Served By a Debt Collector? What To Do Next

Related“Debt Collection Help”
Caveat Emptor

Getting served with a lawsuit is one of the more upsetting things that can happen to you. When a process server hands a summons and complaint to you or to someone “of suitable age and discretion” who answers your door, they are dragging you into the legal system.

But really, it is not as bad as all that. Let’s take a look at the first few parts of a lawsuit to try to dispel the fear and misunderstanding.


Getting “served” just means that you have been given notice of the lawsuit. You are served if you are handed a copy of the summons and complaint or if a summons and complaint is given to someone “of suitable age and discretion” at your home.

The summons and complaint — “process” in legal jargon — are a statement of the claims against you and a notice of the lawsuit. In Minnesota, at least, the lawsuit starts whether or not it is filed with the court.


Answering the Complaint

An answer is a formal, legal document. A civil lawsuit is not a criminal lawsuit. There is no court date, yet; there is just a due date. You have 20 days to serve an answer to the complaint. Serving, in this case, means mailing the answer to the opposing party’s attorney, and executing an affidavit of service when you do this.

In an answer, you must respond to each allegation (usually numbered paragraphs) in the complaint. Be careful not to admit anything that you do not know for a fact to be true. For example, in a debt collection case, if you do not know what your account number was you cannot admit that you owe on an account with a specified number. Instead, you have to state that you do not know, and deny it. However, if you still have your credit card or statements, and they show the same account number, you may have to admit this.

Also be careful if you see more than one allegation in a sentence or paragraph. For example, the allegation “Defendant owes Plaintiff $1,400 on a Providian credit card, account number 1234 2345 3456 4567″ contains several allegations: (1) Defendant owes Plaintiff $1,400; (2) for a Providian credit card; (3) with the specified account number. You can probably find some more allegations in there, as well.

This is why having an attorney can be very helpful.

What to Do Next

A lawsuit is like a game of ping pong. Or tennis. Or volleyball. Or whatever. There is a constant volley back and forth. The plaintiff serves the summons and complaint, then the defendant must answer. Either party may start the next step by filing the lawsuit or serving discovery, to which the other party must respond. And so on.

Answering a lawsuit does not end the lawsuit. It just moves it to the next step. If you decide to represent yourself, you must stay on top of your lawsuit. If you do not know what to do next, you should probably hire a lawyer.

Most anyone can handle the early stages of a lawsuit, but if they are not handled well, they can make it impossible to prevail later on. When it comes to the later steps of a lawsuit, it can be very difficult to explain how to handle them yourself, but if you spend some time reading the rules and the law, you might be able to be your own “closer.”

The best course is to hire a consumer rights lawyer. If you don’t think you can afford one, call one anyway. You may be surprised. Many lawyers can help you with unbundled services, where you pay only for the help you need.


  • Adam

    This provides me a great insight to the process. I was once served with a notice. My next step was to get my butt in gear and I just paid the full amount without attempting to negotiate. It was a real wake up call for me at the time as I was younger and dumber. I did not want to get involved in the legal aspect of it all as I did not know how to fight back.

  • Eric

    I wish I had found this blog last June. I live in Minnesota and didn’t understand the MN pocket-fiilng rules and have been subject to three default judgments because I thought I would just get my day in court. I’ve now got two of the three paid off – but it hurt to be garnished they way Gurstel, Staloch & Chargo does things. I was getting more fees and overdrafts in my bank account than they were getting in the garnishment.

    Whereas I don’t condone being a stupid kid and not paying your bills – there’s a lot of things I’ve learned here about the MN collection law in just 20 mins this morning.

    Oh, if you’re a kid reading this (kid is anyone under 25, fwiw), do two things to make your life easier:

    1) Pay your bills now. When they’re due. It’s going to be easier not eating at McDonald’s this week, than longing for the boat you want in 10 years.

    2) Admit it when you don’t know something. In my case, I should have ponied up for a lawyer – it would have been cheaper in the long run.

  • Shirley Rogers

    Thank you for good information. I have a credit judgement against me. My income is judgement proof because it is SS & Pension. I would like to know how debt collectors get bank account info. I would like to be able to use my checking acct,but am afraid to do so incase they try to take money from it. It is being handled by Gurtsel Law firm, every 6 months they send me a form requesting proof of SS payments. I do comply,but do I have to? Thank You I live in Minnesota

  • Sam Glover

    Hi Shirley: We do not give personal advice over the internet. If you want advice on your situation, check out our consumer lawyer directory.

  • Melissa

    This may sound stupid but what kind of lawyer do I need when served by a debt collector?

  • Sam Glover

    When you are served by a debt collector, you need to contact a consumer rights lawyer with experience in debt collection issues.

  • jan

    I had a lady call about a civil suit but she would not disclose the creditor information on what the dept was for. She also hung up on me when I asked for a copy of the civil suit. Are there alot of scams of folks saying that they are collecting dept and have a civil suit but they actually don’t???…I don’t have perfect credit but I am contact with all of my creditors…

  • Sam Glover

    I have heard that there are some scam collectors out there, but if there is a lawsuit against you, you (or someone at your house) must have been served with the summons and complaint.

    In some states, there may be a lawsuit going on even if the court has nothing on file, so you may have difficulty finding out for sure.

    Your best bet is to contact a consumer rights lawyer as soon as possible.

  • Greg

    Sam, How long does the plantiff(debt collector) have to actually file and get a court case number after they serve the summons on the defendant? I was served and gave them an answer within the time frame and it has been quite a while. Havnt heard anything. I think I will serve them by us mail Interragatories for them to anwser. Thanks in advance.

  • Sam Glover

    In Minnesota, there is no limit. Other states have different rules.

    There is still a lawsuit going on against you. If you want to bring your case to a close, you should contact a consumer rights lawyer in your state.

  • Jeremy D


    I have a judgement against me from Gurstel in MN on a Capital One credit card. When they served me (on the sabbath, which is unlawful in MN) to try to get a summary judgement, I requested debt validation and sent a response to the complaint. I never received the debt validation and – even though I sent in my response – they ignored my answer to complaint and filed (and received) a summary judgement. They obviously never told the court about my response.

    The problem is, I have had pretty much every difficult thing possible happen to me lately (besides having a son who has Cerebral Palsy and is Autistic, I have been laid off and had to take a job at a significantly lower pay rate). On paper, my wife and I make too much money for a public defender. In reality, with 4 kids, an upside down mortgage, an upside down car loan and student loans – we hardly can make ends meet. I have no idea where to turn or if anyone does any types of pro-bono works in Minnesota. The total amount of the debt (with atty fees and interest) is only $3,000, but it is enough that if garnished we will lose everything. I have tried contacting them to work out a payment plan, but they are unwilling to and are downright abusive.

    I just today received papers from Gurstel asking about my bank accounts, car, house, job etc. I think they are planning to garnish me.

    I have no idea where to turn for help (and probably couldn’t even afford it if I could find it!)

    What do I do?


  • Sam Glover

    You can contact a consumer lawyer for a consultation. A good consumer lawyer could help you understand your options, although once you have a judgment against you, they are limited.

    In your position, it might be worth speaking to a bankruptcy lawyer to see if you qualify.

  • Jerry

    I have had bill collectors and attorneys calling me sinc 2003 regarding a loan in another person’s name, but my social security number. The other person’s social security numb had 2 transpositions when input to the bank’s system, hence the calls to me. I thought I had this settled in 2006 when I provided the other person’s social security number to the collection firm and proved I did not know the person they were looking for. Now I am being harrassed by the firm of Mann Bracken, LLC. When I called Mann Bracken and offered to help them find the person they were looking for, they became rude and hung up on me because I was not related to the person. What else can I do?

  • Sam Glover

    @Jerry: It sounds like you need to seek help from a consumer rights lawyer. Depending on the kind of case, a consumer attorney may be able to help you on a contingent-fee basis.

  • Phil Howard

    I would like to suggest one more possible denial to be done in an answer to a summons. If you have no reason to know that you owe money to the named plaintiff, then be sure to deny that you owe that party anything whatsoever.

    If you do owe money to someone, you have no particular reason to know that some unknown party that comes along and claims you owe it to them, is the real assignee of the debt. You could find out if the original creditor sold or placed the debt with the plaintiff by asking them. If you cannot get the OC to provide that information, then it would be up to the plaintiff to prove this by presenting the appropriate documentation. Do not accept (and challenge it if they try to present this to the court) an affidavit if the person making the statement is an employee of the plaintiff or its law firm.

    The FDCPA requires debt collectors to “validate” debts. However, the specifics of what is required for “validation” is really nothing more than requiring them to IDENTIFY the debt. It does not require them to verify that the debt is valid, or even show to you that they are the legitimate assignee of a debt. You could ask them to go beyond the FDCPA requirement, but to date I’ve not heard of any debt collector that will do so.

    There is a scam going around. It may be conducted by people who have acted, or are acting, in roles of a debt collector. Or it may be conducted by scammers who pretend to be debt collectors. By some means (such as retention of data about past accounts, or by data theft from collectors that do not perform proper data security) these scammers get data about your account. They try to collect. Because the account looks familiar, you may pay them on it. It did not really get applied to your debt and that is the scam.

    But this scam is apparently going a step further. This is probably don’t only by very shady lawyers who have worked in debt collection and know the system. They get info about debts, such as “debt portfolio prospectus”. Then they file a lawsuit on all these debts, despite not being an assignee of the debts. Any lawsuit that is challenged, they move to dismiss and strike it from their list. Any lawsuit they get a default judgment for, they mark those for purchase to make it legal. The debt seller most likely does not know the debt buyer secured a default judgment, which would increase the value of the debt.

    This is why (among other reasons) it is important for everyone to always provide a denial answer, including a demand for a hearing, for any lawsuit.

  • Michele

    In MN, can an LLC bank account be taken for personal debt?

  • Sam Glover

    Possibly. It will depend on the facts of your situation, and you should talk to a lawyer to find out for sure.

  • Diana

    If a debt collector wins in court in Mn and gets a judgement is your homestead automatically protected or do you have to file an exemption in court? Thanks

  • Carolyn

    My 80 year old grandmother has been repeatedly getting calls from a debt collection agency for amounts she never incurred (in the ’60s no less). She now has a lawyer, and has informed the agency in writing to stop calling her. What gets me is that they have her social security number – how did they find it, and should I advise her to do anything such as flagging her bank accts, etc?

  • Sam Glover

    Carolyn, those are great questions, and you should advise your grandmother to ask them of her lawyer!

  • Sam

    Do debt collectors like Frederick Hanna & Assoc actualy own the debt they get from Bank of America, or are they considered 3rd party debt collectors? How often do debt collectors win in court when you ask if they own the debt?

  • Sam Glover

    I believe Hanna is a third-party collector. For me, the chance of winning depends on whether the debt has been sold or not. If it has, the chance of beating the debt buyer goes up considerably.

  • Sam

    Why is it so hard if third-party debt collector by the debt, that they don’t get the proper paperwork to be the new owner?

  • Sam Glover

    Collecting debts and buying debts are very different business ventures. I think you would have to ask a debt collector why they are not interested in buying the debts they collect.

  • Tom

    I requested a validation notice from 3rd party debt collector (via certified)…they had a law office in my state sent me the same debt letter…I also requested a validation of debt (via certified) from them…it’s been three months and no reply form either the DC or Law Office…should I sent them anything else, or just wait for a reply or summons?

  • Sam Glover

    Tom, you are best off contacting a consumer rights lawyer in your area.

  • Lesley

    Messerli served Summons on me some time ago, I responded w/Answer and discovery. They responded with generic to no info at all really. Today I got a Garnishment Exemption Notice from them (which I can satisfy) but they’ve never filed the matter in Court and have no judgement. So, they can just waltz in and grab the $$ out of one’s account? Clearly its in my interests to reply by certified mail given M&Ks crappy record and ethics, but really, how in the world is it legal to privately prosecute a court matter? I know, I know, MN pocket service and all but this has grown to nearly racketeering levels. The legislature needs to address this.

  • Sam Glover

    Lesley, something sounds amiss. I think you should talk to a consumer rights lawyer in your state.

  • cynthia denlea

    Sunday 03/28/10 served by debt collector – no filed date or court info on papers?

  • Sam Glover

    If you are in Minnesota, the case usually will not be filed. It is still valid, and you must still answer.

  • Rowena Ponce

    I live in CO and was served with court info but no file date or file number. Is this a valid legal document? It’s allowing me 20 days to respond.

  • Sam Glover

    Rowena, if you are served with a summons, talk to a consumer rights lawyer in your state.

  • hippiechic

    i recently had my checking account froze and garnished …i didnt get a summons evidently it went to my ex husbands business he signed and conviently forgot about it…is there anythimg i can do?????

  • Sam Glover

    @hippiechic: If you are in Minnesota, at least, that doesn’t sound like proper service. Regardless where you are, you should talk to a consumer lawyer about vacating the judgment against you.

  • Elizabeth

    My work was recently sent a garnishment summons form for me but I have no idea where it is from. I was never served with any sort of summons, I never got to answer anything back and the judgment was apparently in June 2010. How can I go about getting this dismissed? As far as I understood they had to serve you and you had to sign something validating that you received it, or someone over 18 living in your house had to sign for it.

    • Sam Glover

      Getting a lawsuit dismissed is difficult. Think of the courts like a train: very difficult to turn around. However, if you were never properly served, then you should be able to get the court to vacate the judgment and dismiss the case. You will want a consumer attorney’s help to do that.

  • Terry

    At what point in the legal process does unsecured credit card debt become secured by everything you may own?

    • Sam Glover

      I suppose at the point you wind up in garnishment, which is when the creditor can use your other property to satisfy the debt.

  • Terry

    I live in Oregon and there are no consumer protection attorney’s in this state. What would you suggest?

  • Terry

    I repair appliances. If this were my website I would be helping people who cannot afford to have it repaired by a professional fix it themselfs rather than tell them to call an appliance repairman. Most of the people that visit your site know that the debt buying industry is “shady” at best, most practicing fraud and extortion with the courts help. If the debt buyer gets any money from anyone none of it goes to the original creditor, so what’s the point? Disgrace? Humility? Going broke is not a crime. Attorney’s attacking broke people should be. The original creditor started it they should finish it. Having a debt buyer sue you for an account they paid pennys on the dollar for is nothing more than financial terrorism. If anyone owes a debt buyer anything it is only what they paid for it.

    • Sam Glover

      I do my best to provide information to help people help themselves when I can, but a lot of the law in this area is extremely complex, and much of it is unsettled. I often say that, if you aren’t a lawyer, going to court is a lot like trying to find your way around China without knowing the language. You can probably fumble your way through it, but it would be a whole lot easier with a translator.

      But I definitely agree that the debt buyer industry is shady at best, and financial terrorism is a good word for it.

  • Linda

    I have just been served for the amount I owe a credit card company, which is quite a lot. I can pay a certain amount, and would like to make payments on the rest. I don’t want to have to go to court, I just want this to go away and get settled. I am very scared of getting anything garnished and do not want to meet a lawyer. What can I do? Please help.

    • Sam Glover

      Even if you just want to negotiate a settlement, it would be a good idea to meet with a consumer lawyer before you contact the creditor or collection law firm. If you approach the collector or creditor carefully, you can probably resolve the debt—and therefore the lawsuit—for substantially less the full amount. Most of our clients spent less money to hire us and settle the debt than they would have to resolve the debt on their own.

      However, if you really want to go it alone, check out our post on negotiating a debt settlement. That should get you pointed in the right direction.

      • Terry

        Sam, What do you think George Washington would say about Mandatory Binding Arbitration clause’s in contract’s (of any kind)?

        • Sam Glover

          Nothing kind.

        • Terry

          Bankruptcy (consumer protection) has always been an option for me. My complaints are not about money. Someone who needs no monitary gain should step up and defend the civil rights of people. The constitution has always been there but I will never see my day in court with 12 jurors deciding what and who I owe. That will be decided by nothing more than a mafioso drive by hit.

  • krissysnow1228

    I was served for a debt on a store credit card from a few years ago. I live in MN. I have not been able to pay the debt and after meeting with a bankruptcy laywer I qualify. I was planning on filing this summer. Should I respond to the creditor’s attorney notifying them of this or just file and include this judgement in my Chap 7?

    • Sam Glover

      That’s a question you should definitely ask your bankruptcy attorney.

  • megsnana

    I was threatened by Smith Dean and Associates out of Florida that I would be arrested if I did not pay a debt owed to a Pay Day loan company within the hour. She said that she would have me picked up. This is because the ach for the debt was returned by my bank. Can they do that? I filed a complaint with the AG.

  • Cindy

    I was served with a Summons for a credit cart debt. I’m not sure how to file an answer to I went about contacting an attorney. Their office told me that if I owe the debt then there is nothing they can help me with. That the best thing to do is to not file an answer and let it go to Judgment because either way I was going to have to pay it. Everywhere I check online it say to file an answer. I don’t know what to do.

  • Stacey

    I am from Washington state, but am confident you will be able to answer my questions. I received a Summons and Complaint notice from Zwicker & Associates. The document was hand delivered but it was not in a sealed/dated envelope and I was not asked to sign anything. I received it on the 21st but the date on the document is on the 10th. How do they monitor the time lapse if I did not sign any papers and there is not an official record of when I received it? Like many of the others mine does is not officially filed with the court yet and I am doing as much research as possible before sending my Answer and Certification of Service.

    Here it goes:
    1) If the debt collection agency/firm bought the debt how do you find out? If the original creditor is listed as the plaintiff does that mean they still own the debt?

    2) The summons only lists the last four digits of the account number. Since this debt is a couple years old and there is no way of possibly knowing that the previous digits match the account I held does that mean this is more than likely an empty threat?

    If not, then does this lack of information serve as good grounds to answer with “Lack of knowledge about the truth and therefore deny . . . ”

    A lot of questions, I know. I want to be as clear as possible prior to sending my Answer though.


    • Sam Glover

      Like many legal questions, the answer to both your questions is it depends. For example, many debt collection agencies or firms do not buy debts, but some do. It takes someone who knows the collection agency you are dealing with to know whether they are likely to have bought the debt. Further, I believe some states may let collectors sue in their own names even if they have not bought the debt, so the name listed on the complaint may not be helpful.

      Likewise, I’m not sure you can draw conclusions about the emptiness (or non-emptiness) of the threat based on the last four digits of the account number. I will say that if you were personally served with a summons and complaint, it is not a threat; you have been sued.

      Because all of this depends on (1) the specific facts in your case and (2) the law in Washington, you really should discuss your case with a Washington consumer rights attorney as soon as possible. That is the only way to make sure you get the right answers.

  • Cindy

    I am being sued for credit card debt. Contacted lawyers to file an answer, but unfortunately am not able to afford it. One of the lawyers suggested I file for bankruptcy because of other debt that I have. Instead I tried to contact the Creditor’s lawyer and tried to settle the debt. He seemed friendly and agreed to mail a stipulation agreement. I offered to go to the office and sign in person, as it’s very close to where I live but he saiid he would just mail. The 30 days to file an answer is almost over and I was wondering if I should still file an answer to avoid a judgement against me. I don’t know if the lawyer is tricking me to wait until the time is up since he didn’t allow me to sign the agreement in person. Thoughts?

    • Jim

      If you have been served you must answer or a default against you can result.

    • Sam Glover

      If you can’t afford to hire a lawyer, try contacting legal aid in your state. They may be able to help you file an answer, just in case.

  • Ashley A

    I have recived a summons via mailbox, and one posted to my door reguarding a debt to bofa. There was hand written on the documents saying that I was served “via certified mail” is this still legal in Arizona? I have never gotten personally served the summons. I had sent a letter to Fredricks and Hanna last year in May asking them to prove this debt was mine etc, I never did hear anything back from them, and now Gurstel Chargo is leaving papers on my door and in mailing me this. I just need some help before the 20 days is here. ( I got my papers on July 31,2011) Even though in the paper work it states april and july 1st. Please help any information that could help me end this headache.

    Thank you.

    • Sam Glover

      Whether or not it was properly served, you should talk to a consumer lawyer about your options. Don’t assume you can’t afford a lawyer until you call. You can also try Legal Aid, if you can’t find a private attorney to help you.

  • Jay

    GREAT ADVICE SAM….”never assume you cannot afford a lawyer” This may be long, so edit where ya see fit to Sam! Any lawyer worth anything will give you a first “consultation”… “on the house”. My case is similar to many that I have read here….was getting calls at my place of business (FDCPA strike one)…I told them not to call again, they kept calling, (strike 2).

    The next call I get, I requested them to send me a DUNNING letter, hung up the phone, called a local FDCPA lawyer, we sat and talked for like 2 hours. The outcome of which was to hold tight and record any further communications. Heres where it gets interesting…..I get the dunning letter, but no further communications from that certain “law firm”….EVER AGAIN!!!

    I did arrive home this past Friday to see that I missed the summons server, the next day theres a knock on the door, I sign the paper, he hands me mine, we shoot the bull for a few, he leaves, I open it up and its from a totally new “law firm”…”well this isn’t cool, wheres my dunning letter?”, I thought. So I have an appointment for this Wednesday with my lawyer, the funny thing all these “law firms” are representing the same plantiff … Cach LLC (B of A), and so far, all these “firms” are in violation to some degree.

    ALL OF US, are upon hard times these days, I had a mother sick with cancer who recently passed, a NASTY child custody case that cost me thousands (But was worth it), and my company is holding on for dear life, I mean taking a $1,000 a week paycut hurts to my very core! Most of us on here have LOTS to lose, a home, car and other assets……if you dont fight back, these vultures will TRY to take it all!

    This may sound bad, BUT….keep smiling and think of it as a chess match, if you’ve been served, you know what ya gotta do…..research all you can and for petes sake call an attorney. Seeing as the first firm so blatantly violated FDPCA guidlines, I think we are gonna file a federal suit (roughly $350) , this MAY or MAY not effect the current summons, seeing as it representing the same Platiff..I dunno….hence where the attorney comes into play!!

    In closing, LOOK over everything you receive with a fine tooth comb, on my summons, there was an affidavit from a custodian of records from… guessed it…not the original creditor, but the Junk Debt buyer…..also little subtleties…LIKE no original account number, things like that! I may be wrong, but the less they show you, the more is in your favor on court day!

    DON’T BE EMBARRASSED about your situation, heck our own country almost just defaulted on its debt, its no surprise to me that TONS of Americans are doing the same, if not worse….I know I may have!!!

    Keep your chins up guys, it beats the other option!!!! Once more…..answer your summons……Lawyer…Lawyer! These scumbag firms can be sued for $$$ granted you act within 1 year of violations!!

    I am in no way shape or form a lawyer….Just fed up!!!!! Be good Guys!!!!

  • John Delp

    I have played the debt validation game with a law firm trying to collect a credit card debt. I sent them a debt validation letter and over 2 months letter they sent a copy of a statement. Is this enough for validation that I owe them? I said in the letter that they had to respond in 30 days and they didn’t. Does that hold any teeth? Also, in their summons they said I did not respond to their debt validation but I did and have proof. Plus, my letter said only contact in writing but they called me at my home and cell phone several times.

    I consulted a Lawyer and I don’t think he knows what he is doing. He asked me if I owed and I said yes, to the original creditor but he just feels I am stuck paying and tried to settle for less on my behalf

    Any advice?

    • Sam Glover

      If a lawyer’s only question is whether you owe the debt, find another lawyer. That lawyer probably doesn’t have a grasp of the issues in a case like yours.

  • Ben

    I got a court summons on a 1200.00 hospital bill from when my son was ill. I asked for and recieved proof of debt (I knew I owed the money), however, since this is kind of like “contract law”, can I ask for the original hospital’s conditions for admissions form that has my signature and states that I must pay for the services rendered? How can the debt collector prove I owed the money in the first place if they don’t have a copy of my original contract?

  • t

    fyi, if you don’t answer the door and take the summons they will just publish your ‘dirt’ in the paper and call you served- probably better to answer the door, i have found.

    • Sam Glover

      Any effort to dodge service should be made only after consulting with a lawyer. Otherwise, as you point out, a determined plaintiff will usually complete service one way or another, in the end.

  • Laura

    I had a heart attack. I told all the medical personnel that I had no insurance and I attempted to discuss financials but they told me to not worry, that they would first take care of me, then we would discuss money “on the back side”. I was surprised to here this phrase twice that evening from two different doctors at two hospitals! Anyway, the clerical people told me not to worry because they would help me apply for our state’s Medicaid. Well, I don’t qualify for the Medicaid and my husband and I are on a very limited income, i.e. his Social Security Disability.
    Well, in the process of discussing the bills with the various entities involved, I was offered the possibility of “financial aid” in the form of grants, discounts, etc. and I had to fill out applications that included virtually everything about my finances. Now, I wonder – even though above my signature on the forms it says that I am giving this information to apply for financial aid, can they decide not to give me financial aid and instead pass the information to a collection agency? I hope this is general enough question that it’s answer helps others as well. Thank you for this site!

    • Sam Glover

      Whether they can share the information will depend on a number of regulations, but it will probably depend most on whether the bill collector is the same entity offering the financial aid. If so, it will have the information if it needs to collect.

  • jessica

    Instead of spending time on this site trying to get everyone to hire you, why don’t you actually help some of the people. Many of the questions (legal specifics on whether served properly) would take you seconds to answer. Yes it is state specific but even at that it would take you next to nothing to answer. Most of the people are on this site because they cannot afford a lawyer. For thos that can they will heed your advice and hire you or another attorney. Pimping yourself out every time you most is dispicable and makes you just as bad as the slimy collectors are. How about some honest to goodness human help? In honor of New Years maybe this is where you should start on your resolutions. Its not always about money. These lawsuits can mean the difference of someone losing their homes, etc. In comparison if you would take 10 minutes a day to post actual help you could actually save some of these people real heartache. (afterall you are alraedy on here posting anyway). Pro bono anyone?

    • Sam Glover

      I don’t handle these lawsuits anymore, so I’m not trying to get everyone to hire me. I write this blog because I care about consumer issues. I hope one day to make some money from advertising, but right now, the ads I do run don’t even pay my hosting costs.

      The reason I don’t answer is because I can’t. It’s probably not so easy for a non-lawyer to appreciate, but it’s impossible to give competent legal advice based on a brief comment on a blog. Differences in the facts that may seem small or inconsequential to the person asking the question may make a big difference to the kind of advice I would offer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on the phone or in a meeting with a consumer when they bring up something they didn’t think was important, and my response has been “oh, well that changes everything!” And different states really do have very different laws. It’s not only impossible to answer a question about another state’s law, it’s probably illegal for me to try. That’s what lawyer licensing is all about.

      In general, it’s also just a terrible idea to ask for legal advice on a public blog like this one. There is no confidentiality or attorney-client privilege when you put your information out in public. If you want pro bono help, it’s best to consult a Legal Aid lawyer in your state.

    • Thanks

      Thanks to Mr. Glover, people are more informed than they were before he began writing. Free, useful information isn’t enough, you want him to commit malpractice to give out free legal advice too? Are you going to donate your money to him getting a malpractice attorney when he’s sued? 

      Maybe your New Year’s resolution can involve being more grateful for what you have, instead of crying over what you don’t.

  • shana young

    I have a lawsuit against me from a hospital bill that was turned over to collections. I had set up a payment arrangement with them. I have been sending 10 dollars a month. I missed a payment that was due Dec. 30th 2011, and sent in a payment Jan. 13th, 2012, called them and found out about the lawsuit. Can this be done? If so, what can I do? I can’t  really afford a lawyer, but I’m going to talk with one on Jan.16th. I am the responsible party on the medical bills and not my husband . Is there a way that I can file bankruptcy on medical bills only?

  • Joan

    A Debt Collector seems to have bought my bad debt from a bank and I have just received a Summons.  Can your SSDI checks be garnished by the court to pay for a bad debt won by this Plaintiff in Civil Court? 

    • Sam Glover

      Anything can be garnished, whether or not the money is exempt or not. You may be able to get the funds back through the exemption process or in some other way, but first, it will be taken away, then you can try to get it back.

      However, if you only have a summons (and complaint, I assume), you are at the beginning of the lawsuit. The next step is answering the complaint, which means the ball is in your court. Talk to a consumer lawyer or look for help from a local legal aid office immediately.

  • Little Bear

    Just a quick heads up for anyone with debt and their only income is Social Security. As indicated by the Social Security website (official) creditors are prohibited from garnishing any income coming from state assistance. It could be Social Security, it can be welfare, etc. There are some companies that CAN garnish these but only in certain situations. If you are having bank accounts garnished, you can try getting your direct deposit changed over to a prepaid card offered by Social Security, where funds are automatically loaded onto the card each pay period.

    • Sam Glover

      While this may be true, that doesn’t mean debt collectors cannot garnish your bank accounts. It just means that after your funds are garnished/frozen, you can ask the court to give them back to you.

      In other words, it’s still a giant pain in the ass to deal with.

  • GC

    I once got a credit card back in 2008-09, and never used it. now i am being called and told i owe $1600 to collection guys. Do I really owe them money? I never used the card.

    • Sam Glover

      It’s probably worth sending a debt validation letter to try to get more information. I can think of several possible explanations, from an accounting software glitch to identity theft to charges you forgot about.

  • MS

    Hello, I know debt collectors can garnish your wages…but can they get to your other assets, like a house? My mother had some medical bills about 5k that got sent to a debt collection agency. She doesn’t have a job and her social security begins in a few months. Can they go after her husband or their home? Also, are they likely to sue over a debt that small? Thank you for your time.

    • Sam Glover

      Possibly. You’ll want to talk to a lawyer in your state to find out, as laws on garnishment and levy can vary a lot from one place to another.

  • Jeff Colorado

    I live in CO. My wife and I are in the process of filing bankruptcy and retained an attorney a couple months ago to help with it. After we paid and retained him, we began notifying our creditors (all credit cards and their collection agencies) of the pending bankruptcy and the attorney’s contact info. We have all paperwork needed now submitted to him, and will be meeting this week to actually file the BK petition. But, my wife was served with a summons last week from another attorney representing one of the collection agencies, with court date or response due by this Wed. morning. She called that attorney’s office a couple days ago to notify them of the pending BK and our attorney’s info, but is that enough to stop them from pursuing the lawsuit for now? Do they have to cease their lawsuit sice we’ve already retained a lawyer? Or does she still have to submit a formal answer to the summons and explain that way that we are filing bankruptcy? To file an answer it will cost us $100 and money’s extremely tight now. Thanks!

    • Sam Glover

      Since you (or your wife) already have a lawyer, this is a great question to ask him or her, not the internet.

  • Weeble

    I was served on a debt I owe from a medical condition. Is there anyway to just pay the debt and not have to pursue any further legal issues? I do not want to rack up legal bills on top of the debt if there is no reason to.

    • Sam Glover

      You can always just pay the debt. Just call up the attorney who signed the complaint and ask for their best deal.

      If you want to negotiate a payment arrangement, though, I’d work with a lawyer. Debt collectors usually structure payment plans in such a way that they can go ahead and continue the lawsuit whether or not you are paying as agreed.

  • Penny

    Got something from Gurstel Chargo attorney’s at law yesterday and they’re threatening to freeze my checking account as garnishment. What the hell do they expect me to live on? The whole thing reeks fishy. I checked the BBB website, and they aren’t accredited and have had 20 complaints filed against them.

  • Krys

    Where can I find laws in MN regarding service of summons. I specifically want to know if there are rules regarding the time people can be served. I.E. is it legal for them to send people at midnight. The process server said there weren’t any statutes. This isn’t my debt and I’m royally ticked.

    • Sam Glover

      Here are the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure:

      See Rule 4. I don’t believe there is any limitation on when it may be served. However, if it is not your debt, you ought to get in touch with a consumer rights lawyer right away. You may be able to sue the debt collector and recover $1,000, plus any actual damages, costs, and attorney fees.

  • Sandy

    Why do these attorney’s ( collection ) ones like Madarich Law Group LLC bother with trying to sue someone who is underwater on their mortgage has been devastated by the housing crisis because they are a realtor in CA. has no savings, no real income, and is nearly 60. What the hell is the point?? I will never get a JOB that actually pays me money,who hires anyone at my age? My income is at poverty level, I am trying to figure out how to pay the electric and water bill, my credit is shot and I really do not care about credit anymore. My life is pretty much on the last walk here, so what is the point?? Why are they bothering as I have absolutely NOTHING!

    • Sam Glover

      Debt collectors don’t care if you can actually pay the debt. They are usually compensated for getting a payment or a commitment to pay from you. Or a judgment, which gives them the ability to go after your bank account. This does not require that you are actually able to pay the debt.

      There are a lot of screwed-up incentives from the tax code to the debt collector’s compensation structure that lead to this result, but the bottom line is that collectors don’t really care whether you can pay or not.

  • Tony

    I filed bankruptcy 3 years ago, but haven’t completely paid off the bankruptcy lawyer, only about $800 so far. Since I already began my bankruptcy before I was served, is there a way to get out of this lawsuit?

    • Sam Glover

      Do you mean that your bankruptcy lawyer has sued you?

      • Tony

        Sorry for not elaborating. No, my lawyer hasn’t sued me. Part of my debt was a Chase credit card. They sent the collection agency after me. Yesterday I was served. But this debt occurred prior to me beginning my bankruptcy filing. My bankruptcy lawyer said to just give creditors his number & he would take care of it. Guess I missed one of my creditors.

        • Sam Glover

          Adding a debt that should have been included is usually a pretty simple and straightforward procedure.

          • Tony

            So should I just give my bankrupt lawyer the papers that the creditors served me and he’ll take care of it?

          • Sam Glover

            That’s where you should start at least, yes.

          • Anthony

            Thanks man!

  • Sam Glover

    If this is still happening, the answer is yes, you still need to fill out the exemption form if you want to avoid garnishment.

    You may be eligible for pro bono legal help from the Volunteer Lawyers Network, which has a pretty effective consumer law clinic. They can help you send letters to the collector that might be able to stop Gurstel from continuing to try to garnish your account.

  • Calvaloo

    I live in Washington state, I have debt that has gone to collections. I want to pay it in payments but they’re being unreasonable and want me to pay more per month than I can afford. what happens if we cant come to an agreement on the amount. I was served and plan to answer the complaint

    • Sam Glover

      You don’t need the debt collector’s permission to make payments on the debt in whatever amount you can afford. If you do make payments, they must be credited to the account.

      However, you probably want to negotiate a settlement, especially since there is a lawsuit going on. The creditor or collector does not have to stop collection activity (i.e., pursuing its lawsuit against you) just because you are making payments.

  • Tammi

    I am being sued by a junk collector (Midland). I was looking at some of my old credit reports and notice that this same account was listed 3times on the same credit report. One for a way lower amount and 2 with the same. The 2 with same is what the creditor is sueing for. Can I present this info and request that show me how they get this amount and prove that I owe because I don’t recall owing this? I am in Georgia.

    • Sam Glover

      The most-likely outcome of reminding Midland that it thinks you owe two other debts is two other lawsuits.

  • Justin L

    If I had an outstanding debt of a student loan from 10yrs ago, the debt was then “bought out” and I filed bankruptcy, does the student loan debt change to uncollected debt that should have been covered under a Chapter 7 filing ? or is it still part of a student loan that can not be filed under the bankruptcy

    • Sam Glover

      You’ll want to consult your bankruptcy lawyer on that one, but I doubt the character of the debt changes just because it is sold.


    Can you file bankruptcy after receiving the summons and have that debt included? Also,does that stop the lawsuit ?

    • Sam Glover

      Yes and sort of. But if you talk to a bankruptcy lawyer, this is one of the first things they will want to talk about with you.

  • tony

    Five years ago, after lost her job, my mom diagnosed with final stage of cancer.
    In that time, she used credit cards to paid for her hospital bills and prescription bills
    (Since then, I’m the one who paid all her credit card bills).
    One year ago, I lost my job and unable to paid her credit card bills
    (actually, I paid one and stop the other one).
    Last week, my mom met with the lawyer to file for bankruptcy. After that two days, we got a served letter
    from debt collector said that they sue my mom. Since then, my mom tried to contact the lawyer but she unable
    to connect to them(no one pick up the phone). What can we do now? the letter said we have to answer them in 14 days
    (from the day the served letter come). Should we go to court? or let the lawyer handle it(but we still can not reach the lawyer)?
    Thank you very much!

    • Sam Glover

      Go talk to your own lawyer. If both of you are out of work, you almost certainly qualify for free legal help through a Legal Aid organization.

      I have no idea what you were served, but if it was a summons, calling the lawyer who served your mom will not stop the lawsuit. Your mom has to serve (and probably file) a formal response to the complaint. You probably need a lawyer’s help with that.

  • Moe

    My question(s) is, although I have made payment arrangements could I still have a judgement against me? If I pay the entire bill off prior to court, will that dismiss the possible judegement or can it still happen?

    • Sam Glover

      Yes, the debt collector can still get a judgment against you even if you make payment arrangements or pay off the debt prior to the court date. Nothing is automatic.

      If you have a court date, go.

  • Jeff

    My girlfriend has been served for medical debt … (it’s not much, but more than we could have ready for quite some time), and has virtually no assets and no income. … We’ve tried calling lawyers in this field but all have turned us down, a few almost seemed to be offended that we were asking for their help in this case. My main question is, should we file an answer if we know they’ll win anyway? So far it seems like we could end up paying more in court fees just to lose the case anyway. Thank you for any advice!

    • Sam Glover

      It’s frustrating (for you and for me) because the decision whether to answer is the kind of decision you really need to make with a lawyer who knows all the facts in your case. Since you can’t find a lawyer, you can’t do that.

      Generally, you should answer. If you don’t answer, the credit gets a judgment against you and can start garnishing your wages and bank accounts. They have little incentive to bargain because they have a judgment and can basically just take the money.

      An answer buys you time and gives the creditor an incentive to bargain.

      As I said, that is generally what you should do. There could be good reasons why you might want to go ahead and let the creditor get a default. They will depend, among other things, on the particular facts, the laws of your state, and your girlfriend’s particular circumstances. To know whether those reasons apply to your girlfriend, though, you’d want to consult a lawyer. If you haven’t done so already, try the consumer lawyer directory at NACA.

      • Jeff

        We will keep trying to consult a lawyer and prepare an answer. Thank you for your help!

  • Ryan Martin

    We moved, and unfortunately the Sherriffs office wrongly served our tenants. Now we have a court date it says in 2 weeks, 900 miles away. we cant make it.

    I am concerned about what happens if we don’t show up and answer, and yet they will have my bank information when I make our first payment a week from now. Any insight?

    • Sam Glover

      If you don’t show up, you will lose and the collector will probably wind up with a default judgment. Depending on the state you are in, the collector might already be entitled to a default because usually you have to answer in writing, not in court.

      Depending on the collector, nothing much may happen. They may be satisfied to honor the payment arrangements you made. But if they want to get aggressive, they already have your bank information. It wouldn’t be difficult for them to satisfy the judgment all at once.

      As always, you should talk to a consumer lawyer in the state where the lawsuit is located.