Whether you are dealing with credit card debt or another form of debt, if you’ve fallen behind in payments, you could face a lawsuit from the creditor. It usually takes months or even a year or more for creditors to reach the point of filing a lawsuit. In cases of credit card companies, for example, debts might be outsourced to collection agencies or sold to a third party before a lawsuit occurs.

Because of the time involved in reach the lawsuit point, you do have many options to avoid a judgment regarding the debt. First, you can work directly with the creditor to negotiate payments that work with your budget. Second, you can work with a third-party, such as a bankruptcy attorney, to file bankruptcy or otherwise settle the debt.

If time runs out before you take action on a debt and you receive a summons for a lawsuit, then you might still have some options available. A summons lets you know that a suit has been filed and that you must appear in court. If you fail to appear in court, it’s likely that a default judgment will be entered against you. A judgment could allow the creditor to access your bank accounts or other assets.

Instead of allowing the default judgment, it might be in your interest to appear in court to dispute the debt. If you believe that the debt is incorrect or the amount has been incorrectly calculated, you can present a case for that belief. The court could dismiss the case, reduce the debt or ask the creditor to prove the debt, which buys you time to settle the account if you plan to.

Working directly with a creditor to settle a debt can be stressful. The creditor probably has an attorney who understands the legal system. Having your own legal professional can help you match that understanding, and an attorney experienced in debt matters can even provide advice about options such as bankruptcy.