If a debt collector sues you in North Carolina, your next step will depend on which court your case was filed in — small claims or a district court. If your case was filed in small claims court, you are not required to file an answer. You need to show up for the trial date on the summons.
If your case is heard in a district court, you must file an answer form within 30 days of getting notice of the lawsuit. You also have to send a copy of the stamped forms to the plaintiff (the person suing you).
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated December 4, 2023
How Do Debt Collection Lawsuits in North Carolina Work?
If your bills are piling up and you find yourself in debt, it’s important to be aware that your debt may end up in collections. If this happens, you’ll receive debt collection phone calls and written notices. And if you ignore these debt collection efforts, the debt collector may decide to bring a debt collection lawsuit against you.
You will be notified of the lawsuit with a summons and complaint.
What Is a Summons and Complaint?
If a debt collector files a debt collection lawsuit against you, you will receive a summons and complaint for money owed. These are official documents that tell you that a lawsuit has been filed against you and what the lawsuit involves.
The summons is a document issued by the court that notifies you that a lawsuit has been filed against you. The summons will tell you the deadline to respond to the complaint and which court will hear your case.
The complaint, called a Complaint For Money Owed form, outlines the allegations, or claims, that the plaintiff (the person suing you) is making against you. In a debt collection lawsuit, this usually means the complaint will list claims about your debt such as when your last payment was and how much the collector thinks you owe.
The complaint will also explain what the debt collector wants. Usually, they are looking for a court-ordered money judgment to collect the debt. The judgment amount could include the debt the collector believes you owe, any interest that has accrued since your last payment, or any other costs the plaintiff thinks you should cover as a part of the lawsuit.
Here is an example of a complaint form in the state of North Carolina:
Which Courts Handle Debt Collection Lawsuits in North Carolina?
In North Carolina, debt collection lawsuits can be filed in either a small claims court or a district court, depending on how much you’re being sued for.
Small claims courts hear cases of up to $5,000, or up to $10,000 in some cases, depending on the county and local court rules. It's best to check with your court clerk to find out what the small claims court limit is for your specific court. The court you need to report to will be on your summons and complaint. You can find where your court is located through the North Carolina Judicial Branch’s courthouse locator.
If the debt amount is more than $10,000 — or $5,000 depending on your local small claims court’s limit — but less than $25,000, a district court will hear your case. If the amount exceeds $25,000, a superior court will hear your case.
Consumer debt collection lawsuits are usually for past-due credit card bills or medical debt. They rarely exceed $25,000, so most cases are heard in a small claims court or a district court.
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How To Answer a North Carolina Court Summons for Debt Collection
If a debt collector sues you in the state of North Carolina, you need to take action. If your case is being heard by a district court, the first thing you need to do is fill out and file your answer form — this is your response to the lawsuit. Then, you will provide a copy of the filed (stamped) forms to the plaintiff (the debt collector) and make sure to keep a copy for your own records.
In North Carolina, if your debt collection case is taking place in small claims court, you are not required to file an answer. You can file an answer or a counterclaim if you want to, but — unlike in district court — filing an answer form is not mandatory for small claims court. There’s no filing fee to file an answer or a counterclaim.
Step 1: Get an Answer Form
You have 30 days to respond to the court summons and complaint after you receive them.
You respond by filling out an official form called an answer form. You can get the answer form from the court that served you. The North Carolina Judicial Branch has a small claims eCourt Guide and File tool that can create the documents for you to print yourself.
Here is what the first page of the answer form for Mecklenburg County District Court looks like:
Step 2: Respond to Each Claim From the Complaint
In the first section of the answer form, you will address each claim in the complaint by either:
Admitting the claim is true, which means you agree with the statement
Denying that the claim is true, which means you disagree with the statement
Telling the court that you don’t have enough information to admit or deny the claim
Here is what that section of the answer forms looks like:
To fill out the answer form, follow along with the complaint and write the paragraph number for each allegation onto the corresponding admit/deny/lacks knowledge line.
For example, if your complaint outlined four allegations and you admit to allegations 1–3 but deny the fourth allegation, your answer form would look like this:
Step 3: Fill Out and Sign the Verification Section With a Notary Present
The second page of the answer form is the verification section. This is where you fill in your personal information (address and phone number), and — in the presence of a notary — write your name and sign the verification section.
Your signature means you’re agreeing that:
You are the defendant.
All information provided is true to your knowledge.
Here is what that section of the answer form looks like:
Again, the verification section has to be signed in the presence of a notary or it is not valid.
You can find a notary through the North Carolina Secretary of State’s Find a Notary search engine.
Step 4: Make Copies of Your Answer Form
Make two copies of your original answer forms so you have three total. You’ll need one each for the following:
To file with the court
To deliver to the plaintiff (debt collector)
To keep for your records
You can file your answer form with the court in person or through mail, though filing in person is recommended by LawHelpNC.org.
Step 5: Sign the Certificate of Service
In the last section of the answer form, you will fill out and sign the certificate of service that says you will serve the plaintiff (debt collector) a copy of your answer form. To “serve” simply means to give the plaintiff a copy for their records.
You can deliver the copy to the plaintiff in person or mail it to them.
The last section of the answer form looks like this:
How To Prepare for Court Appearances
After you file your answer form, you will be put on the court’s calendar for either trial or arbitration. The claim in your case must be for less than $15,000 to qualify for arbitration in a North Carolina District Court.
If your debt collection case is heard by a small claims court, your court date will be within 30 days of when the complaint was filed since an answer is not required.
According to LawHelpNC.org, the best way to prepare for court is to:
Prep and organize your paperwork.
Prepare any notes/talking points.
Arrive early on your court date.
Dress appropriately — think job interview attire.
You can learn more about what to expect at the courthouse and more detailed steps on how to prepare by looking at LawHelpNC’s Preparing for Court guide.
What Happens if You Don’t Respond to the Lawsuit?
It is never a good idea to ignore a lawsuit. If you ignore a lawsuit, you’re likely to lose the case by default. If this happens, the judge assigned to your case could issue a default judgment against you.
Debt collectors count on you not showing up to court or responding to the lawsuit. By simply taking action and responding to the lawsuit, you give yourself a fighting chance to win the debt collection lawsuit.
What Do I Do if the Court Already Issued a Default Judgment Against Me?
If a default judgment has already been ordered against you, you can file a motion to vacate the judgment. This is essentially a motion to cancel the judgment ordered.
You can file this motion by submitting an official request with the court you were served from. This process can be difficult to navigate, so seek legal help as needed.
Need Legal Help?
North Carolina Judicial Branch has a small claims eCourt Guide and File tool that can create legal documents for you to file yourself.
LawHelpNC.org has a detailed guide on how to fill out and file an answer form.