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What Happens When You Receive a Warrant in Debt?

By Motley Fool Staff – Updated Dec 23, 2016 at 4:33PM

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The name sounds worse than it really is, but there are still things you need to do to handle it.

Most people think that if they receive a warrant, they're wanted for breaking the law and will go to jail. A warrant in debt isn't as serious as an arrest warrant, and despite its name, there aren't any criminal charges involved. Nevertheless, if you receive a warrant in debt, you need to understand what's happening and take action to respond to it.

What is a warrant in debt?
When you owe money to a creditor and you don't pay it back, the creditor can file a claim for that money in civil court. The warrant in debt informs you of the lawsuit making the claim, and it also sets a date on which you have to appear before a judge to answer the claim.

If you don't go to court on the date specified in the warrant in debt, then the judge has the power to enter a default judgment against you, and that largely eliminates your ability to fight the claim. The creditor can then take the judgment and start seeking payment from your assets, such as your bank account. A judgment can also allow a creditor to seek garnishment of a portion of your wages to repay the debt over time.

Fighting the warrant in debt
If you go to court to fight the claim on the date that the warrant in debt states, then the judge will typically set a trial date at some point in the future. Before the trial, the creditor will have to file a document stating the reasons why the creditor thinks that you owe money. You'll then have to respond with a similar document responding to the creditor's allegations and setting forth any defenses you might have. You can fight the claim on your own or hire an attorney to help.

One key thing to remember is that if you admit that you owe the money at any point in the process, then you've typically opened the door to a judgment against you. Because the creditor has the burden of proof, it's important for you to force the creditor to establish the case without your unintentional help.

The worst thing you can do is to ignore the warrant in debt entirely. Many people in debt stop opening their bills and other communications, but a warrant in debt is further along in the process than a simple bill collection notice. With court action imminent, it's important to respond to a warrant in debt and start making a strategy for handling any debt you legitimately owe.

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