Wondering how long a debt collector has to collect your unpaid debt? Or when you can stop worrying about a potential ding to your credit score? It might feel like there are no clear answers because the statute of limitations on debt by state can be a bit complicated. But we’re here to help.
A quick note before we dive on in: if you are being sued and need some legal advice, we recommend that you speak to a lawyer. While we do strive to give sound information, we’re certainly not stand-ins for a qualified lawyer. So if you’re in a tough situation, you might want to seek out expert help.
What Is a Statute of Limitations on Debt?
The statute of limitations in the case of debt refers to how long the creditor or collector has to take legal action against you. The creditor can’t file a valid lawsuit outside of the statute of limitations. That means that they cannot use legal remedies, such as judgments, liens and garnishments, to collect from you if the statute of limitations has passed.
What Is a Statute of Limitations Not?
It’s easy to get confused about what a statute of limitations does versus what it doesn’t. Consider the following clarifications regarding common misunderstandings regarding this type of law.
Statute of Limitations and Your Credit Report
The statute of limitations doesn’t have anything to do with how long a negative item can appear on your credit report. Late payments, for example, can stay on your report for seven years from the original delinquency. Collection accounts can remain on your report for seven years and 180 days from the original delinquency. Depending on the type of account and your location, this can be more than or less than the statute of limitations.
How Long Can a Debt Collector Legally Pursue Old Debt?
Some people mistakenly believe that debt collectors can’t attempt to collect debt beyond the statute of limitations, but that’s not true. This is actually considered time-barred debt. That simply means the collector can’t file a lawsuit against you.
Should You Pay Debts That Are Past the Statute of Limitations?
Technically, you still owe the debt. The debt might also still be lowering your credit score or making it more difficult for you to get new credit. So, should you pay debts that are past the statute of limitations?
There’s a lot to think about before you decide. The Federal Trade Commission notes that if you make a payment or agree to payment arrangements in certain states, the debt is revived. That means the statute of limitations is reset, allowing the collector to legally sue you for the remainder of the debt.
Even if you pay the entire debt off, it may not be removed from your credit report. The credit bureaus frown on creditors making pay-for-remove arrangements, as it makes credit reports less accurate. However, some credit scoring models don’t consider paid collections accounts or consider them less negative than unpaid accounts. In such cases, paying off the total account might help improve your score.
Statute of Limitations on Debt by State
The statute of limitations on debt depends on a lot. Written contracts, oral contracts, debt on accounts and promissory notes all have different limitations. And if the creditor has already filed a suit and received a judgment, that judgment may have a different statute of limitations depending on where it was issued.
The following list is provided as a guide to each state’s statute of limitations, which may change. If you’re considering whether your own debt is within or beyond a statute of limitations, it’s important to check specific laws for your jurisdiction.
|State||Written Contract||Oral Contract||Collection of Debt on Account||Judgments|
|District of Columbia||4||3||3||12|
Additional information sourced from Legal Match
How Long Can You Be Chased for a Debt?
Honestly, it depends. But here are some helpful tips for dealing with old debt:
- If you’re sure the debt is past the statute of limitations, you know you won’t get sued. You can ask in writing that the collector stop contacting you about the debt. You still owe the debt, but they can’t keep calling you about it.
- Debts past the statute of limitations can’t be relisted as new debts on your credit report. That means once you’re past the seven-and-a-half-year mark, most of these negative marks will fall off your credit report.
- If a creditor sues you past the statute of limitations, you can state that in court. If the statute of limitations has legitimately expired, the court should rule in your favor.
Don’t Be Afraid to Get Help
Since the statute of limitations are complex and differ depending on the type of debt or contract, you may want to consult legal professionals about whether your debt is truly time-barred. And if you think items are being reported on your credit report after the statute of limitations has passed, you may be able to get the items removed. Consider working with CreditRepair.com or Lexington Law to repair your credit and get inappropriate or inaccurate items removed.
Disclosure: Credit.com and CreditRepair.com are both owned by the same company, Progrexion Holdings Inc. John C Heath, Attorney at Law, PC, d/b/a Lexington Law Firm is an independent law firm that uses Progrexion as a provider of business and administrative services.