How to Answer a Lawsuit for Debt Collection in Texas

Three Parts:Reviewing the Original PetitionDrafting Your AnswerFiling Your Answer

If you're served with a lawsuit for debt collection, you may be angry or scared, but the one thing you can't do is ignore it. If you don't file an answer, the debt collector will win by default – even if you don't actually owe the amount in their petition or they were otherwise barred from suing you. Texas only gives you a couple of weeks to file an answer to the lawsuit or risk having a judgement entered against you.[1]

Part 1
Reviewing the Original Petition

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    Find out the debt and amount for which you're being sued. Even if you are being sued by a debt collector, the name of the original lender should be listed on the petition, as well as the full amount the debt collector believes you owe it.
    • The legal papers you receive include an original petition and a citation. These are the same as a complaint and summons, but they are called by different names in Texas state courts.
    • The citation states who is suing you and how much they claim you owe them.[2]
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    Check your credit report. Pull your credit report to verify the debt for which you're being sued, and note the information about the debt on your report.
    • If you can't find information about the debt on your credit report, it's possible that the debt collector has identified the wrong party. If that's the case, you must take action quickly to avoid having a judgment appear on your credit report for a debt you don't owe.
    • Your credit report also may show the last time you made a payment for the debt. You can use this date to figure out if the debt collector has run out of time to file a lawsuit against you.
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    Figure out if the lawsuit is time-barred. Debt collectors only have four years from the date of your last payment or promise to pay to sue you for the debt in Texas.
    • If it's been more than four years since your last payment or the last time you spoke with the original creditor or a debt collector, you may be able to get the lawsuit dismissed. However, the court won't dismiss the lawsuit unless you file an answer and raise the issue of the statute of limitations.[3]
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    Write the deadline to file your answer on your calendar. Texas gives you either 14 days or 20 days to file an answer to the debt collector's original petition, depending on which court the debt collector used.
    • Your citation also states how many days you have to answer the original petition. For example, if the lawsuit was filed in county or district court, your answer will be due on the Monday following 20 days from when you were served.[4]
    • If you get confused about when your answer is due, you can call the clerk's office and have them explain it to you.[5]

Part 2
Drafting Your Answer

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    Copy the caption. The caption for your answer will be exactly the same as the caption on the debt collector's original petition.
    • You don't have to draft a formal answer in the correct format. If you're representing yourself, a handwritten letter to the judge may be enough to qualify as an official answer to the original petition.[6]
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    Title your answer. The title tells the court what sort of document you're filing and the type of information that will follow.
    • Even if you're handwriting a simple letter to the judge, the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure require that you title it "original answer."[7]
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    Write the introductory paragraph. The introductory paragraph identifies the parties to the lawsuit, the type of lawsuit, and explains what the document is going to be about.
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    Write the body of your answer. With the body of your answer, you respond to the claims the debt collector set forth in the original petition.
    • The less detail you go into, the better. You want to avoid accidentally making admissions through the course of responding to the original petition. If you don't have a specific denial such as stating that the claim is time-barred by the statute of limitations, you may be best served simply by making a general denial of all claims.[8]
    • If you have any motions, they may be included in your answer. For example, if you want to file a motion for the court to dismiss the lawsuit because the statute of limitations has passed, you may include this within the body of your answer.[9]
    • Texas law does not require answers to a lawsuit for debt collection to be made specifically under oath, so you can make a general denial of all issues. Under the Rules of Civil Procedure this is sufficient to put all matters in issue.[10]
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    Create your signature block. Make a statement that everything in the answer is true and correct to the best of your knowledge, drop down a few lines, and create a blank line for your signature.
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    Draft a certificate of service. Every document you file with the court must include a certificate of service indicating that a copy will be served on the other party in the case.[11]

Part 3
Filing Your Answer

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    Sign your answer. Once you've finished drafting your answer, print it up and sign it. Since it doesn't have to be verified, you don't have to worry about signing it in front of a notary public.[12][13]
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    Make copies of your answer. You must make at least one copy for the other side and one copy for your records. The clerk will keep the original.
    • You must send a copy of every document you file with the court to the debt collector who filed the original petition.[14]
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    File your answer with the clerk of court. To officially answer the lawsuit for debt collection, you must file your answer with the clerk of the court where the original petition was filed.
    • You generally won't have to pay any filing fees to file an answer to the lawsuit.[15]
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    Have your answer served on the debt collector. After you've filed your answer, have the sheriff's department or a private process serving company serve it on the debt collector.
    • After you've filed your answer and completed service, the court may either schedule a pre-trial conference or go ahead and schedule the trial. Either way, you'll receive notice in the mail of the court's action.[16]
    • Some courts may want you to go to mediation before you go to trial and attempt to settle the dispute there. If so, you will receive information on how to contact a mediator and schedule a session.[17]
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    Gather any necessary documents or information. If you know of any documents that would support your defense against the debt collector, pull the information together and make copies to use as evidence in your case.
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    Respond to any discovery requests. If the debt collector included any written discovery along with the original petition, you should get started on those as soon as you file your answer.
    • Depending on where the debt collector filed the lawsuit, it may have included discovery requests such as interrogatories or requests for production along with the original petition.[18]
    • Texas law gives you 50 days to respond to written discovery requests submitted with the original petition. Because they can be time-consuming, it's best to get started on them right away. In some instances, you may have to get documents from another person or business, and it could take additional time to process such a request.[19]
    • If you don't respond to the discovery requests, you may lose the lawsuit automatically, even if you filed an answer.[20]
    • If the debt collector sends you discovery requests after it receives your answer, you have 30 days to respond to them.[21]
    • Discovery documents or other responses to similar requests should be sent directly to the debt collector or (more likely) the debt collector's attorney rather than filed with the court.[22]

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