The first and arguably most important step in a debt collection case is to file an Answer to the lawsuit. Without a response, the case is inevitably going to be on track for a default. Once the case is in default, it becomes much more difficult to assert the defenses which can be the difference between a judgment for the full amount and a dismissed collections case.

Understandably, many people facing a debt collections case in California wish to proceed in pro per without an attorney. And, going the pro per route can be a completely justifiable option, particularly where the person has time to devote to their case or the amount demanded in the Complaint is well below the $10,000.00 threshold for a small claims suit.

So, if you’re a pro per who is looking to draft your Answer to a debt collection, you’re in luck. This article is for you.

And my input for you is extremely simple: Please, for the love of God and all things that are holy, use this form to file your response. 

And, at all costs, under penalty of perjury and possibly even death itself, avoid this form like the plague. 

Why You Want to Use the General Denial Form (PLD-050)

Simply put, the General Denial Form is tailor-made for debt collections cases. The good folks over at the Judicial Council anticipated that unrepresented parties would need to file answers to debt collection cases, and proceeded accordingly to draft this gem. Most importantly, the General Denial form allows you to rebut the factual allegations in the Complaint that puts the debt collector to their proof and requires them to prove their case. And, the section for Affirmative Defenses fleshes out the response just fine. In addition to the standard “statute of limitations” defense that should be alleged in any response to the lawsuit, strongly consider adding claims for “Statute of Frauds” if you’re being sued as a guarantor for the debt and “Accord and Satisfaction” if you thought you had reached a settlement but are still getting sued.

(Side note: if you are being sued when you thought you had a settlement, or are being sued on an identity theft account, always contact an attorney to see if they will take your case on contingency, because that should never happen.)

Why You Want to Avoid the “Answer – Contract” Form at all Costs (PLD-C-010)

It is not uncommon to see an attorney roll out an 8-page Answer with approximately 35 affirmative defenses of which only 3 might actually be applicable. Form PLD-C-010 is a throwback to the days of old when it seemed as though attorneys got paid by the word (or by the affirmative defense).

If you’re a self-represented party, you really, really want to avoid this form at all costs. The main reason for this is that far too many pro pers make the critical mistake of checking box 3(b), admitting the statements in the Complaint are true as a matter of law, and then in the “EXCEPT” box providing the understandable explanation that they lack the funds to pay the entire debt. Unfortunately, lack of ability to pay is simply not a legal defense, which leads to the debt collector firm filing a very simple “Motion For Judgment on the Pleadings” that basically wins the case for them. Depending on the time-frames at work, this outcome can actually be worse for a pro per than simply defaulting, because if the motion is ruled on quickly, the debt collector firm gets to skip the lengthy line at the courthouse for processing default judgments.

So, if you’re going the pro per route, please use the General Denial form! And if you have any other questions about your collections case, feel free to contact The Jake A. Walton Law Firm. We’re happy to speak with you.