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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.
In the case of federal student loans administered by the Department of Education, the answer is no. 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?
- What is the statute of limitations on private student loans?
- Can the statute of limitations be extended?
- What happens after the statute of limitations has passed?
- Where to find your statute of limitations
- What happens before the statute of limitations is up?
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.
|State||Statute of limitations||State||Statute of limitations|
|Alabama||6 years||Montana||8 years|
|Alaska||3 years||Nebraska||5 years|
|Arizona||6 years||Nevada||6 years|
|Arkansas||5 years||New Hampshire||6 years|
|California||4 years||New Jersey||6 years|
|Colorado||6 years||New Mexico||6 years|
|Connecticut||6 years||New York||6 years|
|Delaware||6 years||North Carolina||3 years|
|District of Columbia||3 years||North Dakota||6 years|
|Florida||5 years||Ohio||8 years|
|Georgia||6 years||Oklahoma||5 years|
|Hawaii||6 years||Oregon||6 years|
|Idaho||5 years||Pennsylvania||4 years|
|Illinois||10 years||Rhode Island||10 years|
|Indiana||6 years||South Carolina||3 years|
|Iowa||10 years||South Dakota||6 years|
|Kansas||5 years||Tennessee||6 years|
|Kentucky||15 years||Texas||4 years|
|Louisiana||3 years||Utah||6 years|
|Maine||6 years||Vermont||6 years|
|Maryland||3 years||Virginia||5 years|
|Massachusetts||20 years||Washington||6 years|
|Michigan||6 years||West Virginia||10 years|
|Minnesota||6 years||Wisconsin||6 years|
|Mississippi||3 years||Wyoming||10 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.
|State||Statute of limitations for judgments||State||Statute of limitations for judgments|
|Alabama||20 years||Montana||10 years|
|Alaska||10 years||Nebraska||5 years|
|Arizona||4 years||Nevada||6 years|
|Arkansas||10 years||New Hampshire||20 years|
|California||10 years||New Jersey||20 years|
|Colorado||N/A||New Mexico||14 years|
|Connecticut||20 years||New York||20 years|
|Delaware||5 years||North Carolina||10 years|
|District of Columbia||12 years||North Dakota||10 years|
|Florida||20 years||Ohio||21 years|
|Georgia||5 years||Oklahoma||3 years|
|Hawaii||10 years||Oregon||10 years|
|Idaho||6 years||Pennsylvania||4 years|
|Illinois||20 years||Rhode Island||20 years|
|Indiana||20 years||South Carolina||10 years|
|Iowa||20 years||South Dakota||20 years|
|Louisiana||10 years||Utah||8 years|
|Maine||20 years||Vermont||6–10 years|
|Maryland||12 years||Virginia||10–20 years|
|Massachusetts||6 years||Washington||10 years|
|Michigan||6–10 years||West Virginia||10 years|
|Minnesota||10 years||Wisconsin||6–20 years|
|Mississippi||7 years||Wyoming||5 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.
Author: Rebecca Lake