How to vacate a judgment in a collection lawsuit

Although it's not possible in every case, you can vacate a judgment in certain circumstances. First a little background: in a debt collection case, a  judgment is a final court order that you owe the debt collector money. Most collection judgments are entered by default because the consumer didn't answer the lawsuit.  Having a judgment against you can lead to both bank and wage garnishments, as well as a lower credit score. Although you do have options to deal with a judgment, these options are somewhat limited. One possibility is to ask the court to vacate the judgment. To vacate a judgment in Minnesota, you'll need to prove the following four things:

A legitimate defense to the collection lawsuit

You must show the court that you have a defense to the debt collector's case. If the debt collector is a debt buyer, you can usually argue that they can't prove that they are the rightful owner of your account. You may also be able to argue that their evidence is insufficient, that the statute of limitations has passed, or that the judgment balance was too high. You don't have to prove your defense to vacate a judgment, you just have to show the court that you have a legitimate one. A good consumer lawyer can help you figure out what defenses apply to your case.

A good reason for not answering the complaint

There are many reasons for not answering the complaint--you just have to convince the judge that yours is a good one. Perhaps you were out of town when the lawsuit was served and you didn't come back until after the time to answer passed. Or maybe they left the lawsuit with someone at your house, but that person never gave it to you. Some judges will even accept the argument that you didn't understand what the lawsuit was and didn't know that you had to respond to it, although this can be an uphill battle.

That the judgment was entered less than a year ago

To vacate a judgment, you also have to show that you acted quickly once the judgment was entered. Courts have generally ruled that you have one year from the date that the judgment was entered to bring a motion to vacate. There may be an exception to this rule if you didn't even know about the judgment until after a year had passed. A consumer lawyer can help you determine if your case fits into this exception.

That the debt collector will not suffer any prejudice if the judgment is vacated

In most cases, the only prejudice that the debt collector will suffer if a judgment is vacated is having to take the time and spend the money to litigate the case again. But Minnesota courts have been very clear in ruling that additional time and expense are not sufficient prejudice to prevent a judgment from being vacated.

Also, if you weren't properly served with the debt collector's lawsuit, the judgment should be void. In Minnesota, a lawsuit begins upon service. So if there was no service, there wasn't a lawsuit. And if there wasn't a valid lawsuit, there can't be a judgment. Talk to a consumer lawyer if you believe that you weren't properly served with the collection lawsuit.