State-by-State Guide to the Statute of Limitations on Debt

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In the United States, old debts are subject to a statute of limitations. The statute of limitations is a law that sets a specific time limit in which a creditor is allowed to legally sue you for repayment of the debt you owe. This statute of limitation period differs from state to state. This period also differs depending on the type of agreement you have with a creditor and the type of debt in question.

While the statute of limitations offers substantial protection for consumers against expensive lawsuits from their creditors, it is important to know that an expiration of the statute of limitations doesn’t guarantee that debt collectors will stop trying to get money from you.

If your debt still exists beyond the statute of limitations, it does not mean that you no longer owe the debt. Your creditors are still going to want their money but will not be able to file a lawsuit against you. If they do decide to take legal action, there is very little chance that they will be successful in their suit. This is thanks to the protection the statute of limitations provides.

4 Types of Legal Debt Agreements

Before reviewing the state-by-state guide, it’s vital to identify what type of legal agreement you are in. There are several different types of agreements when it comes to debt. The statute of limitations on your debt is dependent upon which type of agreement you have made with your debt collector or creditor.

1. Written Contract

This type of agreement is signed and in writing. It is a contract where you and your collection agency agree to specified loan repayment terms.

2. Oral Contract

This refers to any contract or agreement that is only verbal. While verbal contracts are legal, they are very difficult to prove in a court of law.

3. Promissory Agreement

A promissory agreement refers to instances that require you to write a promissory note to your creditor agreeing to pay back a debt. The agreement will usually include an interest rate and a time period in which you agree to handle the debt.

4. Open-Ended Agreement

This type of agreement pertains to revolving lines of credit. The most common example of an open-ended agreement is having a credit card account. Credit cards are always open-ended accounts because your line of credit remains open from month to month.

FAST FACT: According to Experian’s State of Credit report, the average credit card balance carried over from month to month in 2021 clocks in at $5,525. Believe it or not, this is less than the numbers reported in 2020.

Statute of Limitations by State

In the table below, you’re able to examine a list of all 50 states with their respective statute of limitations periods in years. The table also provides the number of years that correspond to the different types of legal debt agreements, i.e., written, oral, promissory, or open-ended agreements. This table is for informational purposes only and shouldn’t be taken as legal advice.

StateWrittenOralPromissory Open-ended
Alabama6 years6 years6 years3 years
Alaska3 years3 years3 years3 years
Arizona6 years3 years6 years3 years
Arkansas5 years3 years3 years3 years
California4 years2 years4 years4 years
Colorado6 years6 years6 years6 years
Connecticut6 years3 years6 years3 years
Delaware3 years3 years3 years4 years
D.C.3 years3 years3 years3 years
Florida5 years4 years5 years4 years
Georgia6 years4 years6 years6 years
Hawaii6 years6 years6 years6 years
Idaho5 years4 years5 years5 years
Illinois10 years5 years10 years5 years
Indiana10 years5 years10 years6 years
Iowa10 years5 years5 years5 years
Kansas5 years3 years5 years3 years
Kentucky10 years5 years15 years5 years
Louisiana10 years10 years10 years3 years
Maine6 years6 years6 years6 years
Maryland3 years3 years6 years3 years
Massachusetts6 years6 years6 years6 years
Michigan6 years6 years6 years6 years
Minnesota6 years6 years6 years6 years
Mississippi3 years3 years3 years3 years
Missouri10 years5 years10 years5 years
Montana8 years5 years8 years5 years
Nebraska5 years4 years5 years4 years
Nevada6 years4 years3 years4 years
New Hampshire3 years3 years6 years3 years
New Jersey6 years6 years6 years6 years
New Mexico6 years4 years6 years4 years
New York6 years6 years6 years6 years
North Carolina3 years3 years5 years3 years
North Dakota6 years6 years6 years6 years
Ohio8 years6 years15 years6 years
Oklahoma5 years3 years5 years3 years
Oregon6 years6 years6 years6 years
Pennsylvania4 years4 years4 years4 years
Rhode Island10 years10 years10 years10 years
South Carolina3 years3 years3 years3 years
South Dakota6 years6 years6 years6 years
Tennessee6 years6 years6 years6 years
Texas4 years4 years4 years4 years
Utah6 years4 years6 years4 years
Vermont6 years6 years5 years3 years
Virginia5 years3 years6 years3 years
Washington6 years3 years6 years3 years
West Virginia10 years5 years6 years5 years
Wisconsin6 years6 years10 years6 years
Wyoming10 years8 years10 years8 years

Tips on Using the Statute of Limitations to Your Advantage

If you’ve found yourself in a situation where you’re faced with trying to get debt collection agencies off your back, it is critical to understand that the statute of limitations can protect you from any potential lawsuits from them. Here are some tips on how to use the statute of limitations to your advantage.

Tip #1: Do not pay more than you need to on old debts.

Each day, consumers pay more money on old debt than is necessary. If the statute of limitations has expired on one of your old debts, you may want to consider other options before prioritizing that debt.

It can be tempting to bend over backward to pay off these debts because having these accounts shown as open on your credit report can significantly impact your credit score. However, you have options that may benefit you in the long run.

Tip #2: Use the statute of limitations as leverage to negotiate a lower amount.

If a collection agency is harassing you over a debt that has expired, it can give you tremendous leverage in how you pay back that debt.  By using the statute of limitations to your advantage, you can negotiate a lower balance.

This is because the statute of limitations protects you against any lawsuits that could come from the debt collection agency. Being protected against any legal action from the collection agency can give you more time to pay back the debt without having to pay the full amount. By requesting a pay-for-delete agreement, you can negotiate a lower balance.

If the agreed-upon balance is paid off, the collection agency will be required to delete any negative information from your credit report. This is a win-win situation for all parties involved.

With all of this in mind, it seems undeniable that the statute of limitations on an old debt can greatly assist you when it comes to paying off your debt collection agencies.


When Does the Statute of Limitations Clock Start Ticking?

The start date of the statute of limitations on an old debt can sometimes be debated among legal experts. Some believe that it officially begins the first time you fail to make a payment on an account. Others believe that the statute of limitations doesn’t start until a credit card company or debt collection agency sends you written notice demanding the delinquent payments to be paid in full.

These considerations will largely depend on the agreement in place when the account was opened. Once you know what type of agreement you are in and are able to go over the contract put in place, you can determine when your statute of limitations has begun. Here’s a breakdown of the two possibilities:

1. The Date of First Missed Payment or Delinquency

When you fail to pay your bills, creditors have what is called a “cause of action” if it falls within the specified statute of limitations period. In the majority of states, the statute of limitations begins when causes of action begin to accumulate.

This is usually characterized by a consumer not paying their bill and accumulating late or missed payments. During any time that falls within the statute of limitation, the creditor or debt collection agency has the right to sue for the amount that is owed to them.

2. The Date of First Written Notice

Some credit agreements include an acceleration clause. This clause needs to be invoked before a creditor can take legal action. The acceleration clause is typically activated when a creditor sends you a written notice demanding a balance to be paid in full by a certain date.

This type of action can be considered a definite start date of the statute of limitations. With that being said, some consider the statute of limitations to begin on the date the first payment was missed, but this is subject to interpretation depending on the type of agreement.

Calculating When the Statute of Limitations Has Expired

If you want to figure out when the statute of limitations on a certain debt has expired, you should first look at your agreement with the creditor or debt collector to find out when the statute of limitations begins. This can either be the date of your first missed payment or the demand letter you received from your creditor. After you have a start date, follow these four simple steps:

Step 1: Calculate the number of years that have passed since the first missed payment or written notice.

Step 2: Determine what type of debt you’re working with (i.e. written, oral, promissory, or open-ended).

Step 3: Refer to the state-by-state guide to determine how many years the statute of limitations is in your state.

Step 4: Add the number of years from the guide to your start date.

Here’s an example:

You stopped paying your MasterCard bill on June 15, 2020 and received a demand letter to pay the full amount six months later on December 15, 2020. According to the agreement with your creditor, the date you received that letter would mark the beginning of the statute of limitations.

To find out when it expires, look at the statute of limitations chart for your state under the open-ended agreements since credit card bills are always considered open-ended. If the period is six years, then the statute of limitations for this debt would expire on December 15, 2026. This would be considered the date where you would no longer have to worry about being sued by your creditor over the debt.


Does a Partial Payment Restart the Statute of Limitations?

If you’re looking into letting the statute of limitations on a particular debt run out to avoid the threat of legal action, making a partial payment could delay the statute of limitations taking effect on your collection account.

Depending on your state, partial payments could trigger a restart of the statute of limitations period. If you are getting pressure to pay off a debt from a creditor, try to keep your cool. Oftentimes debt collectors will try to intimidate you by claiming that you waived your right when you made a deal with a debt collection agency. Take these threats with a grain of salt.

You should always have a debt collector back their claims with written documentation providing evidence that the statute of limitations hasn’t expired. Some states are more lenient on allowing for partial payments to be made without resetting the clock on the statute of limitations. But in many cases, making a partial payment can restart the statute period and put you back at risk of being sued.

Takeaway

This article should give you a general idea of how long the statute of limitations on your debt should be in your state of residence. Again, this article has been written for information purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice. Don’t forget to double-check your local state guidelines for exact information regarding this subject.

While debt is typically viewed as money that must be paid back no matter what, the statute of limitations can save you from being legally obligated to pay a creditor after a certain amount of time has passed.

Dealing with collections agencies is never a pleasant experience, but if you take the knowledge gained from this article and apply it to your situation, you can rest assured knowing that you are offered certain protections under state law.

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