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Statute of Limitations on Debt Collection by State (Best Guide)

George Simons | November 28, 2022

Use the statute of limitations on debt as your defense in a debt lawsuit and win.

Summary: The statute of limitations on debt sets a deadline for creditors and debt collectors to sue someone for said debt. The state in which you live, as well as the type of debt you owe, determines how many years can pass before your debt is no longer eligible for a lawsuit. Making a payment on a debt usually restarts the clock on the statute of limitations, so be sure to check your state’s laws before you give any money to a debt collector! If you’ve already been sued, use SoloSuit to fight the lawsuit and assert the statute of limitations properly.

Here's the thing: nothing lasts forever, not even debt. That's why we made this authoritative guide on the statute of limitations on debt collection in each state.

If you've had a debt hanging over your head for a few years, then there's a chance that it's time-barred by the statute of limitations. For those of you who aren't lawyers, what that means is that the debt might be too old for the collector to sue you.

Now that probably isn't the end of the story. There might still be a few hiccups, like the non-payment staying on your credit report for a few years, but the overarching principle is that you cannot be forced to pay if the debt is time-barred. And that is reason for celebration.

Ok, so that's the good news. The bad news is that things only get more complicated from here. The first thing to figure out is what the statute of limitations for debt looks like in your state.

Just like there are different ways to answer a Summons regarding debt collection in each of the 50 States, depending on the state you're in (excluding a state of confusion), there are different time limits for different kinds of debt.

So here's what I'm going to do in the rest of this article. First, I'm going to talk about those hiccups mentioned above, then I'm going to define the different kinds of debt, and third and finally I'm going to present you with a table that summarizes the statute of limitations on debt state-by-state for each of the kinds of debt that I will have previously defined.

One way to abbreviate statute of limitations is “SoL.” So, before we dive in, let me just say this: debt collectors are SoL when you invoke the SoL.”

And on that note, let's get started.

Be aware of these when it comes to applying the statute of limitations on time-barred debt

Let me start by just throwing a few ideas at you, and then we'll go into each one individually. First, the statute of limitations is not automatic - you have to affirmatively ask for it to be applied.

Second, credit reports (think Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) will still have record of your time-barred debt, even if it is uncollectible due to the statute of limitations.

Third, what if the statute of limitations has passed, but then, out of the goodness of your heart, you decide to pay the debt collector a small amount? From a purely legal standpoint, that's trouble right here in River City.

You need to affirmatively assert the statute of limitations

If the time required by the statute of limitations has passed, there still may be more to do. A debt collector could still try and sue you. If they do, don't brush off the court date and think the judge will argue the statute of limitations for you. Judges are busy, and known for listening to the arguments they hear, not to the ones they don't.

Use the expired statute of limitations as a defense in your Answer to the lawsuit.

The debt collector may dispute the date the statute of limitations started, or they may have forgotten about it. Be prepared to go to court and tell the judge that the statute of limitations has run and the clock already started ticking on this date.

As a side note, a debt collector who sues you after the statute of limitations has passed may be liable under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Just food for thought.

Invoking the statute of limitations could have an effect on your credit report

Picture this: you had a debt a few years ago - before ‘new year new you' showed up. The statute of limitations has since time-barred the debt, and you told the judge as much, which led to the court dismissing the case. You might think you're home free, but you might be wrong.

Credit agencies, the ones that give you a credit score, can still report your non-payment even if the statute of limitations has passed. Typically credit agencies can report on unpaid debt for 7 years regardless of what the statute of limitations is. This means it will show up on your credit report, and it will probably make it difficult for you to get a loan or line of credit, even though you don't have to pay the old debt!

So just be aware of that.

Additionally, debt collectors can still contact you about the debt because technically you still owe it. They just can't sue you for it.

Making a new payment on debt already time-barred by the statute of limitations could be problematic

Sometimes you might just get killed by kindness.

For whatever reason, you may find yourself inclined to make a payment on an old debt. I'm not saying don't be kind. What I'm saying is be thoughtful before you are kind.

If you make a payment on an old debt, it could restart the clock on the statute of limitations.

If you feel like you need to make a payment after the statute of limitations has already passed, for whatever reason, create an agreement beforehand that both you and the debt collector sign. You might have it say something about the new payments not restarting the old debt. Otherwise, it may restart the clock on the statute of limitations and you could be sued.

Honestly, this is a really tricky part and it has a lot of little nuances and loopholes. Every state has their own version of it. Which is why my best advice is to not pay anything without consulting a lawyer first.

The statute of limitations can apply to different kinds of debt

When it comes to money, nothing is ever simple. “Debt” can mean a lot of different things.

Let's walk through the categories your debt could fall into, so that you can know what the statute of limitations is for your particular debt in your particular state.

Here's a list of debt categories.

Oral debt and the statute of limitations

Oral debt is just what it sounds like: you agreed out loud and nothing was in writing.

Written debt and the statute of limitations

When considering written debt, think of contracts. Both parties are named, they each agreed to do something (for example, to buy and sell something). There could be terms, conditions, amounts, and interest rates. And honestly, it doesn't even matter how informal it is. A contract could be handwritten at a pub on a stained napkin.

Promissory debt and the statute of limitations

A promissory debt should have you picturing a mortgage. This is a written promise to pay money back according to a certain schedule, in certain increments, and with a certain interest rate.

Open debt and the statute of limitations

Open debts are revolving accounts. Something you can take from and pay back in an open-ended way. In-store credit offerings are a classic example of open debt.

Credit card debt and the statute of limitations

Mastercard, Visa, Discover, and American Express. You know the drill. These are the most common types of debt we help with at SoloSuit. That's because these are unsecured credit and are therefore more likely to be sued over.

Court judgements and the statute of limitations

If you had one of the above-mentioned kinds of debt, and someone took you to court and got a judgment, then there is likely a statute of limitations on the judgment debt itself.

Statute of limitations on debt by state—find your state’s law

And now, the moment you've been waiting for. The moment where you find out what happens in your state. It's a table full of numbers sorted by state and debt type. Is it possible for anything more beautiful to exist?

Find the statute of limitations on debt in your state below:

Statute of Limitations on Debt in All 50 States

State Oral Written Promissory Open Credit Card Judgments

Alabama

6

6 OR 10

6

6

3

20

Alaska

3

3

3

3

3

10

Arizona

3

6

6

3

6

4

Arkansas

3

5

3

3

5

10

California

2

4

4

4

4

10

Colorado

6

6

6

6

6

-

Connecticut

3

6

6

3

6

20

Delaware

3

3

3

4

3

5

District of Columbia

3

4

3

3

3

12

Florida

4

5

5

4

5

20

Georgia

4

6

6

6

6

5

Hawaii

6

6

6

6

6

10

Idaho

4

5

5

5

5

6

Illinois

5

10

10

5

5

20

Indiana

6

6

10

6

6

20

Iowa

5

10

5

5

5

10 OR 20

Kansas

3

5

5

3

3

-

Kentucky

5

10

15

5

5

15

Louisiana

10

10

10

3

3

10

Maine

6

6

6

6

6

20

Maryland

3

3

6

3

3

12

Massachusetts

6

6

6

6

6

6

Michigan

6

6

6

6

6

6 OR 10

Minnesota

6

6

6

6

6

10

Mississippi

3

3

3

3

3

7

Missouri

5

10

10

5

5

10

Montana

5

8

8

5

8

10

Nebraska

4

5

5

4

4

5

Nevada

4

6

3

4

4

6

New Hampshire

3

3

6

3

3

20

New Jersey

6

6

6

6

6

20

New Mexico

4

6

6

4

4

14

New York

6

6

6

6

6

20

North Carolina

3

3

5

3

3

10

North Dakota

6

6

6

6

6

10

Ohio

6

8

15

6

6

21

Oklahoma

3

5

5

3

5

3

Oregon

6

6

6

6

6

10

Pennsylvania

4

4

4

4

4

4

Rhode Island

10

10

10

10

10

20

South Carolina

3

3

3

3

3

10

South Dakota

6

6

6

6

6

10 OR 20

Tennessee

6

6

6

6

6

10

Texas

4

4

4

4

4

-

Utah

4

6

6

4

6

8

Vermont

6

6

5

3

6

6 OR 10

Virginia

3

5

6

3

3

10 OR 20

Washington

3

6

6

3

6

10

West Virginia

5

10

6

5

10

10

Wisconsin

6

6

10

6

6

6 OR 20

Wyoming

8

10

10

8

8

5


So before you give in to a debt collector's demands, make sure you consider whether the debt has been time-barred by your state's statute of limitations.

Note: State laws may change as new legislation is passed.

Now, let's consider an example.

Example: Timmy lives in Alabama. He accrued a credit card debt with Capital One in 2010 on a contract governed by Alabama law. In 2011 he stopped making payments on that debt. In 2015, Capital One sues Timmy for the debt. Since the last time he made a payment on the debt was in 2011, and the statute of limitations on credit card debt in Alabama is 3 years, and it is now 2015, the statute of limitations has expired. But here's the thing: if Timmy does nothing and doesn't respond to the lawsuit, he will still lose the case and have to pay the money. So, instead, Timmy uses SoloSuit to bring up the expiration of the statute of limitations as an affirmative defense and his case is dismissed. Happy day for Timmy.


The statute of limitations could be affected by a “choice of law” clause in your credit agreement.

One caveat.

With some types of debt, the governing law is different from where the debt was created. For instance, major credit card issuers specify which state jurisdiction is to be applied. Regardless of where you physically are, or where the card was issued, they might say that New York (or any other state) law governs.

So it's important to check your agreement and look for a “Choice of Law,” or “Jurisdiction/Governing law” clause. This will tell you which state's laws you will have to follow, and which court system you would be in.

(Read the SoloSuit FAQ to learn more about us)

Big Takeaways

In the words of Inigo Montoya from the Princess Bride: “There is too much, let me sum up.” So for those of you living that TL;DR life, let me rehash the big points:

  1. Debt can expire because of something called the “statute of limitations.”
  2. Debt will expire at different times in different states.
  3. Different kinds of debt will expire at different times.
  4. Not paying time-barred debt can still affect your credit score and report.
  5. The statute of limitation is usually calculated from the last activity on the account, which means that activity after the statute has run could restart the clock.
  6. You is smart, you is kind, you is important - and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

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