How to Answer a Summons for Debt Collection in California

George Simons

September 24, 2019

“I love getting sued for a debt” — said no one ever. This article will make the process a little bit easier and tell you how to answer a summons for debt collection in California.

Below, you'll find helpful topics on how to answer a summons for debt collection in the Golden State. This list includes information specific to filing in California, like state deadlines and forms.

California Deadline for Answering a Debt Collection Summons

30 days

40 days if the documents were served on someone else in your household or they were mailed to you.

Other exceptions

California Answer to Summons Forms

The General Denial Form - Use this form if you disagree with the entire complaint.

Answer Form - Use this form if you disagree with only a part or agree with the entire complaint.

Use these official instructions to fill out the forms.

Steps to Respond to a Debt Collection Case in California

You know you're being sued for a debt if you receive a document in the mail saying you're being sued for a debt. This document is called a Summons and Complaint. Normally, you only have 14 days to do respond to the complaint. You can respond with either an Answer document or a Motion; usually, you'll want to respond with an Answer document.

There are four steps to respond to a complaint.

  • Answer each issue of the complaint
  • Assert affirmative defenses
  • File the answer with the court and serve the plaintiff with answer

Let's take a look at each one.

1. Answer each issue of the Complaint.

Answering the complaint can be scary, but with these instructions it will be simple. Just read the complaint and then decide how you want to respond to each numbered paragraph. You can respond in one of three ways:

  • Agree
  • Disagree
  • I don't know

Just choose one of these answers and write it into your Answer. If you choose “disagree” you can explain why you disagree.

In California's forms, you can admit (agree), deny (disagree), or deny because of lack of sufficient information (I don't know). Check the box for the appropriate answer.

2. Assert affirmative defenses.

“Assert affirmative defenses” means give reasons for why you shouldn't lose the lawsuit or why you don't owe the debt. Add the relevant defenses to your answer.

Here are some of the more common defenses we see:

  • The account with the debt is not your account
  • The contract was already canceled. Therefore you don't owe the creditor anything.
  • The statute of limitations has expired. A statute of limitations is a law that sets a deadline on an action. In this case, the statute of limitations sets the deadline at 6 years, so you can't be sued for a debt based on a contract from six years ago.
  • The debt has been paid or excused.
  • The debt has been partially paid.
  • You were a co-signer but were not informed of your rights as a co-signer.

These are a few of the many affirmative defenses. Being unable to pay the debt is not a legal defense to the debt.

3. File the answer with the court and serve the plaintiff.

This can be the most difficult part of the process. California courts require defendant debtors who don't have an attorney to file the answer by mail or in person. So here's what you need to do:

  • Print two copies of your Answer
  • Mail one copy to the court
  • Pay the filing fee to the court.
  • Mail the other copy to the plaintiff's attorney.

The address for both should be in the Summons and Complaint you received in the mail. The attorney's address should be on the top left of the first page. The court's address should be in the first two paragraphs.

Follow the official instructions here, under “Filing your papers in court”.