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Student Loans Student Loan Repayment

Statute of Limitations on Student Loans

Updated May 11, 2023   |   8-min read

If you have education debt, you might wonder whether there’s a statute of limitations on student loans. The statute of limitations on debt determines how long creditors have to sue you to collect unpaid debts. 

Federal student loans administered by the Department of Education have no statute of limitations or time frame that limits the time the loan servicer has to sue you. However, there is a statute of limitations on private student loans from private lenders. The time frame in which a creditor can sue you for those debts will depend on your state’s law.

Reviewing your most recent loan statement or contacting your loan servicer are two simple ways to determine whether you have federal or private student loans. We’ll examine how the statute of limitations for student loans works and what can happen if you don’t pay.

In this guide:

What is the statute of limitations on federal student loans?

There is no statute of limitations on federal student loans. The Department of Education can take collection actions against you for defaulted student loans at any time. The consequences of defaulting on federal student loans include:

  • Acceleration of the loan, in which the unpaid balance is due immediately. 
  • Becoming ineligible for deferment or forbearance periods. 
  • Losing the option to enroll in income-driven repayment plans
  • Losing eligibility for additional federal student aid.
  • Credit score damage, as defaulted federal student loans can be reported to the credit bureaus.
  • Having your wages or bank account garnished or losing your tax refunds to an offset.
  • Having liens placed against your home or other real estate you own. 
  • Withholding of your official school transcripts.

Your loan holder can garnish wages for defaulted student loans without taking you to court first. The lender would, however, need to sue you to garnish your bank account or put a lien against your home. If you’re sued for defaulted federal student loans, you could also be ordered to pay the lender’s court fees. 

What is the statute of limitations on private student loans?

Policies for the statute of limitations on private loans vary by state. Where you live will determine how long a creditor has to pursue collection actions for unpaid private student loans. 

Here’s a breakdown of states’ statutes of limitations on private student loans. 

StateStatute of limitationsStateStatute of limitations
Alabama6 yearsMontana8 years
Alaska3 yearsNebraska5 years
Arizona6 yearsNevada6 years
Arkansas5 yearsNew Hampshire6 years
California4 yearsNew Jersey6 years
Colorado6 yearsNew Mexico6 years
Connecticut6 yearsNew York6 years
Delaware6 yearsNorth Carolina3 years
District of Columbia3 yearsNorth Dakota6 years
Florida5 yearsOhio8 years
Georgia6 yearsOklahoma5 years
Hawaii6 yearsOregon6 years
Idaho5 yearsPennsylvania4 years
Illinois10 yearsRhode Island10 years
Indiana6 yearsSouth Carolina3 years
Iowa10 yearsSouth Dakota6 years
Kansas5 yearsTennessee6 years
Kentucky15 yearsTexas4 years
Louisiana3 yearsUtah6 years
Maine6 yearsVermont6 years
Maryland3 yearsVirginia5 years
Massachusetts 20 yearsWashington6 years
Michigan6 yearsWest Virginia10 years
Minnesota6 yearsWisconsin6 years
Mississippi3 yearsWyoming10 years
Missouri10 years

Where you live can determine when the ball starts rolling on the statute of limitations. In some states, it may begin when you fail to make a payment. In others, it may date back to your most recent payment.

Can a private student loan lender sue you for unpaid debt? Absolutely, and the statute of limitations determines how long they have to do it. 

Like federal student loans, private lenders can take different steps to collect what’s owed, including garnishing your wages or levying your bank accounts. The lender must first sue you and obtain a judgment before it can touch your wages or assets. 

However, if you had a private student loan cosigner, that person could also be sued since they’re considered equally liable for the debt. Defaulting on private student loans would harm both of your credit histories.

Can the statute of limitations be extended?

The statute of limitations on student loans may be extended in certain circumstances. For instance, a practice called tolling can allow a creditor more time to collect an unpaid debt. Tolling happens when a creditor extends the time frame in which payment is due, which can push back when the statute of limitations clock starts ticking. 

You may extend the statute of limitations if you waive your right to claim it as a defense if you’re sued. However, that’s less common as courts may require you to demonstrate you understand what you’re giving up before accepting a waiver. 

It’s also possible to extend or restart the statute of limitations on student loans by:

  • Making a partial or full payment
  • Promising to pay something to your lender in writing
  • Acknowledging you owe the debt

For example, if your state has a five-year statute of limitations and you make a payment in the fourth year, that restarts the window for collection actions. The lender would get another five years to sue you.  

Having a judgment entered against you for student debt can also extend the statute of limitations. Here’s how the statute of limitations for judgments compares by state. 

StateStatute of limitations for judgmentsStateStatute of limitations for judgments
Alabama20 yearsMontana10 years
Alaska10 yearsNebraska5 years
Arizona4 yearsNevada6 years
Arkansas10 yearsNew Hampshire20 years
California10 yearsNew Jersey20 years
ColoradoN/ANew Mexico14 years
Connecticut20 yearsNew York20 years
Delaware5 yearsNorth Carolina10 years
District of Columbia12 yearsNorth Dakota10 years
Florida20 yearsOhio21 years
Georgia5 yearsOklahoma3 years
Hawaii10 yearsOregon10 years
Idaho6 yearsPennsylvania4 years
Illinois20 yearsRhode Island20 years
Indiana20 yearsSouth Carolina10 years
Iowa20 yearsSouth Dakota20 years
KansasN/ATennessee10 years
Kentucky15 yearsTexasN/A
Louisiana10 yearsUtah8 years
Maine20 yearsVermont6–10 years
Maryland12 yearsVirginia10–20 years
Massachusetts 6 yearsWashington10 years
Michigan6–10 yearsWest Virginia10 years
Minnesota10 yearsWisconsin6–20 years
Mississippi7 yearsWyoming5 years
Missouri10 years

What happens after the statute of limitations has passed? 

Once the statute of limitations on student loans expires, your debts become time-barred. That means your lender or loan servicer cannot sue you (or your cosigner if you have one) for the unpaid balance. 

The debt doesn’t go away, however, nor does your obligation to pay it. Your lender or a debt collector can still contact you to ask for payment. An unethical lender or debt collector could even attempt to sue you for the debt, though their case may not get far if you can prove in court the statute of limitations has passed. 

Bad debts can remain on your credit reports for up to seven years, hurting your credit score and making it more challenging to qualify for loans. 

Once they fall off, that can erase the negative impacts on your credit score. But if you default on federal loans, you can still be subject to collection actions. 

Where to find your statute of limitations

The statute of limitations on private student loans may be included in your promissory note or loan agreement. A section at the end of the note may define key terms of your contract, and information about when you can be sued may be under a section marked “Default” or “Repayment Terms.” 

However, if your private student loan lender offers loans in multiple states, that information might not be in a general loan agreement. You may need to ask about the statute of limitations, though keep in mind that acknowledging the debt could restart the clock if you’re behind on payments

You could check with an attorney or financial advisor who’s well-versed in debt collection laws in your state. A debt collection attorney may be able to pinpoint when the statute of limitations began for your student loans and advise you on your rights if the lender decides to sue you. 

What happens before the statute of limitations is up?

Until the statute of limitations on student loans expires, your lender can take steps to collect the debt. However, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act limits what lenders and debt collectors can do when attempting to collect a debt. 

Debt collectors can:Debt collectors cannot:
Send you written notices requesting payment. 

Call you between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. to request payment. 

Reach out to you via text to request payment.
Contact friends and family to obtain your contact information.
Harass, intimidate, or threaten you with harm.

Call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. without your consent. 

Use the phone to harass you or engage in unfair practices. 

Talk to anyone other than you, your spouse, or your attorney about the details of your debt. 

If your student loans are nearing the end of the statute of limitations, the frequency of letters, calls, or texts may pick up. Your lender may also contact friends or family members to locate your phone number or mailing address. 

It’s important to remember your rights and be aware of what could trigger an extension of the statute of limitations. You may want to talk to an attorney before speaking to the lender, so you don’t accidentally reset the clock on what you owe. 

If you’re having trouble paying federal student loans, it can be wise to reach out to your lender. Lenders can help borrowers find solutions for avoiding default, which may include a deferment or forbearance period, switching to an income-driven repayment plan, or refinancing private student loans.