I Owe Money/
Dealing with Debt

Where can I go for help with debt?

If you feel that you have more debt than you can handle, an approved credit counseling service can help you work out a repayment plan with your creditor without filing bankruptcy. The Department of Justice keeps a list of approved credit counseling agencies on its website.

How can I avoid Foreclosure?
If you are behind on a home mortgage payment,see Housing for information about the foreclosure process and ways you may be able to avoid foreclosure.
How do I file for Bankruptcy?
State courts do not handle bankruptcy. For more information about filing bankruptcy in Maryland, visit the website of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maryland.
I’ve been served with court papers relating to a debt.  What should I do?

If you agree that you owe the other person the amount claimed, you may contact the other person (or his or her lawyer) before the trial date to arrange payment.

If you disagree with the complaint, you have several options:

  • Negotiate a settlement or mediate the dispute;
  • Defend your side of the case in court;
  • File a countersuit;
  • Claim the summons was not served properly;
  • Ignore the complaint.
Negotiate or Mediate
Both parties in a dispute have the option of negotiating a settlement prior to going to court. You may try to negotiate on your own or seek the assistance of a mediator. There are many advantages to mediation. Maryland District and Circuit Courts operate mediation programs.  For more information, see Mediation & ADR.
Resolution Conference (Montgomery and Prince George's Counties only)
For information on resolution conferences, please see Resolution Conference.
Defend Your Side of the Case in Court
If you choose to defend yourself, you must file the Notice of Intention to Defend, which is on the bottom half of the summons. Cut the Notice at the perforated line and return it to the court address listed at the top of the summons.

The Notice of Intention to Defend includes space for you to explain why you should not be required to pay the money the plaintiff claims you owe. You should be prepared to defend this (and other reasons) in court during the trial. Make sure you bring your exhibits and evidence.

You have 15 days from the date that you receive the summons to file this notice with the court (out-of-state defendants and those with resident agents have 60 days to file the notice). By filing the notice found at the bottom of the summons, you are letting the court know that you plan to argue that the other side is not entitled to the damages being claimed.

Can I Bring Witnesses?  If you wish to have your witnesses appear at trial, you should contact the clerk's office at least two weeks before the trial date to request subpoenas, and you should bring to court on the trial date any evidence you want the Court to consider.

Please see the video - Defending a Small Claim.

File a Countersuit
You may respond to a lawsuit by filing one of your own. If filed in the same action, your complaint is called a “counterclaim."

A counterclaim is basically a defendant’s way of saying “I don’t owe you money. You owe me money.” You must be able to prove that your claim is right and that the plaintiff's claim is not.

Claim You Were Not Properly Served
A summons or complaint must be properly served in accordance with the law and court rules. You may claim they were not properly served with the Complaint and Summons in one of two ways: (1) by filing a pre-trial request that the case be dismissed for improper service; or (2) by making the argument at the trial. In either case, the trial is postponed, and the other side may have to re-serve a new summons.
Ignore the Complaint and Summons 
If you do nothing, the judge may enter a judgment against you. If so, the court will simply send you a notice confirming the date on which the judgment was entered, the amount of the judgment, and any additional amounts you owe such as court costs or interest.

A judge also may require the other side to present the case against you. If the judge decides that the other side has not presented enough proof against you, the judge may decide to schedule a new trial.