A debt buyer lawsuit is a collection lawsuit brought by a company that bought the debt after it went into default. It's a completely different animal than a collection lawsuit brought directly by the original creditor.
What is a debt buyer?
A debt buyer is a company that purchases delinquent debts from creditors for pennies on the dollar and then tries to collect the full amount, often making a nice profit in the process. Debt buyers have strange names like Midland Funding, Cavalry Portfolio Services, or Unifund CCR Partners. As with any business, they come in all shapes and sizes. Some debt buyers operate nationwide and have millions or billions of dollars in accounts. Others operate regionally and have much smaller debt portfolios. Some specialize in certain types of debt, like credit cards, second mortgages, and the like.
Here's a partial list of some of the debt buyers I've come across:
Cavalry Portfolio Services
Central Prairie Financial
Dakota Bluff Financial, LLC
Debt Equities, LLC
Equable Ascent Financial, LLC
Livingston Financial, LLC
Pipestone Financial, LLC
Portfolio Recovery Associates
Red Rock Lake Financial, LLC
Unifund CCR Partners
Why it's critical to answer a debt buyer lawsuit
Debt buyers are notorious for filing collection lawsuits in bulk. According to a 2009 article in the William Mitchell Law Review, debt buyers obtained 2,400 default judgments a month in Minnesota. These judgments were obtained by default because the consumer didn't show up in court. In almost all of these cases, the debt buyer didn't have to present any evidence to a judge.
This last point is crucial because debt buyers acquire accounts in bulk and often don't have the account-level documents needed to prove their claims. That's why it's so important to answer a debt buyer lawsuit within 20 days of being served to ensure that a judge reviews their evidence.
Possible defenses to a debt buyer lawsuit
One good way to defend a debt buyer lawsuit is to challenge their proof of ownership. Because they didn't extend the credit, they should be required to prove their ownership of the account and their entitlement to collect the balance. The more times a debt has been bought and sold, the less likely it is that the current debt buyer can prove each step in the chain of ownership.
Another possible defense is to dispute the debt buyer's evidence. Under the court rules, if a party wants to introduce documents (like credit card billing statements, for example) it must provide testimony about the reliability of the documents. This can be difficult for the debt buyer to do properly because they didn't create the account documents in the first place.
An additional defense to consider in a debt buyer lawsuit is the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations is the length of time that a creditor has to start a lawsuit after the account goes into default. In Minnesota, it's generally six years, although there are exceptions. It's not uncommon for a debt to be bought and sold multiple times and some debts bounce around for years before a legal action is taken. These repeatedly-sold accounts are sometimes called zombie debts (because they never die) and the statute of limitations is often a powerful defense in these cases.
There are other possible defenses that are more fact specific and will depend the particular facts and circumstances of your case. There are also some bad defenses that consumers often put in their answer. It may be wise to discuss your case with an attorney experienced in defending debt buyer lawsuits before proceeding too far to see what defenses apply to your case and how strong they are.