Many consumers feel so helpless in dealing with creditor lawsuits that they are reluctant to respond. They may feel intimidated by the court setting and so anxious in general that they do nothing. While this may be all too common, it is not recommended. It is in your best interest to consult with an experienced attorney and not only respond to the lawsuit, but fight it. If you do not, it is very likely that the creditor will file a default judgment against you, and the judge will grant it. Collection activities ramp up from that point—and unless you have absolutely nothing to lose—life can get very unpleasant financially.
If you did not know about the judgment, you may be shocked to find out about it when running your credit report, or upon further threat by the creditor. At that point, you will need the help of an attorney if you want to try to eliminate the judgment. They may file a motion to vacate—or set aside—the judgment and then have an opportunity to fight the lawsuit. You also have the option of settling the debt, and your attorney may be able to negotiate an amount far below what you originally owed.
If, however, you are completely overwhelmed with debt and have no way to pay your creditors, your attorney may recommend filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. In this case, not only can you look forward to the discharge of the debt behind the judgment, but you should experience relief from most of your debts—as well as being able to keep important assets like your home and car.
To qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you must pass the means test, showing that your income falls under the median income for California. If so, your attorney will file a bankruptcy petition with the court (if your income is too high, you may need to file for Chapter 13). Once that step is completed, you will be covered by the automatic stay. This is extremely helpful in that all creditors must cease collection activity (even if only temporarily). You may have to deal with secured creditors in short order, but the automatic stay will give you breathing room from all debt collectors, as well as giving you more time to consider how to handle possible foreclosure or repossession.
The judgment should be discharged in your bankruptcy if it was not filed due a family support debt, money owed to the government, fines regarding a DUI, fraud, or other more complex issues. If you have other judgments against you, most likely they should be discharged in your Chapter 7 bankruptcy too. Filing bankruptcy simply to get out of one judgment may not be your best option though, as there are some long-term consequences. Consult with an experienced judgment attorney from a firm like Fitzgerald & Campbell, APLC before making any decisions.