My debt is several years old. Can debt collectors still collect?

Answer: In most states, if the debt is yours, the amount is correct, and the debt collector is entitled to collect, the collector can continue to ask you to pay the debt. If you are sued, you may have a defense to the lawsuit due to the age of the debt.

In most states, the debt itself does not expire or disappear until you pay it. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, debts can appear on your credit report generally for seven years and in a few cases, longer than that.

Under state laws, if you are sued about a debt, and the debt is too old, you may have a defense to the lawsuit. These state laws are called “statutes of limitation.” Most statutes of limitations fall in the three-to-six year range, although in some jurisdictions they may extend for longer depending on the type of debt.

Statutes of limitation may vary depending on the:

  • Type of debt
  • State where you live
  • State law named in your credit agreement.

The statute of limitations may also be affected by terms in the contract with your creditor and, if you’ve moved, by laws in the state where you are sued. You may want to consult with a lawyer to learn how this period is calculated and when the period may have started with respect to your debt.

In some states, a partial payment on an old account may restart the time period during which you can be sued. Similarly, in some states, sending a written statement acknowledging that you owe an old debt may restart the time period during which you can be sued.

If a debt collector sues over a debt that has gone unpaid for longer than the statute of limitations period, you have a defense to the lawsuit. If you are sued, and you think the statute of limitations has passed, you may want to consult an attorney. It is a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practice Act for a debt collector to sue you or threaten to sue you if it knows the statute of limitations has passed.

The CFPB has prepared sample letters that a you could use to respond to a debt collector who is trying to collect a debt. The letters include tips on how to use them. The sample letters may help you to get information, including information about the age of the debt.  The letters may also help you set limits or stop any further communication, or exercise some of your rights. Always keep a copy of your letter for your records.

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