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Debt Collectors: Will You Be Sued Over Old Debt?

debt collector sue you

Debt Collectors: Will You Be Sued Over Old Debt?

Debt Collectors

It is no secret that unpaid debts can lead to a lot of problems – problems which have the ability to follow you around and make life miserable for many years. Yet although defaulted debts can haunt you for a long time in most cases these debts cannot haunt you forever. Consumer protection laws place strict time limits upon how long you can legally face consequences for most types of delinquent debt. Can you be sued over old debt, and after how long can a debt collector sue?

Credit Reporting Limitations

There are 2 separate statute of limitation clocks when it comes to unpaid debts. The first clock, outlined in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), regulates how long derogatory accounts (paid or unpaid) are allowed to remain on your credit reports. This clock varies based upon the specific type of account, but most derogatory accounts must be removed from your credit reports after around 7 years. Collection accounts, for example, are legally required by the FCRA to be removed from your credit reports after 7 years from the date of default on the original account. This does not affect how long you can be sued over old debt, though.

Credit Reporting Limitations

Time-Barred Debt

To be sued over old debt, the suing party must be within a time limit. However, the credit reporting time limits mentioned above have nothing to do with your debt collection time limits. Those time limits are governed by a second clock. This second statute of limitation clock, known as the debt collection clock, determines how long a creditor may be allowed to sue you in an attempt to collect your unpaid debt.

Once the debt collection clock has run out your debt becomes what is known as “time barred.” So can a debt collector sue after this? Of course until a debt is time barred your creditor (or the collection agency who now owns the debt) may have the right to file a lawsuit against you if you have failed to hold up your end of the agreement – an agreement which you likely signed in the form of a promissory note whenever you took out the debt initially.

Where credit reporting limitations are regulated under the FCRA on a federal level, the amount of time which must pass before a debt becomes time barred is regulated state by state. Because the time limit placed upon debt collection is determined by the states the amount of time you can potentially be sued can vary greatly. The time limit is based not upon where the collection agency or the original creditor is located, but rather upon the state in which you resided whenever you initially signed the promissory note for the debt.

Here is a chart to help you determine how long a debt collector legally can sue you.

State Where You Lived When Debt IncurredNumber of Years You Can Be Sued
SC, NH, NC, MS, MD, DE, District of Columbia3 Years Before Debt Becomes Time Barred
TX, PA, CA4 Years Before Debt Becomes Time Barred
FL, ID, NE, OK, RI, VA5 Years Before Debt Becomes Time Barred
WI, WA, VT, UT, TN, SD, OR, ND, NY, NM, NJ, NV, MN, MI, MA, ME, KS, HI, GA, CT, CO, AR, AZ, AK, AL6 Years Before Debt Becomes Time Barred
MT8 Years Before Debt Becomes Time Barred
WY, WV, MO, LA, IA, IN, IL10 Years Before Debt Becomes Time Barred
OH and KY15 Years Before Debt Becomes Time Barred

Protecting Yourself from being sued over old debt:

The best way to protect yourself from the possibility of being sued over old debt is of course to pay your credit obligations. However, that is often easier said than done. After all, if you are currently facing credit problems such as unpaid debts then chances are high you probably did not set out to purposely find yourself in this situation.

You may not be able to afford to simply pay off your debts at this point, especially if penalties, fees, and interest have continued to accrue. If you think the amount you are being charged is to high, believe you are being treated unfairly, or if you suspect your rights may have been violated remember that it may be a good idea to reach out to a professional for advice with your debts as well. Creditors, collection agencies, and even the credit bureaus do not always play by the rules and it may help to have an expert in your corner.

What can a debt collector do in the meantime? Check out our guide on the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) to learn more about debt collection practices and what they can and cannot do!

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Does It Take for a Company to Send You to Collections?

How fast an original creditor sends you to collections depends on a variety of factors, including your contract with the lender. Some contracts might include grace periods that keep the creditor from sending you to collections right away. However, outside of a contract or other special case, creditors may be able to send an account to collections the day after it becomes delinquent.

Can a Collection Agency Ruin My Credit?

Having a debt sent to a collection agency will hurt your credit score. However, if you keep your other credit accounts in good standing, they can help offset some of that negative impact over time.

Can a debt collector charge me extra fees?

A debt collector cannot charge you anything more than the debt that is owed.  While many debts collect interest as long as the balance is unpaid, the debt collector cannot add its own costs on unless it is part of your agreement with the original contract, or allowed by some other law. Otherwise, a debt collector cannot add on new amounts to your debt or any sort of administrative fees.

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