Without doubt, one of the most important financial tools used in this country is the credit card. While the first credit card was actually metal-plated and similar to a military dog tag, today’s credit card may take the form of a plastic card with magnetic strip or merely using the combination of numbers to make all sorts of purchases. At this point, the usage of credit cards by consumers is as ubiquitous as maintaining a bank account or driving a car; in fact, many products and services can only be purchased through the use of a credit card. As a result, most consumers in this country have two or more credit cards.
At some point, some consumers will find themselves in a downturn of events due to loss of employment, reduction of salary, illness or divorce, where they may become unable to maintain payment of the balances due on the credit card accounts. Once that happens, the accounts go into delinquency. Due to financial reporting requirements imposed upon banks, credit card delinquencies go through different stages, where the collection of past due amounts will first be attempted internally through the bank’s collection department, then through outside collection agencies, and then eventually through litigation by law firms throughout the country. Consumers who have defaulted on their credit card accounts are very familiar with the persistent telephone calls at all hours from debt collectors (who may be located in this country or calling from overseas call centers) and letter-writing campaigns which could make the post office proud (indeed, many consumers who file bankruptcy cite the annoyances of debt collectors as one of the chief reasons for the filings).
It is important for the consumer to understand that, from the perspective of the creditor, settling the debt and collecting a portion of the credit card debt is the main objective. This means that attempts to settle the credit card with the consumer will be pushed by the creditor at every stage of the process. For certain consumers, this is very beneficial, as significant savings can be accomplished through a reduced lump-sum payment.
Once the almost-terrifying debt collectors’ campaign has ended, and the debt is still owed, the bank will either pursue collection of the debt itself or by selling the debt to another company, either of which will commence a law suit against the consumer to obtain a judgment.
The first step that the collection law firm will take is to file the case in the appropriate local court where either the consumer/former accountholder resides or where the account was opened. The initial document filed with the court will be a “Summons” (which is typically accompanied with the Complaint, which specifies the details of the claim against the consumer). The credit card company will be referred to as the “plaintiff” and the consumer will be referred to as the “defendant” in the Summons. The next step after the Summons is filed with the court is for the process server to serve a copy of the Summons on the defendant, informing him that a law suit has been filed and that he needs to respond to the Summons and plead any defenses to the case.
Once served, the defendant must serve and file his “Answer.” The filing of the Answer will also place the case onto the court’s pre-trial conference calendar. Each side will have an opportunity to conduct discovery of the other’s evidence, including obtaining copies of credit card applications, agreements, and account statements.
After both parties have completed discovery proceedings, one of them (usually the plaintiff) will make a motion to the judge for “summary judgment,” meaning that there is no need for a trial of the facts and the court should award judgment in favor of one of the parties. If the court grants the motion, then the successful party can enter the judgment (either dismissing the case or awarding a monetary amount). If the motion is denied, then the case will proceed to a trial.