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How to Answer a Debt Collection Case in Justice Court

Debt Collection & Payday Loans

This guide has forms and instructions to answer a debt lawsuit in Texas Justice Court.
Overview

Guide Overview

This guide has forms and instructions to file an Answer to a debt lawsuit in Texas Justice Court (also called small claims court). It includes forms and instructions. 

Common questions about Debt Collection & Payday Loans

An Answer is a legal document filed by the Defendant in a court case.

Filing an Answer with the court protects your right to have a say in the issues involved in your case.

Yes. You need to respond by filing an Answer. If you do not respond, the Plaintiff can ask for a default judgment against you. In a default judgment, the court grants the Plaintiff all or most of what they ask for because you never presented your side of the case.

Your Answer is due 14 days after the date served. If the 14th day falls on a weekend or court holiday, you have until the next business day to submit it.

The date you are served is the date the constable or process server delivers the court papers to you.

For help to figure out the Answer due date for your case, use the Answer Deadline Calculator.

Talk with a lawyer before filing an Answer if:

1) You do not live in Texas, and

2) You do not want a Texas court to to make decisions that would require you to do something, like pay a debt or lawyer's fees.

If you file an Answer (or anything else) before filing a special appearance, you will lose the chance to argue that Texas does not have personal jurisdiction over you.

Personal jurisdiction is the court's right, if any, to make decisions about you.

A special appearance is a way to tell the court that it does not have personal jurisdiction. Filing anything other than a special appearance takes away your right to challenge the court's personal jurisdiction. 

Ask a Texas lawyer to help you determine if Texas has personal jurisdiction over you.

No, it does not cost anything to file an Answer. Filing an Answer is free.

A general denial tells the court that you want the other side to prove their case. If you make a general denial, the other side must show the court that they deserve to win the lawsuit. Most Answer forms on TexasLawHelp contain a general denial.

A general denial is not a claim that the other side is wrong. It merely asks them to prove their case.

Justice Court, also called small claims court, hears cases where the amount of money involved is $20,000 or less. The judge in a Justice Court is an elected official called a Justice of the Peace. Most lawsuits for debts up to $20,000 will be in Justice Court.

Justice Courts are organized based on areas called precincts. Every precinct has an assigned Justice Court. In precincts with high populations, there may be more than one Justice Court. If there is more than one Justice Court in a precinct, each court is assigned a place. For example, Precinct 1, Place 2.

If you are being sued for a debt, your notice of the lawsuit should name the court that is hearing the case.

The forms in this guide are only for Justice Court.

The person suing you is the Plaintiff (sometimes called the Petitioner). You may not recognize the name of the Plaintiff. Often, debts are sold to companies called debt buyers. Debt buyers try to collect the debts they buy, and this is legal. Respond to the lawsuit even if you do not recognize the name of the company suing you.

While buying a debt is legal, you can ask the court to make the debt buyer prove they own your debt. You can make this request in the Answer form you file with the court.

Some types of income and property are protected from creditors. For example, an unsecured home, Social Security payments, and money you get for child support. These incomes and assets are considered exempt from seizure. Read more about exempt income and assets.

If all of your income and property is exempt, you are judgment proof. If the Plaintiff wins in court, you will still owe the money. However, there is nothing they can legally take from you to pay off the debt.

You must let the court and the Plaintiff know your property is exempt to protect it. Do this by listing your exempt income and assets in your Answer. If you lose your case, you should also follow these instructions to make doubly sure the court and the Plaintiff, as well as any garnishee or receiver, understands your status.

For more information on debtor's rights, see Texas Appleseed's Debt Collection Rights Toolkit and TexasLawHelp's Money & Debt library.

Instructions & Forms

Checklist Steps

Read the citation and petition that the constable or process server gave to you. You will learn:

  • Who is suing you
  • How much they claim you owe them
  • Where they are suing you (specific court and county)
  • How to contact the attorney of the person suing you (or the person directly, if they do not have an attorney)

Gather any information you have about the debt. 

This includes things like: 

  • Credit card statements
  • Bills, receipts, invoices
  • Letters and emails
  • Any proof you might have that you don’t owe the debt or that other defenses that may apply

The Answer form lists common defenses. You can also read about them in more detail.

At the top of the Answer form: Copy the case information just as it appears in the citation you received in the lawsuit papers. You are the Defendant. The Plaintiff is suing you. Enter the case or cause number, the county the court is in, and the precinct. If the lawsuit papers list a place number for the court, enter that as well. 

Section 1: Put your name in the space after “My name is.”

Section 2: Fill out the Additional Defenses section by checking boxes that apply to you. You do not need to fill out this section if none of the boxes apply. You must answer truthfully. You can also list other defenses and share more information in the lines provided at the end of Section 2. For example, you can list protected income and property.
 


Even if you owe the debt, you may not have to pay if your income and property are protected. In the form, there is space to list protected income and property. Some examples of protected income are: money from Social Security or other retirement funds, veterans benefits, child support, disability income, unemployment benefits, or FEMA benefits. Read about property and income you can protect from creditors.

Skip this step if you are not asking to change the court location.

Section 3: The court's location is called "venue." If you live in Texas, you have the right to have your case heard in the precinct where you live. If the Plaintiff is suing you in the wrong precinct and you want to move the case, check this box. Then enter the county and precinct where you live.

If you check this box, you will also need to complete either the Unsworn Declaration section or the Notary section.

Section 4: Check whether or not you want a jury trial. If you do not want a jury trial, the judge alone will decide the case. 

To get a jury trial, you must pay a $22 fee (unless you have a fee waiver) and file your request at least 14 days before the trial. You must also participate in jury selection. 

Learn about Jury Trials in Justice Court.

On page 2, sign in the space marked “Your Signature,” and print your name and the date. You can type your signature if you include "/s/" before your name. For example: "/s/ John Doe." 

Enter the address where you get your mail and a phone number where you can be contacted. If you check your email regularly, enter your email address as well.

Ask to change venue Option 1: Unsworn Declaration (Skip if not changing venue)

If you are asking to move your case to a different county or precinct and are willing to disclose your birth date and home street address, complete the Unsworn Declaration section. You can type your signature if you include "/s/" before your name. For example: "/s/ John Doe." 

When you sign, enter the county and state you are in at the time of signing. This does not necessarily have to be where you live. 

Ask to change venue Option 2: Notary (Skip if not changing venue)

If you prefer not to disclose your birth date and home street address, complete the rest of the form and bring it to a notary public. The notary will fill out this section and you will sign while they watch. 

You do not need a notary public if you use the Unsworn Declaration.
 

Certificate of Service: On the last page, enter the date on which you will deliver a copy of the completed Answer to the Plaintiff. This should be the same date that you file the Answer with the court.

Check the box next to how you will deliver a copy of the Answer to the Plaintiff. Then enter the information next to the box you checked. For example, if you will fax the Answer to the Plaintiff, enter the Plaintiff's fax number (or if they have a lawyer, the lawyer's fax number). 

Important: If the Plaintiff has a lawyer, deliver the copy to the lawyer instead of directly to the Plaintiff.

Sign the Certificate of Service. You can type your signature if you include "/s/" before your name. For example: "/s/ John Doe." 

After you have filled out and signed your Answer, you have several options to file:

  • In person. You may go to the courthouse and submit your Answer directly to the clerk. Bring extra copies for the clerk to stamp. (At least two: one for you and one to send to the Plaintiff.)
  • E-File. Call the court clerk to ask if they accept e-filing. If they do, you can file online.
  • Email. Call the court clerk to ask if they accept email filings. Make sure that you send it to the correct email address.
  • Mail. Call the court clerk to ask if they accept mail filings. Make sure that you mail to the correct address. If possible, use Registered Mail, Return Receipt Requested. It will cost a little bit more, but you will have proof that the court received your Answer. Be mindful that mail is the slowest method, especially if your trial date is near. 

If the papers you get from the court tell you how to file, you can use that method without contacting them first.

Deliver a copy of the completed and signed Answer to the Plaintiff. Make sure to use the method you chose in the Certificate of Service section, and deliver it on the date you entered. (This should be the date you file the Answer with the court.)

  • Direct to Lawyer: If the Plaintiff has a lawyer, send the Answer to the lawyer instead of Plaintiff themselves.
  • If You E-Filed: If you e-filed the Answer, the e-filing system will email a copy to the other side if they or their lawyer have an e-file account. It is still a good idea to send a copy by regular mail to make sure they get it.
  • If You Mail: If you mail the Answer, it is a good idea use two methods:  send one copy by regular First-Class mail and another copy by Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested.

If your address or other contact information changes before the trial, you must tell the court. If you don't tell the court, you might not get important information.

After you file your Answer, the court will mail you the time and date to go to your hearing. 

Make sure to go to the hearing. If you do not show up, the court will probably rule against you and you will lose. You can show up with or without a lawyer. 

At the hearing, bring information, documents, and witnesses that support your side. This includes things like: credit card statements, bills, receipts, invoices, letters, or any proof you might have that you don’t owe the debt. 

If you have protected property or income—for example money from Social Security, retirement, veteran’s benefits, child support, or unemployment—bring proof.

Lean what to expect at your hearing with Tips for the Courtroom as well as information on Virtual Court

If you lose your case, the court may assign someone to collect the amount you owe. This person is called a turnover receiver.

The Plaintiff may also be able to freeze your bank accounts to recover the debt. They do not have to tell you before they do this. (Learn about garnishment.)

Remember, some income and property is exempt from seizure, meaning that the Plaintiff can't take them to pay off the judgment against you. You must tell the court, the Plaintiff, and anyone else involved about this exempt income and property.

Even if you already listed exempt income and property in your Answer, you should provide this information again if the court says you owe money. Follow these instructions to do so.

Forms Required

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