The longer I practice law, the longer my list of "what not to do" becomes. Here's my updated list of what not to do when you are sued by a creditor.
1. Do not ignore the lawsuit.
Many people simply ignore lawsuits filed by debt collectors. This works out well for the debt collectors--they take a judgment against you and proceed to try and enforce that judgment against you.
Don't let this happen.
If you are served with a summons, then show up to court. If you receive a notice in the mail that a court date is scheduled, then show up to court. Showing up to court is the only way to know what is happening in the case. It is always wise to show due diligence when dealing with legal matters. If you do nothing, don't expect any mercy from the judge.
2. Don't confess to judgment.
In many courtrooms, I hear judges ask consumers, "Do you agree that you owe the money?" It seems like a conversation, and most people want to be honest. In 99.9% of these situations, nobody is under oath. It doesn't seem like a risky question to answer.
It's a trap.
Even though you are not under oath and even though no formal trial has been scheduled, answering, "Yes," to that question will cause a judgment to be entered against you. Don't do it. "No," or, "I'm not sure," are much better answers because you aren't confessing to judgment.
In many cases, these are completely honest answers. If you are being sued by a company that purchased your credit card account, then you really have no way of knowing if amount that they say you owe is accurate. Additionally, how do you know that the plaintiff even owns the debt?
Once a judgment is entered, it collects interest at a rate of 9% (in Illinois). A judgment creditor can garnish your wages, freeze your bank account, and generally make your life annyoning. Don't confess to judgment.
3. Don't send someone to court for you.
Unless your friend/spouse/sibling/parent/significant other is a lawyer, that person cannot represent you at court. Some judges will graciously allow that person to bring you a court order stating the next court date, but nobody can represent you except for you or an attorney.
If you and your spouse are being sued, you both have to respond to the case. This means that if the plaintiff has filed a motion for a default judgment, and only one spouse appears in court, a default may be filed against the non-appearing spouse. Don't let this happen.
4. Don't rely on the internet for your legal advice.
I guess this is a bit ironic given that this post will appear on the internet. The internet is a great resource, but laws vary from state-to-state. Courtroom proceures can vary in different jurisdictions. What works for LglEagle_76 from Florida won't necessarily work for John Q. Public from Illinois.
There is a lot of bad information on the internet. Unless you are a ship captain and have very specialized legal needs, you should never, ever use any legal argument from the internet that mentions admiralty law and how the United States is a corporation. Click your "back" button and move along. That's not the legal advice you're looking for.
5. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
This really comes full-circle with #1. Don't be afraid to call an attorney and ask for a consultation. A good attorney won't take your money unless he or she can actually help you. Good attorneys are hard to find. Shop around, find one you feel that you can work with.
If you feel overwhelmed and can't handle things on your own, then it may be wise to consult with an attorney. Even if you think you're prepared to handle a matter on your own, it may be wise to consult with an attorney--you never know what arguments you might be missing.