Statute of Limitations on Debt Collection by State
It’s important to find out whether the statute of limitations has expired on an old, unpaid debt. You’ll need to find out what your state law dictates regarding the type of debt you have. However, other factors – like the lender’s agreement or restarting the clock on your debt – could have an impact.
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Are you being bombarded by calls from debt collectors trying to negotiate old debt? The good news is that these debt collectors might not legally be able to sue you to collect on that debt if it’s too old because debt collection does have a statute of limitations.
“When you fail to pay a debt, the person that you owe has a certain number of years to bring an action against you to recover the debt. That time period is called the statute of limitations,” said Stuart Shiffman, a retired judge who now practices law in Illinois. “After that, your unpaid debts are considered ‘time-barred.’ According to the law, you can no longer be sued for a debt that is time-barred.”
While you will still technically be expected to pay the debt and it will remain on your credit report, you can’t be legally forced to repay. The statute of limitations on debt collection by state varies. So how long the statute of limitation is for your particular debt will depend on which state you live in. It will also depend on what kind of debt you have. While debt collectors might still try to pursue you after your debt is time-barred, the law protects you.
“The Fair Debt Consumer Protection Act (FDCPA) is a federal law passed by Congress to eliminate abusive debt collection practices, and to promote consistent state action to protect consumers against debt collection abuses,” said Shiffman.
Your particular debt may have reached the debt collection statute of limitations, and the FDCPA can protect you.
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Statute of Limitations on Debt
Usually, state law will determine the statute of limitations for your debts no matter which state you incurred your debt in. That said, some lenders will add clauses and additional agreements to lending contracts that could extend the length of your debt obligations. The clock on these debt collection statutes of limitations doesn’t start when you take out your loans, it starts when you have the last activity on the account.
Note that just because the debt collector can’t sue you for an unpaid debt after the statute of limitations passes, they don’t have to tell you that or stop contacting you. To get them to stop contacting you, you must specifically ask.
“Sometimes they simply do not know the law,” said Shiffman. “Sometimes they may hope you do not know the law. The law allows them to continue to contact you unless you tell them to stop.”
Be aware that there are ways you can accidentally restart the clock on a statute of limitations. The time period for the statute of limitation usually begins on the date of the last activity of the account. And “activity” can include making a payment, creating a payment plan, making a charge on the account, accepting a debt settlement, or just acknowledging that you owe the debt. In that case, the clock can be reset to zero and the debt collector can take you to court to get you to pay your debt.
If you have a debt collector who won’t stop contacting you after the debt collection statute of limitations has run out, and you have already let them know that you do not want them to contact you, you can send them a certified letter asking they do so. You can also call a lawyer, or contact your local attorney general’s office.
Types of Debt
Debt falls into four main categories:
- Oral agreements: a verbal, nonwritten contract to repay the money.
- Written contracts: are debts backed by a signed written contract. This could be a formal contract or just a letter saying you will pay back the debt.
- Promissory notes: a written agreement to pay back a debt with certain payments. Mortgages are a good example of promissory notes.
- Open-ended debt: types of credit that have a revolving balance like credit cards and lines of credit.
It’s important to understand this distinction since it makes a significant difference when it comes to the statute of limitations of debt.
“Each type of agreement – oral or written – has multiple rules for enforcement and collection,” Shiffman said. “And those rules vary from state to state. That is why consulting with an attorney is important for any debt of a substantial nature.”
The Statute of Limitations on Debt by State
Again, statutes of limitations on debt do hinge on what state you live in. While each state is different, many states provide extra time to collect on debt that involves a written contract or a promissory note. Oral debts are generally given the least amount of time for collection.
In the table below, you can see a breakdown of statute of limitations on debt collection by state.
|State||Oral Agreements||Written Contracts||Promissory Notes||Open-Ended Accounts|
|Alabama||6 years||6 years||6 years||3 years|
|Alaska (source linked)||6 years||6 years||3 years||3 years|
|Arizona (source linked)||3 years||3 years||6 years||6 years|
|Arkansas (source linked)||3 years||5 years||3 years||3 years|
|California (source linked)||2 years||4 years||4 years||4 years|
|Colorado (source linked)||6 years||6 years||6 years||6 years|
|Connecticut (source linked)||3 years||6 years||6 years||3 years|
|Delaware (source linked)||3 years||3 years||3 years||3 years|
|Florida (source linked)||4 years||5 years||5 years||4 years|
|Georgia (source linked)||4 years||6 years||6 years||4 years, but 6 years for credit cards|
|Hawaii||6 years||6 years||6 years||6 years|
|Idaho (source linked)||4 years||5 years||5 years||5 years|
|Illinois (source linked)||5 years||10 years||10 years||5 years|
|Indiana (source linked)||6 years||10 years||6 years||6 years|
|Iowa (source linked)||5 years||10 years||5 years||5 years|
|Kansas (source linked)||3 years||5 years||5 years||3 years|
|Kentucky||5 years||10 years||15 years||5 years|
|Louisiana (source linked)||10 years||10 years||10 years||3 years|
|Maine (source linked)||6 years||6 years||6 years||6 years|
|Maryland (source linked)||3 years||3 years||12 years||3 years|
|Massachusetts (source linked)||6 years||6 years||6 years||6 years|
|Michigan (source linked)||6 years||6 years||6 years||6 years|
|Minnesota (source linked)||6 years||6 years||6 years||6 years|
|Mississippi (source linked)||3 years||3 years||3 years||3 years|
|Missouri (source linked)||6 years||10 years||3 years||5 years|
|Montana (source linked)||5 years||8 years||8 years||5 years|
|Nebraska (source linked)||4 years||5 years||5 years||4 years|
|Nevada (source linked)||4 years||6 years||3 years||4 years|
|New Hampshire (source linked)||3 years||3 years||6 years||3 years|
|New Jersey (source linked)||6 years||6 years||6 years||6 years|
|New Mexico (source linked)||4 years||6 years||6 years||4 years|
|New York (source linked)||6 years||6 years||6 years||6 years|
|North Carolina (source linked)||3 years||3 years||5 years||3 years|
|North Dakota (source linked)||6 years||6 years||6 years||6 years|
|Ohio (source linked)||6 years if debt was after 2012; if before, it’s 15 years||8 years if debt was after 2012; if before, it’s 15 years||8 years if debt was after 2012; if before, it’s 15 years||8 years if debt was after 2012; if before, it’s 15 years|
|Oklahoma (source linked)||3 years||5 years||5 years||3 years|
|Oregon (source linked)||6 years||6 years||6 years||6 years|
|Pennsylvania (source linked)||4 years||4 years||4 years||4 years|
|Rhode Island (source linked)||10 years||10 years||10 years||10 years|
|South Carolina (source linked)||3 years||3 years||3 years||3 years|
|South Dakota (source linked)||6 years||6 years||6 years||6 years|
|Tennessee (source linked)||6 years||6 years||6 years||6 years|
|Texas (source linked)||4 years||4 years||4 years||4 years|
|Utah (source linked)||4 years||6 years||6 years||4 years|
|Vermont (source linked)||6 years||6 years||5 years||3 years|
|Virginia (source linked)||3 years||5 years||6 years||3 years|
|Washington (source linked)||3 years||6 years||6 years||3 years|
|West Virginia (source linked)||5 years||10 years||6 years||5 years|
|Wisconsin (source linked)||6 years||6 years||10 years||6 years|
|Wyoming (source linked)||8 years||10 years||10 years||6 years|
Ultimately, having a statute of limitations on debt protects consumers. But the fact that the statutes vary from state to state complicates the picture. So pay attention to the statute of limitations in your state, and be careful when dealing with debt collectors who are still calling you. You don’t want to accidentally restart the clock on your debt. Also, provisions added by lenders may complicate matters.
“You might sign an agreement in one state that has specific provisions that it is governed by the law of another state,” Shiffman said.
For that reason, he suggested that if you’re signing a debt obligation for a large amount, then consult a lawyer so you fully understand your contract. And do the same if you have an old debt that you think has passed the statute of limitations in your state.
Author: Jeff Gitlen