Is There a Time Limit for Collecting Debt?

Close-up of cut pieces of credit card laying on top of a credit card statement
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Dealing with debt collectors can be a harrowing experience, especially if they hound you at home on weekends and holidays. You may deal with a debt collector at least once in your life, even if you have made every attempt to stay out of debt. So, you need to know your rights—and the rights of debt collectors.

As time passes, you might expect an unpaid debt to go away eventually. Unfortunately, debts don't just disappear because you ignore them. Your creditors may stop contacting you for payment after some time, but collection efforts can resume at any time. If a creditor or debt collector contacts you about an old debt, they're likely within their rights to do so.

Is There a Debt Collection Time Limit?

While there are laws that dictate how long debt collectors can take certain actions concerning your debts, there is no law that prevents debt collectors from continuing collection attempts.

If you haven’t paid a debt, the creditor can pursue you for the outstanding balance indefinitely unless you pay or settle the debt, have it discharged in bankruptcy, or the debt is canceled for some reason. Collection efforts can include calling or sending letters to get you to pay. The collector might list the debt on your credit report or even sue you for the balance.

That said, you can stop some collection efforts. You have the right to stop debt collectors from calling or sending letters, but you must make your request in writing. Send a written cease and desist letter requesting the collector to cease communications.

You'll have to send this cease and desist letter to each debt collector who handles the account. And, the letter only applies to third-party debt collectors, not the original creditor with whom you created the account.

Credit Reporting

In their collection attempts, debt collectors are allowed to report your debt to the credit bureaus, which will include the information in your credit report. Anyone who checks your credit report will be able to see the collection account.

Fortunately, the law limits the amount of time a negative account, like a debt collection, can be listed on your credit report. The credit bureau can only list a past due balance on your credit report for seven years, starting from the date of the delinquency. After that, the account should fall off your credit report, even if you haven't paid it.

You can remove collections that remain on your credit report after the credit reporting time limit by writing to the credit bureaus, citing the age of the account as the reason for your dispute.

Debt Lawsuits

In some cases, creditors or debt collectors can sue you for past due debts. After a certain amount of time, debt is no longer legally enforceable, and, if you can prove it, you can avoid a lawsuit judgment. This fact may be why debt collectors use threats and intimidation to collect money owed. The period that a debt is legally enforceable is the statute of limitations. Once this time limit has passed, you can use the expired statute of limitations to challenge the credit card issuer who takes you to court over the debt.

If you're served with a lawsuit summons (which you must by law respond to), you should consult with an attorney in your state to find out whether the statute of limitations can be used in your case.

Even after the statute of limitations has passed, creditors and collectors can continue other collection efforts, including reporting the debt to a credit bureau as long as the credit reporting time limit hasn't passed.

Article Sources

  1. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “My Debt is Several Years Old. Can Debt Collectors Still Collect?” Accessed Nov 30, 2019.

  2. Legal Information Institute. "15 U.S. Code § 1692c. Communication in Connection With Debt Collection." Accessed Nov. 30, 2019.

  3. Legal Information Institute. “15 U.S. Code § 1681c. Requirements Relating to Information Contained in Consumer Reports.” Accessed Nov. 30, 2019.

  4. Federal Trade Commission. "Time-Barred Debts." Accessed Nov. 30, 2019.