Do yourself a favor….
Review your State’s Statute of Limitations on how long you can be sued for an unpaid debt.
Your State’s Statute of Limitations governs the amount of time a creditor or collection agency can sue you for a debt.
Ater the statute of limitations expired, the original creditor or the collection agency cannot bring a lawsuit against you for the debt.
This does not mean a creditor or debt collector cannot attempt to collect the debt. It just means you cannot be taken to court or sued after the statute of limitations has expired.
Do not get the Statute of Limitations (SOL) confused with FCRA reporting rules and how long negative information will stay on your credit reports. Even though you cannot be sued for debt after the SOL has expired, the debt can still be on your credit report.
Under FCRA Rules, credit reporting agencies may report a negative debt up to seven years and bankruptcies, judgments and tax liens up to ten years.
First, understand this about accounts and agreements.
Oral Agreement: An oral agreement or contract, sometimes referred to as a “handshake contract” is a legally enforceable promise or set of promises, the oral agreement is a lot harder to prove in court. Money loaned between friends is often done without a written contract.
Written Contract: A written contract is an agreement to pay a loan according to the terms written in a printed document. The written contract is signed by the lender and borrower or borrowers and is legally enforceable in court. Written contracts are much easier to prove.
Promissory Note: A promissory note is a written contract that explicitly states scheduled payments, interest rate and consequences of defaulting. It is a specific promise to pay and spelled out in the promissory note. An example of a promissory note is a mortgage loan.
Open-Ended Account: An open-ended account is a revolving line of credit with varying balances. Credit cards are an example of open-ended accounts.
How to Calculate the Statute of Limitations
To calculate the statute of limitations start with the date you made your last payment (no other payments have been made on that account since then). For example:
- You made a payment on an account in June 10, 2004 and no further payments have been made. July 2004 becomes your first date of delinquency (DOFD).
- Let’s say you live in California where the statute of limitations is 4 years on “open-ended accounts.”
- Now add 4 years to the July 10, 2004.
- The statute of limitations runs July 10, 2008. The creditor or collection agency can no longer sue you for this debt.
What if you have moved to another State
If you incurred a debt in one state but moved to another state, the statute of limitations may not be the same for each state. In this case, the creditor or collection agency can choose to use the state with the longer statute.
Re-Starting the Statute of Limitations Date
The statute of limitations can be restarted, even if has expired, in some states simply by making a payment on the old debt, acknowledging you owe the debt or making a written promise to pay the debt. Your strongest weapon against a debt collector is an expired statute of limitations.
They are hoping you are not aware of this when they contact you about an expired debt. Do not get on the telephone with a collection agency, deal in written communication only. Always send the letter via certified mail, return receipt. Be sure to state in the letter “this is not an acknowledgment of the debt and the statute of limitations has expired!”
Credit Reporting Agencies and Negative Marks
According to the FCRA, negative marks can remain in your credit files for 7 years, after which time the negative mark and the related collection must be deleted. The length of time starts from the time you were late and no other payments were made and 180 days after the missed payment, the account was charged off. This becomes the FCRA Compliance Date. This date does not change, even if an account is sold or transferred to a collection agency. After 7 years, even if left unpaid, the negative account must be removed by the original creditor and whatever collection agency that may be currently reporting in your credit files.
Some collection agencies will fraudulently update their reporting status in order to keep the account active thereby extending the time the account appears on your report. If this occurs dispute it with the credit reporting agencies and they have to honor the original 7 year reporting date and both the debt collector and the credit bureau could be sued. Changing the FCRA Compliance Date is a serious violation.
State Statutes vs. Credit Reporting Agencies
Once the 7-year mark has been reached negative entries will drop off your credit report. This is not the same thing as your state’s statute of limitations on debt. Even though a debt may no longer legally appear on your credit reports after 7 years, you could still be sued for the debt if the statute of limitations for your debt in your state has not expired.
You may want to pay an old debt even if the statute of limitations has expired if it is still on your credit report. In this instance, use the expired statute of limitations to negotiate the debt and get a deletion.
Be careful when Contacting Old Creditors
Some states have a provision that extends the statute of limitations if you make a payment on an old debt or acknowledge that you owe the debt. A good faith effort to pay or settle an old debt may turn into a huge negative mark on your credit report which could potentially be reported for another seven years. Always negotiate deletions when paying old debts and get everything in writing.
Dealing with Collection Agencies
Collection agencies can be unethical in collecting a debt. If you decide to pay a collection agency, always negotiate a deletion and never pay what they are asking. Negotiate a reasonable settlement without ever acknowledging you owe the debt.
If you are dealing with the original creditor you can still negotiate a favorable settlement but you may not be able to negotiate a full deletion. Request the original creditor report the debt as “paid as agreed”. If the credit report says “settled” it’s often worse than the original negative mark and will not improve your credit scores.
What’s My State’s Statute of Limitations on Debt?
Each State has it’s own Statute of Limitations on Debt. Certain debts do not have a Statute of Limitations such as Student Loans, Income Taxes and Child Support. Keep in mind State Statutes can and do change so it is imperative to look at your State’s Statutes to ensure the accuracy of the Statute of Limitations.