Credit cards are a wonderful convenience. But for many Chicago-area consumers, the combination of financial hardship and the ease of turning to plastic can lead to uncomfortable and unwanted situations. The circumstance that perhaps triggers the greatest level of panic may be if a creditor goes so far as to sue to collect on the debt that is owed.

Panic is never a good response to a bad situation. It prevents clear thinking and rational action. That’s why anyone who finds themselves in a position of needing debt relief needs to know all their options — up to and including the possible protections that may be afforded through filing for bankruptcy. Seeking a free initial consultation with an experienced attorney is a good first step to take.

Going to court to exact recovery is not the method most creditors prefer to use. It can be expensive for them. They also tend to recognize that most consumers are honest, hard working people who want to make good on their debts. Because of that, creditors are often willing to negotiate some sort of arrangement for getting a customer’s debt paid off. But even in that kind of circumstance, you need to be sure you know your rights and whether you have any income that might be exempt from garnishment.

The first sign of a creditor suit is usually the receipt of a legal complaint and summons regarding the debt. The complaint should clearly describe what the creditor says is owed and why. The summons should provide a court date on which you can appear to respond to the claim.

This notice should not be taken to mean that your appearance is optional. Even if you agree that you owe the money and intend to work out a payment arrangement, it is generally wise to respond within the timeframe set by the law and according to the processes established by the court.