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How Long Can Creditors Keep Trying To Collect On A Debt?

Kristy Hernandez

Have you ever had a debt get tossed from one collector to another over what seems like ages? At some point, the cycle has to stop, right? Right! Debts have sort of an expiration date known as the statute of limitations that keeps debt collectors, and even the original creditor, from pursuing it indefinitely.

Two Time Limits for Debts: Credit Reporting and Statute of Limitations

A lot of people get the statute of limitations confused with the credit reporting time limit. While they are both time limits related to debt, they have different effects. The credit reporting time limit is the max amount of time credit bureaus can report delinquent debts on your credit report. For most types of accounts, it is seven years from the date of delinquency. However, bankruptcies are reported for 10 years and tax liens can be reported for up to 15 years. The credit reporting time limit is dictated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act and does not influence the statute of limitations for collecting a debt.

The statute of limitations for collecting a debt is the period of time that a creditor or collector can use the court to force you to pay for a debt. The time period starts on the account’s last date of activity and varies by state.

What’s My Statute of Limitations?

In California, the statute of limitations for debt is as follows:

  • Oral Contract: 2 years
  • Written Contract: 4 years
  • Promissory Note: 4 years
  • Open-ended Accounts: 4 years

Note that a credit card is usually considered to be an open account.

How to Use the Statute to Your Advantage?

The statute of limitations starts on the last date of activity on the account. Keep in mind this can be different from the date the account went past due. Your credit report will include the account’s last date of activity.

Even if the statute of limitations has expired, some debt collectors will continue to attempt to collect. They are hoping you don’t know about the statute of limitations and you’ll pay if they threaten you enough. In fact, if the statute of limitations is about to expire on debt you owe, don’t be surprised if you suddenly hear from a collection agency threatening to sue if you don’t pay immediately. A creditor can still file suit against you after the statute of limitations has expired; however, if a creditor or debt collector does file suit, you can ask the judge to dismiss the suit on the grounds that the statute of limitations has expired.

Be careful not to restart the statute of limitations. Anytime you take an action with an account, the statute of limitations is restarted. Making a payment, making a promise of payment, entering a payment agreement, or making a charge using the account can restart the statute of limitations on an account. When the clock restarts, it restarts at zero, no matter how much time had elapsed before the activity. If a debt collector contacts you regarding an old debt.

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.


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