Statute of Limitations on Debt in California (2021)

George Simons

January 11, 2022

Summary: Are you past due on an old debt? Thinking about using the statute of limitations defense? Here's everything you need to know about the statute of limitations in California.

Creditors in California have only four years to sue debtors for most types of unpaid debts. However, it's important to understand a few exceptions to this period if you face a debt collection lawsuit in the state. Here's everything you need to know.

The California statute of limitations explained

California Statute of Limitations
on Debt

Debt Type

Deadline in Years

Written

4

Oral

2

On Account

4

Judgements

10


Source: Findlaw

The statute of limitation is the time limit that debt collectors have to sue a debtor for unpaid debts. The clock starts counting from the time you miss a payment and runs through to its expiry. However, some actions can stop and restart this clock. They include:

  • Making Payments to the Account. Making partial or full payments to an old debt account can restart its statute of limitation period even if the debt was a month away from being time-barred. Such a payment proves you acknowledge the responsibility for the debt.
  • Agreeing to a Repayment Plan. Some debt collectors may negotiate a flexible repayment plan with you, promising not to strain your finances. However, once you agree to the plan, the clock will automatically restart. Unless you're ready to commit to paying the debt, skipping payment will trigger collection efforts by the collector, and they'll have plenty of time to file a lawsuit against you.
  • Accepting a Settlement Offer. You're still liable for a debt after its statute of limitation expires. The only difference is that the debt collector can't sue you. However, the collector may continue requesting payments from you and offer to accept a lesser amount than what you owe. This is called a settlement offer, and accepting it can restart the debt's clock.
  • Making a New Charge on the Account. Making a new purchase or any charge on an old debt account can also revert the statute of limitations clock. That adds more debt to what you already owe and also renews the old debt.

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Statute of Limitations exceptions on debts in California

Generally, the statute of limitation for most consumer debts arising from written contracts in California expires after four years. This includes credit card debts, auto loans, personal loans, private student loans, and medical debts.

However, oral contracts have a two-year limit in The Golden State, as California is famously referred to.

Debts without the statute of limitation in the state include federal student loans and child support. The government can collect the remaining balances on these debts until they are cleared for as long as necessary.

Judgment liens enforced on a borrower's property can last for as long as 10 years, even if the ownership of the property changes. Additionally, if you're behind in paying your state taxes in California, the state tax agents can collect the owed balances for up to 20 years.

Use SoloSuit to respond to a debt collection lawsuit in 15 minutes.

Debt collection summons in California

A lawsuit is usually the last debt collection attempt by any creditor or debt collector. The creditor begins requesting payment as soon as your debt account starts accumulating balances. They may call and send you text messages or emails to remind you to pay the debt.

However, the creditor can only put up with all that for about 3 to 4 months before they decide to hand over your account to a debt collection agency. This decision saves them the time, money, and effort required during the collection exercise.

On the other hand, debt collection agencies have more time and resources to facilitate debt collection processes. They buy bad debts from creditors and then make profits by collecting as much as they can from debtors.

For this reason, debt collection agents work harder by utilizing several tactics to recoup the debt. For example, a debt collection agent may hire investigators to find your contact information even if you decide to keep a low profile for several years.

They may also try to negotiate repayment plans with you to convince you to clear the debt.

Debt collection practice in California is governed by the Federal Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) to protect you from bad collection habits involving harassment and abuse. For example, you have the right to stop a debt collector from contacting you if they constantly bother you with calls and texts, especially during odd hours, usually before 8 am and after 9 pm. However, you won't be able to stop them from filing a lawsuit before the statute of limitation on the debt expires.

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Responding to a debt collection lawsuit in California

Some collectors sue debtors for old debts hoping that they won't respond to the summons and complaints. In most cases, debt collectors may have no idea that the debt is time-barred, especially if the collection account has changed ownership severally. Along the way, the correct records for the debt may be lost, making it difficult to trace the original dates and amounts of the debt supposedly owed.

Whatever the case, if you fail to respond to the lawsuit, the court will automatically pass a default judgment against you.

To avoid the default judgment, follow these steps:

Confirm the deadline for filing your Answer. In California, you have either 30 or 40 days to respond to the debt complaint.

The 30-day deadline applies if the summons was served directly to you.

On the other hand, the 40-day deadline applies if the summons was mailed to you or delivered to any other person in your household.

Next, prepare your Answer document responding to every complaint in paragraphs corresponding to each paragraph on the summons and complaints. You'll also assert your defenses in this document.

Lastly, file your Answer with the relevant court and serve the plaintiff with a copy.

What is SoloSuit?

SoloSuit makes it easy to respond to a debt collection lawsuit.

How it works: SoloSuit is a step-by-step web-app that asks you all the necessary questions to complete your answer. Upon completion, you can either print the completed forms and mail in the hard copies to the courts or you can pay SoloSuit to file it for you and to have an attorney review the document.

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