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Starting a Debt Case & Filing a Complaint to Collect a Debt

What kind of case do I file to collect a debt?

There are two options to file a case to collect a debt:

See the chart below to decide which case is right for you.

Process SMALL CLAIMS FORMAL CIVIL DEBT
Filing Fee $50 if your claim is for $2,500 or less

$100 if your claim is for more than $2,500

$150
Court District Court District Court
Amount of Debt Up to $10,000 Up to $100,000
Jury Trial No Yes, if one is requested
Need a Lawyer Usually no.
The process is simplified for people representing themselves. The court system has forms and information to represent yourself.
Most Plaintiffs have lawyers because corporations are required by law to be represented. Also, the formal Rules of Civil Procedure apply. Most Defendants represent themselves and the court system now has forms and information to help you represent yourself.
Award winning party legal costs plus attorney fees if represented by an attorney?
You can read more about the differences in attorney fee awards.
Yes, the losing side may have to pay the other side up to $1,000 of their attorney fees and costs. Yes, the losing side may have to pay between 3-30% of the other side's actual attorney fees and costs.
Formal Rules of Evidence used at Trial?
You can read more about the differences in dealing with evidence at trial.
No, the formal Rules of Evidence are not used. Yes, the formal Rules of Evidence are used.
Serving the other party Plaintiff gives court envelope with postage for certified mail, restricted delivery, return receipt, addressed to Defendant and completed postal forms plus $5 and the court handles the mailing, or Plaintiff hires process server. Plaintiff handles mailing or hires process server

.
Alternate service allowed when you can't find the other party? No, you can't use the small claims process if you cannot serve the other side with a copy of the complaint you file. If you can't serve the other side, you will need to file a complaint to collect the debt in district court using formal rules. Yes. You can read more about alternate service.
Service of Process Outside Alaska Allowed in cases being heard by a District Court judge.

When case is being heard by a magistrate, then allowed for:

- service on nonresident landlord in Landlord-Tenant Act case

and

- service on nonresident owner or operator of motor vehicle involved in accident in Alaska

Allowed
Complexity of Procedures 15 - 20 court rules of small claims procedure apply 80+ court rules of formal civil procedure apply
Estimated Time Before Trial 4 - 12 weeks after Defendant files Answer 6 - 10 months after Defendant files Answer

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What is the small claims process to collect a debt?

Learn more about the small claims process PDF and small claims forms.

Small Claims Flowchart PDF

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What is the process to collect a debt in a formal civil case in district court?

In district court, a creditor starts a debt collection case by filing a Complaint with the court against the person who owes the debt. In the case, the creditor is called the "Plaintiff" and the person who receives the Complaint is called the "Defendant." The Plaintiff must provide a copy of the Complaint and a Summons to the Defendant by either (1) certified mail, return receipt, restricted delivery or (2) by using a process server. This is called "serving" the Defendant.

The Defendant responds by filing an Answer that addresses each issue the Plaintiff raised in the Complaint, adds any appropriate affirmative defenses and counterclaims, and may also offer to pay in some fashion.

If the Defendant does not agree to pay the debt, the parties may:

After trial, the judge will issue a decision and if it finds the Defendant owes the Plaintiff the debt, the court will issue a judgment for a specific amount of money. The Defendant can voluntarily pay the debt, and if not, the Plaintiff can execute the judgment by going through a court process to collect the money from the Defendant's PFD, bank account, paycheck or property.

See formal debt collection flowchart PDF

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What should I consider when deciding whether to file a small claims case or a formal civil case in district court?

The main differences are:

1. Formality of procedure

2. Attorney Fees

If you win your case, the court can order the other party to reimburse you for your legal costs and, if you had an attorney representing you, reimburse some of what you paid the attorney. This is called awarding you attorney fees and court costs, but the calculation is different:

3. Jury Trial

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Who can sue to collect a debt?

Any person or company can sue someone to collect a debt. The person or company suing is called the "Plaintiff" or creditor. The person being sued is called the "Defendant" or debtor. A Plaintiff can be a credit card company, a bank, a hospital, or any other person or company that says the Defendant did not pay a debt.

Sometimes creditors sell their debts to another company like a collection agency. That company may have the right to start a case against the debtor in court, and then the collection agency would be the Plaintiff or creditor.

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How do I fill out the Complaint to Collect a Debt?

You can use:

The Complaint has 4 parts:

The Caption:

The Complaint Paragraphs: This is where you tell the court what the case is about.

Filing Location: Check all boxes that apply to show why Alaska is the right state for your case.

Filing Court: Check whether you are filing in District Court or Superior Court.

Contract: In paragraph 3 of the Complaint Paragraphs, explain in detail the agreement you had with the Defendant. In paragraph 4, explain how the Defendant broke the agreement, how it harmed you, and the dollar amount you want the court to order the Defendant to pay you for breaking the agreement. You can add more pages if needed.

To win a debt case, you must show:

The Request for Relief: List all the things you want the court to order at the end of the case:

The Included Documents and Contact Information:

List the documents you are including:

Fill out your contact information and sign the bottom of the last page. It is important that the court always have current contact information for you so you can be notified of orders or court hearings.

After you fill out the Complaint to Collect a Debt, you must file it with the court and then serve the Defendant.

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How do I file a Complaint to Collect a Debt with the court?

After you fill out the Complaint to Collect a Debt, CIV-480 [Fill-In PDF] make 2 copies of every document you are filing (so you have 2 copies and the original) and complete these steps:

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How do I serve the Defendant with a Complaint to Collect a Debt?

To serve the Defendant, you must give the Defendant copies of the Complaint to Collect a Debt, Summons, and any other documents you filed with the court. If the Defendant does not file an Answer, you must give the court notice that you served the Defendant within 120 days of filing your Complaint to be able to ask for a default judgment and move ahead in the case without the Defendant's participation.

There are 2 ways you may serve the Defendant with the Complaint and other required documents:

  1. Mailing it certified mail, restricted delivery, return receipt (using the green postcard), or
  2. Hiring a process server.

You CANNOT serve the Summons and complaint by hand delivery or first-class US mail.

Certified Mail

Serving by certified mail is the less expensive option to serve the documents to start your case. Make sure you also pay for restricted delivery and return receipt so that only the Defendant signs for the mail and you get the green card sent back to you when the Defendant gets the documents. You must save the green postcard to show you served the opposing party. You can read how to prepare the envelope and the certified mail postal forms in How to Serve a Summons, CIV 106 PDF.

Process Server

Hiring a process server is more expensive (can cost up to $65 in Alaska) than certified mail, but sometimes is a better option if the Defendant refuses to sign for the certified mail. You can find a statewide list of authorized process servers PDF on the Alaska Court System website. This list is revised periodically so make sure you use a current list. For process servers outside of Alaska, you need to contact the local court in the area or do Internet research.

It is up to you to choose a process server and arrange to pay for their services. If you hire a process server, fill out the Service Instructions, CIV-615 PDF and give it to the process server along with the copies to be served. After the process server completes service, you will receive a Proof of Service form. If you are hiring a process service outside of Alaska, provide them with the Return of Service Affidavit, SHC-193 Word | PDF that they will send back to you after the documents are served. Save the Proof of Service or Return of Service form to prove you served the Defendant. You can read more about serving with a process server in How to Serve a Summons, CIV 106 PDF.

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What if I can't find the opposing party or the opposing party won't accept service?

You must try hard to

This is called diligent inquiry. The judge will require you to do everything you can to find the opposing party to serve a copy of your documents. If you are having trouble locating the opposing party, please read Tips on Locating People which gives many ideas to find someone. You will need to try most of these things before the court will allow your case to move forward.

After you have completed your diligent inquiry:

Read about the alternative service process.

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What happens after I file my Complaint to Collect a Debt?

The Defendant has 20 days to respond to your Complaint by filing an Answer. If the Defendant files an Answer, learn the different ways the case can resolve.

If the Defendant does not respond, you can request the court enter a default judgment and decide based on only the information you provided. You can read more about asking for a default judgment.

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Do I need to tell the court when I have served the Defendant?

You only need to file proof that you have served the Defendant if you ask the court to enter a default judgment and decide the case based on only the information you provided. You can read more about asking for a default judgment. The Debt Default Application includes instructions for telling the court about how you served the Defendant.

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How do I request a fee waiver?

If you cannot afford the filing fee, you may be eligible for a fee waiver. To ask the judge to waive your fees, file:

The court will hold on to your Complaint to Collect a Debt until after the judge rules on the fee waiver. If granted, the court will issue you a Summons. You cannot serve the other party until after you get the Summons, and you will not get a Summons until after the court rules on fee waiver request. At some courts, you must return to the court to get your Summons, other courts will issue it automatically after the waiver is granted. Check with your local court to make sure you understand the procedure in using this form and getting the Summons.

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What do I do if the Defendant files an Answer and raises a claim, called a Counterclaim, against me?

If the Defendant files an Answer and raises a claim against you, called a counterclaim, you have 20 days to file an Answer to Counterclaim to tell the judge if you agree or disagree with any counterclaims raised. You can use this form:

After you fill out the Answer to Counterclaim form, make 2 copies (so you have 2 copies and the original).

The Defendant should not respond; the Answer to Counterclaim should be the final pleading and the case will proceed.

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Rev. 5 March 2019
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