What Happens After You Answer a Summons for a Credit Card?

A summons is notice of a lawsuit. In a credit card case, the card company or debt collector files the suit in civil court to collect on a delinquent account. The lawsuit is a last resort to collect the debt and usually follows months or even years of collection efforts. Answering the summons allows you to defend yourself in court, but some debtors fail to appear, according to "The New York Times." The Times reports that most consumers facing a summons never offer a defense, allowing credit card companies to claim easy victories. After answering a summons, debtors may want to seek the advice of a consumer affairs attorney.


Credit card companies usually close credit card accounts after six months of nonpayment and list them as charged off. Some card companies may close accounts sooner. The charge off does not end the debtor’s responsibility for the balance; a charge off is just an internal accounting term. Eventually the card company sells or assigns the account to a debt collector. Debt collectors may eventually file a lawsuit seeking full payment.


A lawsuit over an unpaid credit cad debt begins for the debtor with the delivery of a summons and complaint -- a document usually presented to the debor by a courier. The summons is only a few pages long, much shorter than the complaint, which is the actual lawsuit. The courier typically hand-delivers the summons and complaint to the debtor at his place of employment or home, or anywhere else in public. In some states, the documents arrive by certified mail or ithey are simply left by courier at the debtor’s last known address. The summons includes specific instructions for responding to the lawsuit. Depending on the state, the lawsuit may require the debtor to answer the charges by sending a written response -- or by appearing before a judge on a certain date.

Notice to Appear

Filing a written response to the lawsuit before a specified deadline notifies the court that the debtor is contesting the allegations in the complaint. Upon receipt, the court schedules a court appearance. Laws vary by the state, but the court could schedule a trial, or a hearing to discuss a possible settlement. The court sends the debtor a “notice to appear” that outlines the next steps.


A pre-trial settlement conference is generally a good outcome for the debtor. There simply are no viable defenses for a debtor in a credit card case -- if the debtor really owes the debt. The attorney for the credit card company should be able to easily prove the case and win a judgment for the entire balance due. From there the attorney can request garnishment of the debtor’s bank account or wages. Settling out of court prevents a judgment. Settlement discussions are possible even if the court orders the debtor to appear for a trial. In that case, the debtor can directly contact the attorney for the credit card company to discuss a settlement. The attorney's contact information appears on the summons and complaint.