Falling Behind on Bills? Protect Yourself

When you’re unemployed, struggling or unable to pay bills, it’s tempting (and understandable) to ignore all those envelopes and other communications that pile up, demanding your attention and asking for resources you don’t have.

But keep yourself safe. If and when you are sued on a debt, don’t ignore it.

How do you know if you’ve been sued? By law, the entity that is suing you (the “plaintiff”) is required to “serve” you with a copy of the summons and complaint, either by handing it to you, or by taping or tacking it to the door of your apartment or home, and also mailing it to you. Mailing alone is not legally sufficient.

However, “sewer service,” where process servers file affidavits with the court claiming to have made proper service (that is, by handing the summons and complaint to you, or putting it on your door), when no such service was made, is epidemic in New York City. Many people are never served properly or never served at all.

So, if you do get notice that you have been sued, either because you were served, or if you receive a summons and complaint in the mail, do yourself a favor and don’t ignore it. Ignoring it allows your creditor to attain a “default judgment” against you.

You do not want your creditor to get a default judgment against you. Armed with a default judgment, your creditor now has the right to freeze your bank account and garnish your wages.

So if you are sued, do not ignore the summons and complaint. You have only twenty (if you were handed the papers) or thirty days to file an answer to the complaint in court.

You should contact a lawyer who is experienced at debt defense and is familiar with the many technical defenses available to you. Many such lawyers will work with you to develop a payment plan for their services that you can afford.

Also, if you receive anything in the mail that notifies you that a default judgment has been entered against you, contact a lawyer right away. A good debt defense lawyer may be able to stop the creditor before it begins to take money from your bank account or your wages, and may even be able to vacate the default judgment.

Some creditor law firm names to watch out for: Cohen & Slamowitz; Mel S. Harris Associates, LLC; Wolpoff & Abramson, LLP; Rubin & Rothman, LLC; Mullooly, Jeffrey, Rooney & Flynn, LLP; Forster & Garbus, LLP; Malen & Associates, P.C.; Pressler and Pressler, LLP.

Bottom line is, if you receive a summons and complaint, or a notice of judgment, the worst thing you can do is do nothing.

-Sheril Stanford

Categories: Debt Defense
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