How Long Do Creditors and Debt Collectors Have to Collect?
Every state has a statute of limitations (SOL) that limits how long a creditor or debt collector can successfully collect a debt. Typically, the statute of limitations starts when you miss your first payment with the original creditor. It does not start when the account was placed for collection. If a debt collector tried to sue you after this time period has expired, you can raise the SOL as a defense against the lawsuit.
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Many consumers confuse the length of time that debts can appear on their credit reports with the debt collection statute of limitations. These are often two different time periods.
If you have debts that have been charged off and/or are in collections, it’s critical that you get your credit reports to find out what is being reported. Not only will this give you helpful information about the dates you fell behind, it may also alert you to collection accounts or even judgments that you did not know existed. You can:
- Get your free annual credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com to see the specific information that is reported;
- Find out whether these items affect your credit when you get a free credit report summary from Credit.com, updated every month to help you monitor for changes.
Use the statute of limitations map provided below as a guideline, and be sure to read the important tips below it. Simply click on your state for more information.
Note: Credit card accounts are generally considered open accounts while installment accounts – like an auto loan – are often considered a written contract. But not always. See the important note below.
Understanding the State Statute of Limitations
This chart offers general guidelines for state statutes of limitations, but please keep in mind that it’s not always as straightforward as it seems. For example, the vast majority of state laws do not spell out the statute of limitations specifically for credit card debts. Sometimes those fall under written contracts and other times they fall under open accounts. Or sometimes they can fall under either category, depending on the specifics of the situation.
[Please be sure to read 7 Things You Need to Know About the Statutes of Limitation for Debt on our blog.]
If you have questions about the statute of limitations for your debt, we recommend you contact your state attorney general’s office, or even better, a consumer law attorney in your area. The latter is especially critical if you are being sued for payment.
The information provided above is for reference only. We do our best to keep this content current. To report updates or corrections, please send us an email.