Statute of Limitations on Debt: State by State Guide

Statute of Limitations on Debt: State by State Guide

The legal obligation of debt doesn’t last forever. A statute of limitations exists on all debts and once this passes then the lender can no longer sue the borrower. This rule differs from state to state, however, and can span anywhere from 3 years to 15 years.

What is the Statute of Limitations on Debt?

A debtor can still contact you when the statute of limitations has passed. However, after this it becomes something known as a time-barred debt, which means they can’t (or shouldn’t be able to) sue you. The lender/agency may still try to file a case, however, and they may also request that you make at least a partial payment, although doing so could make the situation worse.

What Happens to a Debt That’s Passed its Statute of Limitations?

A borrower still has a moral obligation to repay a time-barred debt, but not a legal one. Acknowledgment of the debt can actually cause problems for the borrower and if they begin repayments they may be required to clear the debt in full.

There is an entire industry devoted entirely to collecting time-barred debts. Collection agencies may use deceptive techniques to collect a debt that has passed its statute of limitations. They buy old debt from the original creditor, often paying just a couple cents on the dollar, and then they contact the borrower to collect. If they fail to collect the debt, they haven’t lost much. If they do, they make a sizeable profit. 

When a collections agency contacts you, simply request written verification of the debt and then check the statute of limitations in your state. This will tell you whether or not you are legally obligated.

If not, you can dispute it. You can also choose to pay it, but there’s very little reason to do so. It will impact your credit score and remain on your credit report for 7 years, but if the statute of limitations has passed there’s a good chance it’s already fallen off your credit report. If not, just give it another couple of years and you’ll be in the clear.

It could be argued that you have a moral obligation to repay the debt, but it’s worth noting that the money will go to a third-party collections agency and not to your creditor. Consumer debt is written-off very quickly by major creditors, after which it’s sold to collections agencies. They are the ones your money will go to if you decide to pay your time barred debt.

Statute of Limitations by Debt Type

The statute of limitations period changes from debt to debt and state to state. We have listed these fixed periods below, but these are subject to change and you should check with your local laws to find the exact period.

The specific statutes of limitations govern the way the debt was signed into law, and not the type of debt itself. There are four different types of debt contract:

  • Open-Ended Accounts: An account that has a revolving line of credit. Credit card debt is the most common type of open-ended account.
  • Promissory Notes: An agreement to repay a debt at a specific rate and over a specific period. These debts include Student Loans.
  • Oral Agreements: There is nothing in writing and the contract was made orally.
  • Written Contracts: The contract was made in writing and signed by the borrower and the creditor. Written contracts include all details and terms and conditions. Medical debt is an example of a written contract debt.

Statute of Limitations on Credit Card Debt

Credit card debt is an unsecured debt, which means it is not secured against an asset, like a house or a car. Lenders can be aggressive in trying to claim these debts and have even been known to hassle the spouses of deceased debtors, but generally, they have very little power over the borrower when it comes to collecting.

When the statute of limitations passes, a collector’s power decreases even further.

  • Alabama: 3 Years
  • Alaska: 3 Years
  • Arizona: 6 Years
  • Arkansas: 5 Years
  • California: 4 Years
  • Colorado: 6 Years
  • Connecticut: 6 Years
  • Delaware: 3 Years
  • Florida: 5 Years
  • Georgia: 6 Years
  • Hawaii: 6 Years
  • Idaho: 5 Years
  • Illinois: 5 Years
  • Indiana: 6 Years
  • Iowa: 5 Years
  • Kansas: 3 Years
  • Kentucky: 5 or 15 Years
  • Louisiana: 3 Years
  • Maine: 6 Years
  • Maryland: 3 Years
  • Massachusetts: 6 Years
  • Michigan: 6 Years
  • Minnesota: 6 Years
  • Mississippi: 3 Years
  • Missouri: 5 Years
  • Montana: 8 Years
  • Nebraska: 4 Years
  • Nevada: 4 Years
  • New Hampshire: 3 Years
  • New Jersey: 6 Years
  • New Mexico: 4 Years
  • New York: 6 Years
  • North Carolina: 3 Years
  • North Dakota: 6 Years
  • Ohio: 6 Years
  • Oklahoma: 5 Years
  • Oregon: 6 Years
  • Pennsylvania: 4 Years
  • Rhode Island: 10 Years
  • South Carolina: 3 Years
  • South Dakota: 6 Years
  • Tennessee: 6 Years
  • Texas: 4 Years
  • Utah: 6 Years 
  • Vermont: 6 Years
  • Virginia: 3 Years
  • Washington: 6 Years
  • West Virginia: 10 Years
  • Wisconsin: 6 Years
  • Wyoming: 8 Years

Statute of Limitations on Medical Debt

Medical debt, like credit card debt is unsecured. As discussed in our guide to Medical Debt and your Credit Score, it’s also rare for payment information to be sent to credit reporting agencies unless an account has gone into collections. However, this debt and other written contracts generally have longer statute of limitations.

  • Alabama: 6 Years
  • Alaska: 3 Years
  • Arizona: 6 Years
  • Arkansas: 5 Years
  • California: 4 Years
  • Colorado: 6 Years
  • Connecticut: 6 Years
  • Delaware: 3 Years
  • Florida: 5 Years
  • Georgia: 6 Years
  • Hawaii: 6 Years
  • Idaho: 5 Years
  • Illinois: 10 Years
  • Indiana: 6 Years
  • Iowa: 10 Years
  • Kansas: 5 Years
  • Kentucky: 10 Years
  • Louisiana: 10 Years
  • Maine: 6 Years
  • Maryland: 3 Years
  • Massachusetts: 6 Years
  • Michigan: 6 Years
  • Minnesota: 6 Years
  • Mississippi: 3 Years
  • Missouri: 10 Years
  • Montana: 8 Years
  • Nebraska: 5 Years
  • Nevada: 6 Years
  • New Hampshire: 3 Years
  • New Jersey: 6 Years
  • New Mexico: 6 Years
  • New York: 6 Years
  • North Carolina: 3 Years
  • North Dakota: 6 Years
  • Ohio: 8 Years
  • Oklahoma: 5 Years
  • Oregon: 6 Years
  • Pennsylvania: 4 Years
  • Rhode Island: 10 Years
  • South Carolina: 3 Years
  • South Dakota: 6 Years
  • Tennessee: 6 Years
  • Texas: 4 Years
  • Utah: 6 Years
  • Vermont: 6 Years
  • Virginia: 5 Years
  • Washington: 6 Years
  • West Virginia: 10 Years
  • Wisconsin: 6 Years
  • Wyoming: 10 Years

Statute of Limitations on Student Loans

Student loan debt is much more manageable, especially where federal loans are concerned. There are consolidation options and refinancing options (see our guide to Student Loan Debt Consolidation), but there is still a statute of limitations dictating when it can be claimed by.

  • Alabama: 6 Years
  • Alaska: 3 Years
  • Arizona: 6 Years
  • Arkansas: 3 Years
  • California: 4 Years
  • Colorado: 6 Years
  • Connecticut: 6 Years
  • Delaware: 3 Years
  • Florida: 5 Years
  • Georgia: 6 Years
  • Hawaii: 6 Years
  • Idaho: 5 Years
  • Illinois: 10 Years
  • Indiana: 10 Years
  • Iowa: 5 Years
  • Kansas: 5 Years
  • Kentucky: 15 Years
  • Louisiana: 10 Years
  • Maine: 6 Years
  • Maryland: 6 Years
  • Massachusetts: 6 Years
  • Michigan: 6 Years
  • Minnesota: 6 Years
  • Mississippi: 3 Years
  • Missouri: 10 Years
  • Montana: 8 Years
  • Nebraska: 5 Years
  • Nevada: 3 Years
  • New Hampshire: 6 Years
  • New Jersey: 6 Years
  • New Mexico: 6 Years
  • New York: 6 Years
  • North Carolina: 5 Years
  • North Dakota: 6 Years
  • Ohio: 15 Years
  • Oklahoma: 5 Years
  • Oregon: 6 Years
  • Pennsylvania: 4 Years
  • Rhode Island: 10 Years
  • South Carolina: 3 Years
  • South Dakota: 6 Years
  • Tennessee: 6 Years
  • Texas: 4 Years
  • Utah: 6 Years
  • Vermont: 5 Years
  • Virginia: 6 Years
  • Washington: 6 Years
  • West Virginia: 6 Years
  • Wisconsin: 10 Years
  • Wyoming: 10 Years

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)

FDCPA is a law that restricts debt collectors and makes certain practices illegal, placing more control in the hands of borrowers and allowing them to take legal action if these rules are broke. You can acquaint yourself with this law to know what a collector can and can’t do, and if they break the law then you can sue them or file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The FDCPA law applies to debt collection agencies and has no bearing on an initial creditor, and it can apply to all forms of debt, including credit card debt. Generally speaking, the law governs the way they: 

  • Contact third parties: With the exception of a credit bureau, your attorney and the creditor they purchased the debt from.
  • Contact family: They can also contact your spouse and parents (for minors) but not if you specifically request that they stop contacting you and your loved ones.
  • Contact you: They need to contact you during a reasonable time and must disclose why they are getting in touch.
  • Harass: They are not allowed to threaten you or harass you, nor can they list your debt for sale to the general public.
  • Unfairly charge you: If they charge you interest fees or other fees, they may be breaking the law.
  • Deceive: Any false claims or representations are in conflict with the FDCPA law.

The FDCPA law is extensive and there are many exceptions. If you are being harassed by debt collectors then read this law for yourself and make sure you understand your rights.

Conclusion: Getting Help

Debt is a legal obligation as well as a moral one, but as soon as the statute of limitations passes then the ball is in your court and you can decide whether to repay or not. As discussed above, you have to consider how it impacts your credit report and credit score, but derogatory marks will disappear as well and stop being your concern.

If you have an old debt and are being harassed by a debt collector, read this guide in full, check with your local laws concerning the statute of limitations, and read through the FDCPA. Make sure you’re prepared—it could save you a substantial amount of money and hassle.