Amid the current public health crisis, more than 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment. With so many people in financial hardship, debt-collection lawsuits are likely to become even more prevalent in the months—potentially years—to come.

How common is it to have a debt in collections?

Many companies, including credit card companies, will pass debts along to a debt collection agency if you fail to miss a payment or a series of payments. One in four Americans with a credit report has at least one debt in collections by a collections agency.

What happens if you can’t pay the debt collector?

If you can’t afford to pay the debt or are unable to facilitate a payment plan, the debt collection agency may file a lawsuit against you. In the two decades preceding 2013, debt-collection lawsuits doubled in frequency in the United States, bringing the total to nearly four million. This number amounts to almost a quarter of civil cases overall.

The debts that most often fall into arrears are car payments, credit card bills and medical bills, commonly for amounts less than $5,000. Remember that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act protects you from harassment by a debt collection agency. If you feel an agency is mistreating you, there is legal recourse.

What to do if a debt collector sues you

The most important thing to do is to get representation and show up for your court hearings. Many debt-collection cases result in automatic wins for the debt collector because the debtor puts up no defense. If the court finds you to be in default, it’s possible will add the debt collector’s lawyer fees to your debt. They may also win the power to garnish your paycheck. However, in Rhode Island, they cannot take your stimulus check money.