If you have been served with a summons, it means that a creditor has initiated a court action against you to collect a debt. A summons actually consists of two parts: a summons and a complaint. The complaint outlines the accusations made against you and the summons is an order of the court directing you to appear to answer to the charges made in the complaint. Generally, these documents are referred to as a single action called Summons and Complaint.
Depending on the nature of the complaint, it may be in your best interest to consult with an attorney before you proceed. However, do not under any circumstances ignore the command to appear. This will almost certainly result in a default judgment being recorded against you. A creditor may present this judgment for execution, which means that the creditor will be able to place a lien against your bank accounts or real property. It may also subject you to an income execution from your paycheck.
When you are served with a summons, there will be a time period specified in which you are required to answer. If a Process Server served you in person, then you will usually have 20 days to answer. However, you will usually have 30 days to answer the summons if it was received by mail or any other method. Other methods include the command to appear being accepted by another resident of your household who is over the age of 18.
Answering a summons does not necessarily mean that you must make a personal appearance to the court. In fact, most of the time an answer may be made in writing and filed with the court within the specified time (20 or 30 days). Basically, an Answer is a written document that outlines your defenses against the accusations made in the complaint against you. This may consist of a general denial or include "affirmative defenses" and counterclaims, if applicable.
Your answer must be served upon the attorney for the Plaintiff (the creditor), if they are using one. This also constitutes service on the Plaintiff. At this time, you may also request that the attorney provide details about the alleged debt (and always word it as such!) by serving him or her with a list of questions called a Bill of Particulars.
There are also very specific guidelines to serving and filing your answer and other accompanying documents. First, serve a copy of your Answer on the Plaintiff or their attorney by mail or process server. Then, file the original Answer with the court, together with an Affidavit of Service. This paper documents how and when the Plaintiff was served and must be signed by you before a Notary Public. Finally, when you file the original Answer and Affidavit of Service with the court, ask the clerk to date stamp a copy of each for your records.