Contesting Your Debt

Contesting Your Debt

Last updated: May 2005

I've Never Heard of this Creditor, How Could I Owe Them Money?

It is common practice for one creditor to sell a debt to another creditor known as a "debt buyer." If this has happened to your debt, you may not recognize the name of the creditor who is seeking to enforce a judgment against you. To find out more about your debt, you can check your court file in Room 601 of the Daley Center.

What if I Don't Owe Money?

If there is a dispute over a debt the proper time to contest the debt is before a judgment is entered. After the judgment has been entered it can only be contested under the following circumstances:

  • The judgment was entered without "proper service;" or
  • The judgment is "stale" which means it is more than 7 years old and has not been revived; or
  • The judgment  is less than 30 days old and you were not in court when the judgment was entered; or
  • The judgment is more than 30 days and less than 2 years old and you can demonstrate "good cause" for failing to appear in court to contest the debt before the judgment was entered.

What is Proper Service?

The law requires that before a judgment can be entered against you, you must first be served with court papers. That is to say, you must receive written notice that a lawsuit was filed against you. If court papers were not properly served upon you, then the judgment can be overturned. In most cases, proper service requires personal service by a Sheriff's officer or Special Process Server. Personal service requires that your court papers be delivered personally to you or to any member of your household over age 13.

If you have questions about service you can go to Room 601 in the Daley Center and ask to see your original court file. Your court file will contain a "proof of service" sheet that details how service was made. If service was made on the wrong person or wrong address, you should see an attorney for further assistance.

What is a Stale Judgment?

If a judgment is more than 7 years old, it may be too late for the creditor to collect from you. Normally, after 7 years, a creditor can no longer try to collect the money. However, the creditor may go back to court to obtain the right to collect money even after the 7 years has expired. This process is called "reviving" the judgment. If the judgment is revived, the creditor can still collect from you.

If you have questions about whether the judgment against you has expired, you can go to Room 601 in the Daley Center and ask to see your court file. The documents in your court file will tell you when the judgment was entered and whether the judgment has been revived by further order of the court.

What is Good Cause?

If you were not in court when the judgment was entered and the judgment is more than 30 days old, you may be able to contest the judgment if you can show good cause for failing to appear in court. To show good cause you must convince the judge of 3 things:

  • You had a valid reason for failing to appear in court; 
  • You acted quickly to go to court after learning that the judgment had been entered against you; and
  • You can prove that you do not owe the money.

Further Help

If you need to speak to an attorney you can visit the CARPLS Self-Help Collection Desk in Room 1401 of the Daley Center or you can call the CARPLS Legal Aid Hotline at (312) 738-9200.

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