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Statute of Limitations for Debts Can Vary

By Aditi Mukherji, JD | Last updated on

If you have old, unpaid debts, you may be safe from a lawsuit to collect debt if the debt collector waited too long to file a lawsuit. Every state has enacted its own statute of limitations, requiring any lawsuit be filed in court within a set time frame.

But the rules vary widely depending on the type of debt you have and where you live.

What is the statute of limitation for debt collection?

In the vast majority of states, the statute of limitations period on credit card debts is between three and 10 years; in some states, the period is longer, according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The exact period of time will depend on your specific state law.

The statute of limitations for non-credit card debts will also vary on a state-by-state level. It will also depend on circumstances of the debt. For example, the statute of limitations for debt stemming from a written contract will often be different from one related to an oral contract.

What happens with time-barred debts?

If a debt collector sues you to collect a time-barred debt, you can have the suit dismissed by letting the court or judge know the debt is, indeed, time-barred, according to the FTC.

Debt doesn't go away just because it goes beyond a time threshold. The statute of limitations does not prevent debt collectors from attempting to collect on debts; they just can't successfully collect the debts via a lawsuit.

Even if the debt is time-barred, don't ignore the court notices. In many states, it's up to the defendant to show that the debt is time-barred under the statute of limitations. That means if you fail to show up to court and explain the debt is time-barred, you could end up losing the case.

How to handle time-barred debt is up to you:

  • Choosing to not pay the debt is perfectly alright (legally), but it could make it harder to get credit, insurance, or other services.
  • Paying a part of the debt is also an option, but in some states, it can reset the statute of limitations.
  • Paying it off in full may enable you to negotiate a smaller amount or attractive payment schedule. But get it in writing before you start making payments.

A debtor-creditor lawyer can help you navigate your situation and chart a course for handling your time-barred debts.

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