When you stop paying your credit card bill, there's a chance you could find yourself in the middle of a lawsuit. Although a credit card company doesn't always sue to recover the debt, it's a possibility. In some cases, the original credit card company may decide it isn't going to recover anything and charge off the debt. It will often sell the debt to a collection agency that can attempt to recover the balance. Different rules apply to original creditors and collection agencies.

Original Creditor

According to Nolo, if the original creditor is filing a lawsuit against you, it must produce the original contact, preferably signed. Because credit cards are commonly issued online, a signed contract isn't always available. The court won't automatically throw out the case if the documentation is missing, so you'll have to file a separate motion asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit. Certain states even grant you the right to countersue the creditor for damages if it can't verify you owe the debt.

Collection Agencies

If the debt was sold to a third-party collection agency, you are protected under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Under the act, the collection agency must prove it has the right to collect the debt. A description of the amount owed and the name and address of the original creditor counts as sufficient verification. If the debt collector can't produce this information, it is required to stop collection efforts immediately. If the collection agency sues, it must show proof the debt was purchased from the original creditor.

The Creditor's Role

Once the account is sold, the original creditor no longer has the ability to sue you. The original creditor usually gives the collection agency your account information, which may include statements and your payment history. The original contract isn't always handed over. If the court asks for the contact, the credit card company may choose to supply it, but it is under no legal obligation to submit any documentation.

State Laws

The laws regarding requirements for original creditors are clear, but when it comes to collection agencies, there's a gray area. A lack of a contract doesn't guarantee the case will be dismissed. Ultimately, the judge has the discretion to determine whether or not the collection agency has provided sufficient evidence proving you owe the debt. Your state's statute of limitations specifies how long the creditor and collection agency have to file a lawsuit against you. The clock usually begins ticking on the date of the credit card's last use. Statutes of limitation for contracts vary from three to 10 years, depending on the state.