State Statutes of Limitation on Debt Collection:  How Long Does a Creditor or Debt Collector Have to Collect a Debt?

Are you being hounded by a debt collector for an old debt you thought was written off years ago?  If so, it is likely you are being contacted by a scavenger debt collector, which is a company that purchases older, mostly uncollectible debt for a tiny fraction of its value.  Scavenger debt collectors are notorious for using illegal and unethical methods to collect "time-barred" debt. 

You do not have to pay debt that is considered too old by your state.  Every state has laws governing the time in which a person or entity can file suit to collect a debt.  Click here for a table listing the states' laws.  Generally, a creditor or debt collector gives up his right to file suit to collect a debt after a period of six years from the time the debt was written off (or the date of last activity on your credit report), but various states allow anywhere from 2 to 15 years to collect delinquent debt.

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The purpose of these statutes of limitation is to bring some measure of fairness to the debtor so that he / she (1) will not have to worry about being sued for the rest of their lives; and (2) so that the debtor can properly defend himself with fresh evidence and witnesses, if any. 

This doesn't mean that a debt collector won't file suit against you after the statute of limitations has expired; however, you can appear in court and tell the judge that the debt is out of statute. 

If a debt collector contacts you regarding an old debt, do not admit that you owe the debt and do not agree to make any payments.  Simply tell them that the "statute of limitations has run on this debt and do not contact me again".  If they continue contacting you, send them a certified letter, return receipt requested, telling them not to contact you about the debt again. Remember -- DO NOT ADMIT THAT YOU OWE THE DEBT, DO NOT AGREE TO PAY THE DEBT, AND DO NOT AGREE TO SEND ANY MONEY TO THEM.  If you do, then the statute of limitations might start running all over again, giving them the legal right to sue you.
The table below lists the number of years a creditor or debt collector has to collect debt in each of the 50 states and D.C.  The statute of limitation usually begins running on an unpaid debt from the date of last activity OR the date the delinquent account was written off as a bad debt by the original creditor. 

If you did not keep your records or you do not know what this date was order your credit report and check it out.  The original creditor should list the date the account was written off or the date of last activity on your credit report.  KEEP ALL OF YOUR ORIGINAL PAPERWORK REGARDING THIS DEBT FOREVER -- YOU MIGHT NEED IT 15 YEARS FROM NOW WHEN THE DEBT IS SOLD TO A SLEAZY DEBT COLLECTION AGENCY.

Click here for a table listing the statute of limitation on debt collection for each state.