What Happens When You Get Served Papers for Debt?

debt collection lawsuit texas

What Happens When You Get Served Papers for Debt?

If you were served papers for a lawsuit due to an unpaid debt, you aren’t alone. In a survey conducted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, it was discovered that 15 percent of consumers contacted by debt collections agencies were sued. Let’s look at what happens when you are served papers for a debt, so you can know what to expect.

Receiving the Summons

The creditor or its attorney will serve you with a court summons and a copy of the Petition after filing the Petition with the court. The summons lets you know that the creditor has initiated the legal process. Often, the summons will come from a third-party debt collector instead of the original creditor. Third-party collection agencies often buy debt for pennies on the dollar and then try to collect it, going as far as to sue people.

The Ticking Clock

While lawsuits are expensive, these third-party collection agencies bank on making money because people often ignore the summons.

If the creditor filed the case in Arizona, Florida, or Texas, you have 20 days to file your response, with one exception. Debt cases filed in a Texas JP/Justice Court have a deadline of 14 days after the summons is served.

If you were served with a summons, but do not file an answer before the deadline, the judge will issue a default judgment against you. This gives the creditor the right to collect the debt even if you don’t really owe the money. The judge will determine what the creditor can do to collect the money, but it’s common for creditors to garnish wages, freeze bank accounts and put liens on property.

That’s why it’s important to file your response before the deadline. Otherwise, you will have a judgment on your record.

Filing Your Response

You have three options when answering allegations in the summons. You can choose:

  • Admit
  • Deny
  • Lack of Knowledge

If you choose to admit to an allegation, make sure that you agree with it completely. For instance, if you know you owe the creditor money, but you aren’t sure how much, don’t choose “Admit.” Instead, select “Lack of knowledge.” Remember, your answers can be used in court, so never admit to something that you aren’t completely sure is accurate.

You can also include affirmative defenses with your answer. You will need to choose the appropriate defense based on your case.  This might include a defense based on the statute of limitations, lack of standing, or failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

After you complete your answer, you need to file it at the clerk of court’s office. Then, mail a copy to the plaintiff’s attorney. You will also need to file papers showing that you served the answer to the opposing attorney. All of this must be done before the deadline or you won’t have any legal recourse.


After you submit your answer, your case will move into the discovery phase. Both sides can submit a request for admissions, request for disclosure, request for interrogatories, and a request for production of documents. Essentially, both sides use the discovery phase to gather evidence to use in court. If you have an attorney to represent you, he or she will ensure that your side receives the evidence needed for trial.


After discovery is finished, both sides typically file motions. Don’t be surprised if the plaintiff’s attorney files a motion for a summary judgment. The attorney will file the motion for a summary judgment that claims you don’t have a legal argument and you owe the money. If this motion is granted, the judge will enter a judgment against you and make you pay the debt. You will need to oppose the motion, or the judge will likely grant it.

Your attorney might choose to file a motion to dismiss at this time. A motion might be filed if the attorney has compelling evidence that you don’t owe the debt or if you have reached a settlement with the opposing side.

Settlement Conference

In some cases, you will need to attend a settlement conference before the case proceeds to trial. Often, the two sides will settle during the conference to avoid the expense and time of a trial. Most third-party collections agencies don’t want to spend time pursing the debt through a trial. Many are willing to settle for less at this point. Your attorney can negotiate on your behalf if you are willing to settle.

Going to Trial

While it’s rare, some cases do go to trial. Your attorney might recommend going to trial if the lawsuit cannot hold up in court. Both sides will present evidence, and then the judge will decide if you owe the debt.

Navigating a Debt Lawsuit

You have likely been worried since you received your first call from a collection agency. The worry turned to fear when you were handed a court summons. You are afraid of going to court, and even more fearful of making a payment arrangement that you cannot afford. Fortunately, you don’t have to handle this alone. A debt relief attorney can represent you and help you navigate the confusing legal process. Whether you want to try to reach a settlement or get your case dismissed, having an attorney by your side alleviates much of the stress. Also, your attorney can provide sound legal advice, so that you can make wise decisions during the process.

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