt collection agency could garnish your wages. It will feel like one step forward and two steps backwards.

The bottom line? If you're in a position where you might be sued by a debt collection agency, you need to keep an eye on any potential legal proceedings. If you're sued by a debt collector, you should mount a rigorous defense with the help of an attorney. Often, a fair debt attorney can help you to avoid a judgment, and sometimes even get the debt dismissed.