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How long can a creditor legally sue you to collect on a debt? It depends on what type of debt it is and which state’s law governs. Find out more about the statute of limitations on suing to collect a debt by state below.
What Is a Statute of Limitations on Suing to Collect a Debt?
Creditors or collection agencies can only take legal action against you to collect a debt for a certain period of time. How long that period is depends on the statute of limitations in the state where the debt originated.
Statutes of limitations are laws that govern the deadlines on certain legal actions. But don’t be mistaken—you aren’t off the hook for a debt just because the statute of limitations has passed. The debt might still show up on your credit report, and if you don’t pay it, you could face trouble getting future credit, especially a mortgage.
The statute of limitations does prevent you from being successfully sued for time-barred debts. That means the creditor won’t be able to get a judgment against you that allows them to garnish wages or levy your accounts.
The Four Types of Debt
The type of debt you are dealing with determines which statute of limitations might be relevant. The four types of debt are described below.
Oral agreements occur when you borrow money from someone and agree to pay it back according to specific terms, but the agreement isn’t made in writing. This is the proverbial handshake agreement, and it’s not extremely common between traditional lending organizations and borrowers today. This is mainly because they’re difficult to prove. Oral contracts are more likely to exist between family members or friends.
Written contracts record the details of a lending agreement, including how much was borrowed and when, the purpose of the loan, how much interest is charged, when and how payments should be made and other terms. Both parties involved in the contract—the borrower and the lender—sign the document to validate it and make it binding.
Written contracts are obviously easier to prove than oral contracts. Vehicle loans are written contracts. Medical debt or payments for services that you agreed to in writing are also written contracts.
Promissory notes are also written, but they might be less detailed than written contracts. In addition, they only need to be signed by the borrower to be enforceable. When you take out a mortgage or student loan, you generally sign a promissory note.
Typically, these are revolving accounts such as credit cards or lines of credit. Open-ended accounts are those that remain open for an undetermined length of time as long as you are making regular and agreed-upon payments. You can also carry a balance on these accounts as long as minimum payments are regularly made.
Statutes of Limitations by State
This guide to statutes of limitations on debt collection by state is provided for informational purposes only. Debt laws change from time to time, and you should always check with a legal professional or your state Attorney General’s office for current information.
|State||Oral Agreements||Written Contracts||Promissory Notes||Open-Ended Accounts|
|Alabama||6 years||6 years||6 years||3 years|
|Alaska||3 years||3 years||3 years||3 years|
|Arizona||3 years||6 years||6 years||3 years|
|Arkansas||3 years||5 years||5 years||5 years|
|California||2 years||4 years||4 years||4 years|
|Colorado||3 years||6 years||3 years||3 years|
|Connecticut||3 years||6 years||6 years||3 years|
|Delaware||3 years||3 years||3 years||3 years|
|Florida||4 years||5 years||4 years||4 years|
|Georgia||4 years||6 years||4 years||4 years|
|Hawaii||6 years||6 years||6 years||6 years|
|Idaho||4 years||5 years||5 years||4 years|
|Illinois||5 years||10 years||10 years||5 years|
|Indiana||6 years||10 years||6 years||6 years|
|Iowa||5 years||10 years||10 years||5 years|
|Kansas||3 years||5 years||5 years||5 years|
|Kentucky||5 years||10 years||10 years||5 years|
|Louisiana||10 years||10 years||10 years||3 years|
|Maine||6 years||6 years||20 years||6 years|
|Maryland||3 years||3 years||12 years||3 years|
|Massachusetts||6 years||6 years||6 years||6 years|
|Michigan||6 years||6 years||6 years||6 years|
|Minnesota||6 years||6 years||6 years||6 years|
|Mississippi||3 years||6 years||3 years||3 years|
|Missouri||5 years||10 years||3 years||5 years|
|Montana||5 years||8 years||5 years||5 years|
|Nebraska||4 years||5 years||5 years||4 years|
|Nevada||4 years||6 years||3 years||4 years|
|New Hampshire||3 years||3 years||6 years||3 years|
|New Jersey||6 years||6 years||6 years||6 years|
|New Mexico||4 years||6 years||4 years||4 years|
|New York||6 years||6 years||6 years||6 years|
|North Carolina||3 years||3 years||3 years||3 years|
|North Dakota||6 years||6 years||6 years||6 years|
|Ohio||6 years||8 years||6 years||6 years|
|Oklahoma||3 years||5 years||6 years||5 years|
|Oregon||6 years||6 years||6 years||6 years|
|Pennsylvania||4 years||4 years||4 years||4 years|
|Rhode Island||10 years||10 years||10 years||10 years|
|South Carolina||3 years||3 years||3 years||3 years|
|South Dakota||6 years||6 years||6 years||6 years|
|Tennessee||6 years||6 years||6 years||6 years|
|Texas||4 years||4 years||4 years||4 years|
|Utah||4 years||6 years||4 years||4 years|
|Vermont||6 years||6 years||14 years||6 years|
|Virginia||3 years||5 years||6 years||3 years|
|Washington||3 years||6 years||6 years||6 years|
|West Virginia||5 years||10 years||6 years||5 years|
|Wisconsin||6 years||6 years||10 years||6 years|
|Wyoming||8 years||10 years||10 years||6 years|
When Does the Statute of Limitations Clock Start?
According to the Federal Trade Commission, the statute of limitations clock starts as soon as you fail to make an agreed-upon payment. However, you can cause the statute of limitations clock to be reset in some cases by making a payment on the debt or agreeing to make such payments in response to a debt collector contacting you.
Before you make any promises or make a payment on old debt, it’s important to ensure you understand your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act as well as the statute of limitations on your debt.
Delinquent Debt and Your Credit Report
In most cases, negative items such as delinquent accounts or unpaid collections will fall off your credit report after seven years. That’s seven years from the date that the account first became delinquent.
As you can see from the table above, many states’ statutes of limitations are below seven years. That means that your credit could reflect an account that is past the date for legal collection methods. If you legitimately owe the debt in question, your choices include:
- Pay the debt off to have it show up as paid—which can be better in the eyes of potential creditors;
- Try to negotiate with the creditor, potentially for a pay for delete or a settlement that lets you pay less than you owe to have the account marked paid in full; or
- Waiting for the item to fall off your credit report.
Talk to a Professional If You Have Questions
If a collection agency contacts you about a debt after the statute of limitations has passed, they typically have no legal standing to sue to collect the debt. That doesn’t mean they may not try to collect, and if you’re dealing with an aggressive creditor or aren’t sure how the law impacts your debt, you may want to reach out to a professional. Additionally, if a collection agency is reporting very old debts to the credit bureaus, you might be able to dispute the information to improve your credit profile. Contact Lexington Law to find out more about credit repair and how to ensure the accuracy of your credit report.
Reviewed by Kenton Arbon, an Associate Attorney at Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.
Kenton Arbon is an Associate Attorney in the Arizona office. Mr. Arbon was born in Bakersfield, California, and grew up in the Northwest. He earned his B.A. in Business Administration, Human Resources Management, while working as an Oregon State Trooper. His interest in the law lead him to relocate to Arizona, attend law school, and graduate from Arizona State College of Law in 2017. Since graduating from law school, Mr. Arbon has worked in multiple compliance domains including anti-money laundering, Medicare Part D, contracts, and debt negotiation. Mr. Arbon is licensed to practice law in Arizona. He is located in the Phoenix office.
Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.