A statute of limitations is the amount of time a person can take in order to take legal action on a certain event. When it comes to debt, the statute of limitations is the amount of time a creditor can take before asking the court to force you to pay for a debt. The court system doesn't keep track of the statute on your debt. Instead, it's your responsibility to prove the debt has passed its statute of limitations.
Debts that have passed the statute of limitations are known as time-barred debts. However, just because the debts have aged past the statute of limitations doesn't mean that you no longer owe money or that your credit rating cannot be impacted. It just means the creditor won't get a judgment against you—as long as you come to court prepared with proof that your debt is too old. Proof might include a personal check showing the last time you made a payment or your own records of communication that you've made about that debt.
Categories of Debt
Debts fall into one of four categories. It's important to know which type of debt you have because the time limits are different for each type. If you're in doubt, check with your attorney about which type of debt you have.
- Oral Agreements: These are debts that were made based on a verbal agreement to pay back the money, and there is nothing in writing.
- Written Contracts: All debts that come with a contract that was signed by you and the creditor falls in the category of a written contract—even if it was written on a napkin. However, a written contract must include the terms and conditions of the loan. For example, the amount of the loan and the monthly payment must be included. Medical debt is one kind of written contract.
- Promissory Notes: A promissory note is a written agreement to pay back a debt in certain payments, at a certain interest rate, and by a certain date and time. Home loans and student loans are two examples of promissory notes.
- Open-Ended Accounts: An account with a revolving balance you can repay and then borrow again is open-ended. Credit cards, in-store credit, and lines of credit are all examples of open-ended accounts. If you can only borrow the money on time, it is not an open-ended account.
The Statutes of Limitations for Each State
Each state has its own statute of limitations on debt, and they vary depending on the type of debt you have. Usually, it is between three and six years, but it can be as high as 10 or 15 years in some states. Before you respond to a debt collection, find out the debt statute of limitations for your state.
If the statute of limitations has passed, there may be less incentive for you to pay the debt. If the credit reporting time limit (a date independent of the statute of limitations) also has passed, you may be even less inclined to pay the debt.
These are the statutes of limitation, measured by years, in each state, as of June 2019.