If you or a loved one are contacted by a creditor or debt collector asking about old, potentially time-barred debt, you need to know your legal optione best strategy to avoid accidentally attaching the debt to your name. Read on to learn what the debt statute of limitations is and whether disputing a debt restarts the statute of limitations for creditor lawsuits.
The statute of limitations for debt collection is the range of time during which a debt collector, such as a company or third-party creditor agency, can file a lawsuit against a borrower. For example, if a person fails to make payments toward their car loan, a creditor may file a lawsuit against the borrower. If the lawsuit is successful, the borrower may be forced to pay back the debt or sell/liquidate certain possessions if they do not possess the requisite funds.
Statutes of limitations usually begin when the debt is taken out initially, then are “updated” each time the debt is partially paid down or interacted with by the borrower. From a legal standpoint, the statute of limitations updates or restarts when a borrower takes an action indicating they are aware of or have ownership of the debt in some way.
States set their own debt statutes of limitations, typically within 3 to 6 years. However, debt statutes of limitations can also vary depending on whether the debt collection request was written, open-ended, promissory, or oral. Statutes of limitations may also vary depending on the type of debt you have.
For example, the statute of limitations for a written lawsuit regarding past-due debts in Arizona is five years, while it is four years in California and six years in Georgia. In any case, if a debt is older than the statute of limitations, the creditor may not necessarily file a successful lawsuit against a borrower.
Say that you have a debt that’s seven years old in the state of Florida. Because Florida’s statute of limitations for debt collection lawsuits is four or five years, any creditor attempting to sue you to recover the debt will be less likely to be successful. Since the lawsuit is outside the statute of limitations, you may use this fact as a legal defense if the matter goes to court.
Time-barred debt is any debt that is older than its statute of limitations. When debt becomes time-barred, creditors do not possess a legal right to sue the borrower over it.
Note that this does not mean that creditors must stop pursuing past-due debts. Creditors are still allowed to make negative reports to credit bureaus, ask borrowers to pay down the debt through phone calls, and perform other related actions.
Still, when a debt becomes time-barred, it becomes much harder for a creditor to recover the debt if the borrower (alleged or real) does not wish to pay it.
The purpose of time-barred debt is to prevent creditors from finding or faking old debt records for individuals, then collecting income from people who do not actually owe it. For instance, thanks to time-barred debt, a scammer cannot (legally) call the widow of a husband who has been dead for 20 years, asking about his "old debts" and threatening to sue her if she does not pay.
While the statute of limitations is an important defense to prevent you from having to pay old or discharged debts that were forgotten or debts that were never yours, it is not foolproof. Furthermore, the debt statute of limitations can restart in a variety of ways.
Generally, you revive or resurrect a debt whenever you acknowledge or interact with the debt account. For instance, you revive a debt and restart the statute of limitations when you:
Whatever you take any of these actions, the statute of limitations restarts back to zero. For instance, if you have a three-year-old debt and admit to a creditor that you need to start paying it soon, the statute of limitations restarts and is no longer three years into its limit.
In the worst cases, this can even attach debt to your name that you never really owed. If a creditor calls asking about a debt you never took out, but you say you’ll pay it eventually, you may be legally liable to do just that!
If a debtor comes to you demanding repayment for a debt that is not yours, or if you have some other reason to dispute a debt, you may wonder if the statute of limitations restarts if you challenge the claim.
If you challenge the debt in any way, the statute of limitations does not automatically restart. However, the way in which you challenge the debt may impact the statute of limitations.
To avoid restarting the statute of limitations for a debt while challenging it:
Restarting the statute of limitations is contingent on you acting in some way as though the debt is yours. If the debt is not yours, continue to repeat that it isn’t and that you won’t make any payments at all. Speak to a legal representative for your next steps and further advice.
As you can see, disputing or challenging a debt does not necessarily restart the statute of limitations for the debt in question. However, you must communicate very carefully with any creditor or debt collector to avoid accidentally taking ownership of the debt or saying something that could provide them with legal grounds to file a lawsuit against you.
Navigating these legal matters doesn’t have to be difficult or done alone. Our law firm can provide important assistance – contact us today for a free consultation and sound counsel.