The Statute of Limitations and Your Debt

Creditors can't continue to try to collect old debt forever. Learn about the time limits for collecting debt.

If you have an old debt, your creditor cannot try to collect it forever. State laws limit the period of time it has to sue you to recover amount owed -- this is called the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations varies depending on the type of debt and the state. Learn about the statute of limitations and when it applies to different types of debts.

Determine the Type of Debt

Most states have different statute of limitations for different types of debt. Determine if your debt comes from:

  • a written contract
  • an oral contract
  • a promissory note (a written promise to pay money to somebody)
  • an open-end credit account (meaning you can use the account repeatedly, like a credit card), or
  • a closed-end credit account (meaning it involved a single purchase for which you pay in installments over time, like a mortgage or car loan).

Find the Applicable Statute of Limitations

State law determines the statute of limitations for various debts. You'll have to consult with a local attorney, or do some legal research yourself to find the applicable statute of limitations. To learn how to research your state's laws, go to Nolo's  Legal Research  area.

Or, check out Nolo's Chart: Statutes of Limitations in All 50 States, for a list of the limitation periods for common types of debt.

When Does the Clock Start Ticking?

The statute of limitations period begins when the debt first became due. For open-end accounts, this is when the first payment was due.

Be Careful Not to Reset the Clock

Acknowledging that you owe the debt, or making partial payments towards the old debt might "revive" the debt, meaning that the statute of limitations period starts over. A new promise to pay might also revive the debt. In some states the promise must be in writing in order to reset the statute of limitations; in others an oral promise is enough. So be careful what you say when talking to collectors.

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