Yes, but only under certain circumstances. Collection suits in New Jersey are oftentimes served by certified and regular mail and can often get lost in the shuffle after arrival, especially when someone is so harried by creditors that they stop opening their mail.

Once the time has passed to file an answer (35 days) the creditor can enter judgment by default. However, it is possible to reopen the case, and much easier to do so if you take action within one year of the judgment being entered. After a year, it becomes more difficult and based more on your individual situation.

To reopen a judgment that was entered in the last 12 months, you must make a motion with the court. In that motion you must establish two things:

Excusable Neglect for Failing to Answer Timely

First, you must prove "excusable neglect." In other words, you need to prove that you had a good reason for not filing an answer within the original 35 days. The courts are serious about deadlines and will want to know why you did not meet one.

However, those same courts do seek justice and are willing to give you your day in court, but you must be able to put down some reasonable reason for being late. Of the two requirements, though, this is the easier one to meet.

A Meritorious Defense

This is the tougher part. You have to show that there is a real defense to the collection suit, and "I can't afford to pay it" does not count. The defense must be along the lines of

  • I paid the money
  • I paid some of it, but they are not reflecting the proper balance after crediting those payments
  • I never entered into a contract with that company for the goods or services they claim

There may well be others that are fact-specific, but you get the idea. Sometimes the defense is a little more complicated. For example, in this economy many creditors are selling their receivables to debt buyers called "factors." This often happens when the debt is old, even past the statute of limitations. If the creditor is one of these debt buyers, you might also raise defenses like:

  • I have never dealt with this creditor; who are they?
  • I deny that they own the debt now and are therefore entitled to the money.

In addition, since the debt buyer is not the creditor, they often do not have the evidence necessary to prove their case if you challenged them in court. These are valid defenses to old or factored debt that you should consider.

So What Do I Do?

A motion to "vacate" a judgment and file an answer disputing the debt is not something you should handle yourself. If a creditor has a recently entered judgment against you, and you believe you can meet the burden for reopening the case, you should have an attorney to assist you.

If you live in Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Salem or Cumberland County and are looking to hire an attorney to fight for you, please call me at 856-432-4113 or contact me through this site to schedule an appointment in my Woodbury office to review your case. You deserve your day in court.

Want more information on how to fight back with your creditors? Then download my free book, The Biggest Secrets Your Creditors Don't Want You to Know. Become empowered and protect your rights!

But if this debt is not the only one, and you are wondering whether you need a solution to a bigger problem, then download my free book, Am I In Too Deep? A Guide to Knowing When You Need to File Bankruptcy in New Jersey to find out if bankruptcy might be the right solution. You could also just give me a call and come in to discuss it further!

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Steven J. Richardson
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Bankruptcy, Collections, Student Loan, DUI and Traffic Court attorney in Woodbury, NJ.