The statute of limitations for debts is a rule that limits how long a creditor can sue you for payment of a debt.
All consumer debt, from credit card balances to medical bills, has a limit on the number of years creditors have the legal right to sue you for payment.
In general, the state law where you live sets the statute of limitations for specific debts, even if you incurred the debt elsewhere. In some states, the statute of limitations is for: credit card debt is three years. In others it’s up to 10.
The rules can vary greatly from state to state. In 22 states, for example, the statute of limitations on private student loans is six years old. However, some creditors add clauses to their agreements stating that the laws of a specific state will govern the contract regardless of where the customer lives.
Enter with caution if collection agencies haunt you, because making even one payment on an overdue debt can reset the clock and reinvigorate the creditor’s ability to sue you.
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How do you know if a debt has expired?
After the statute of limitations of debts has expired, the debt is considered “birthday‘ and you can’t be legally prosecuted – but collectors can still try.
However, your payment obligation remains in the books. That means future creditors will see, which can make it harder for you to get new lines of credit, and the ones you do get will likely have higher interest rates.
“Determining whether a debt is past its statute requires looking at what type of debt it is and what statutes apply,” said Colin Hector, a staff attorney at the Federal Trade Commission. “You’ll need some legal insight, so you may want to consult legal counsel, a lawyer, or the prosecutor’s office.”
These resources can help you find the statute of limitations for debts you are facing. The best option for you depends on your time and budget:
Get information from the collector
Collection agencies are required by law to provide you with information about the debt they are trying to collect. By asking for details, you can determine if a debt is past its statute of limitations.
Be careful when talking to collectors. Don’t promise to make a payment or give them payment information, such as a bank account, as they might consider that acceptance of the debt.
If you recognize the guilt as your own
Gather all the information you have on it, such as the amount, any payments you made, and the date of your last payment. This serves as your arsenal against the collection agencies.
Ask the collector two simple questions:
When was the date of the last payment?
If the collection agencies answer the first question, they are obliged by the… Fair Collection Practices Actpraktijk to answer it truthfully. However, they are under no obligation to answer it at all.
If the collector does not answer, ask for the date of the last payment. The statute of limitations begins when an account becomes overdue, usually 30 days after you miss a payment.
If you haven’t made any payments, the clock may have run out when you took out the debt or been marked overdue, depending on your state.
If a collection agency does not disclose this information, refer to the debt confirmation letter. A collector must send you this letter within five days of the first contact; if you haven’t received it within 10 days, please ask. This notice must include the amount due, the date of the last payment, the creditor and how information about the original creditor can be obtained.
If you don’t recognize the guilt
The debt collection industry is notorious for attempting to collect debts from the wrong people. As debts are sold by the original creditor to a third party and may be re-sold, a collection agency is likely to have less and less complete information. As a result, you may be contacted to pay a debt that does not belong to you at all.
Please refer to your own records and the validation letter to clarify any discrepancy. This will help you determine if you should dispute the debt.