If you've been served with a complaint, then you're right: there's a deadline by which you must respond. If you don't, the plaintiff may be able to get a default judgment against you. The complaint should state what the plaintiff is asking for, and the default judgment may be for everything that was requested.
If the plaintiff gets a default judgment, then they may be able to start going after your assets.
Even though you say you can't afford an attorney, you're at risk for the relief listed in the complaint. If the complaint is for $10K, for example, spending a few hundred dollars on a consultation may be worthwhile if the lawyer can find an error in the complaint or service, or can suggest a settlement offer that the plaintiff will take.
Agree with advice above. I handle these types of cases and most of time we win and get fees and cost from the collection companay. Worth a review. I am in Ft Lauderdale. Want to know the law without going to law school? Protect yourself against ripoffs? Sign up for a free legal newsletter on various areas of consumer law by going to www.ConsumerLawyerHelp.com.
I agree with both previous answers and if you don't answer that summons the default judgment will be active for many years and if they find a bank account or job you will know it. Now is the time to find out your options , not after they garnish your bank account.
You will need to consult with a consumer protection lawyer locally.
1. Start keeping a detailed log of all calls and letters and a paper file of all information. Because persistent violations of the FDPCA are punishable by statutory fines and attorney’s fees under federal law, but you need hard evidence.
2. Make a written demand that all further communications from creditors is in writing under 15 USC 1692 (c).
The letter should also contain a dispute of the validity of the charges and include a demand for a complete accounting with signatures, and all contents of the file.
The creditor then has 30 days to reply and they may not take any action until you have been sent the validation. Bear in mind that this may be motivation for the collector to work your account when the file comes to them from the original creditor with new information.
3. Do not give them any personal information because that is how collectors decide on which accounts to recommend suing.
4. If you are going to make payments use money orders and not personal checks or “check by phone” because if they find a bank account the collector will be more likely recommend a lawsuit the their legal department.
5. All collections are negotiable; the original creditor has given up and is losing up to 50% on the face value already either by splitting any return or selling at a huge discount. In addition, the costs of a lawsuit although discounted still are a factor in the decision to settle with you.
If you are going to settle mark the check “settled-in-full” at the very top back of the check and include a letter explaining you are offering a settlement, keep copies of everything.
6. Get written confirmation of any payment plan the agency will accept before making a payment.
7. Specify in writing all payments will be applied to principle first.
If your debt is with the government like the IRS or a State agency or for Child Support the rules will be different and you will need a local lawyer.
I do not practice in your state and you will need to consult with a local lawyer for additional protection under your state law.
I have pasted a link to the FDPCA to help you with your federal rights;
You should read the FDPCA from the link above and become informed about your rights; this will help you and your lawyer.
I hope this information and generic advice is helpful.