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If a Creditor Takes You to Court for Unpaid Bills

Produced by Mariah Jennings-Rampsi, South Coastal Counties Legal Services, with funding from American College of Bankruptcy
Reviewed October 2019

You will not go to jail because you cannot pay your bills.

If a creditor takes you to court the creditor must “serve notice.” He must hire a sheriff or constable to deliver a summons and complaint to you. 

The complaint explains who is taking you to court and why.

The summons tells you when and where you need to go for a hearing or when to answer the complaint.

For small claims court you can, but do not have to file an answer. But you have to show up at court on your trial date.


Your answer is your chance to explain what happened. Find out:

  • when and how you answer,
  • what you can say in your answer, and
  • what happens if you do not answer.

It is always a good idea to get legal help

If the creditor or debt collector has broken any laws, you may not have to pay the whole amount. You may not have to pay anything if your income is "protected". You may be able to get help.

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

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