Is There a Time Limit for Collecting Debt?

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As time passes, you might expect an unpaid debt to go away eventually. Unfortunately, debts don't just go away because you ignore them. Your creditors may stop contacting your for payment after a period of 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.

Is There a Debt Collection Time Limit?

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

If you haven’t paid a debt, the creditor can pursue indefinitely for the outstanding unless you settle the debt or have it discharged in bankruptcy. For example, a creditor or collector might call or send letters to get you to pay. The debt collector might even sue you or list the debt on your credit report if the time frames for these actions hasn't passed.

You can stop some collection efforts with third-party debt collectors. If you want to stop a collector from contacting you, e.g., calling and sending letters, you can send a written cease and desist letter requesting the collector to cease communications. Keep in mind; you'll have to this cease and desist letter to each debt collector who handles the account. The letter only applies to third-party debt collectors, not the original creditor with whom you created the account.

Collection After the Credit Reporting Time Limit

In their collection attempts, debt collectors are allowed to report your debt to the credit bureaus to include 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 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.

Other collection activity can continue even after a debt has fallen off your credit report.

Time Limit for Debt Lawsuits

In some cases, creditors or debt collectors can sue you for past due debts. After a certain amount of time, a debt is no longer legally enforceable and, if you can prove it, you can avoid a lawsuit judgment. The period of time 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 credit card issuer who takes you to court over the debt.

If you're served a lawsuit summons, 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 continue other collection efforts including reporting the debt to a credit bureau as long as the credit reporting time limit hasn't passed.