Your State-by-State Guide to Statute of Limitations on Debt

 September 18, 2020
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Did you know that if some unpaid debt hits a certain age, debt collectors can no longer sue you for repayment? This is because of the statute of limitations on debt.

However, the terms of these laws vary, by state and by type of debt. For example, federal student loan debt is not covered by the statute of limitations, but there is a statute of limitations on private student loans.

Let’s look at some key topics about of the statute of limitations on debt, including details for every state of the U.S.:

What is the statute of limitations on debt?

The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) defines the statute of limitations on debt as “the limited period of time creditors or debt collectors have to file a lawsuit to recover a debt.”

If you’re delinquent on certain types of debt and the statute of limitations on that debt runs out, it’s considered time-barred debt. This means a judgment brought against you in court shouldn’t be upheld.

You should, however, defend yourself in court if a collector does try to sue you for that debt. If this happens, you can contact an attorney or legal aid lawyer in your state. You should be sure to have a hard copy of verification that your debt is indeed time-barred. You might also want to track your own debts by obtaining a free copy of your credit report, with information from all three credit bureaus, from Annualcreditreport.com.

3 ‘catches’ to the statute of limitations on debt

While the description above may seem pretty cut and dry, there are some key issues to know about — specifically:

1. Time-barred debt doesn’t mean you’ll be left alone by debt collectors
2. You may accidentally restart the clock
3. Federal student loans don’t fall under the statute of limitations on debt

1. Time-barred debt doesn’t mean you’ll be left alone by debt collectors

Although your debt might be covered under the statute of limitations, that doesn’t mean debt collectors have to stop contacting you — they’re just unlikely to be able to successfully sue you to collect. But that debt doesn’t go away just because the collector can’t sue you for it, and not paying it could still negatively affect your credit.

You may be able to get the debt collector to stop contacting you, at least for a while, by writing a letter asking them to stop. Before you make this move, ask the collector if they’re attempting to collect on time-barred debt, or what their records show as the date of your last payment. They are not required to answer the question, but if they do answer, they must be truthful.

If they choose not to answer, you may send a letter within 30 days of receiving a written notice of this debt. Write that you are disputing the debt and that you wish to verify it. After you ask for this information in the letter, collectors cannot continue to contact you until they give you the verification you requested. Make sure you keep a copy of the letter you sent, and any kind of answer or verification you receive.

2. You may accidentally restart the clock

It’s important to know that any time you make a payment on a past-due debt, you risk restarting the clock on the statute of limitations. This means that if you decide to make a partial payment on a debt, it may no longer be time-barred, even if it was before.

When the clock is restarted, the collector may again be able to sue you to collect the full amount of the debt — and that debt could have increased, due to interest and fees.

3. Federal student loans don’t fall under the statute of limitations on debt

As noted above, federal student loans don’t fall under the statute of limitations on debt. Private student loans, on the other hand, can be covered under the statute of limitations.

However, for some states, private student loans might take longer than other debt to become time-barred debt. That’s because you generally have to sign a promissory note to take out private student loans; depending on the state, those promissory notes could mean there is a longer time period before the statute of limitations on debt expires.

The difference between oral contracts, written contracts and open-ended accounts

Each state is different when it comes to what their statute of limitations on debt covers. There are also different kinds of debt to take note of.

Oral contracts are agreements made verbally, such as a verbal agreement between you and another person to borrow money and pay it back to them.

On the other hand, written contracts refer to agreements for which you sign paperwork. These are closed contracts. Loans generally fall under the category of written contracts. After all, a loan isn’t revolving debt. If you wanted more money on a loan, you couldn’t just increase the amount; you would have to take out another loan.

You often have to sign a promissory note to take out a loan. As noted previously, debt secured by a promissory note may take longer to hit the statute of limitations. Additionally, if written contracts are signed under seal, they can take longer to become time-barred debt.

Open-ended accounts refer to revolving debt you can pay down and use again. Credit cards and lines of credit generally fall under this category of debt.

State-by-state list of statute of limitations on debt collection

Below you will find the statute of limitations for all U.S. states. These include forms of debt such as credit card debt, medical debt, auto loan debt, promissory note debt and private student loan debt. Some of the information can also be found in the interactive map above.

Click below to jump to your state:

Alabama

Credit card debt: Three years
Medical debt: Six years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Six years
Private student loan debt: Six years
State tax debt: 10 years

Alaska

Credit card debt: Three years
Medical debt: Three years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Three years
Private student loan debt: Three years
State tax debt: Six years

Arizona

Credit card debt: Three years
Medical debt: Six years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Six years
Private student loan debt: Six years
State tax debt: 10 years

Arkansas

Credit card debt: Five years
Medical debt: Two years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Five years
Private student loan debt: Five years
State tax debt: 10 years

California

Credit card debt: Four years
Medical debt: Four years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Four years
Private student loan debt: Four years
State tax debt: 20 years

Colorado

Credit card debt: Six years
Medical debt: Six years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Six years
Private student loan debt: Six years
State tax debt: Six years

Connecticut

Credit card debt: Six years
Medical debt: Six years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Six years
Private student loan debt: Six years
State tax debt: 15 years

Delaware

Credit card debt: Three years
Medical debt: Six years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Six years
Private student loan debt: Six years
State tax debt: 20 years

Florida

Credit card debt: Five years
Medical debt: Five years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Five years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Five years
Private student loan debt: Five years
State tax debt: Generally five years

Georgia

Credit card debt: Four years
Medical debt: Four years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Six years
Private student loan debt: Six years
State tax debt: Seven years

Hawaii

Credit card debt: Six years
Medical debt: Six years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Six years
Private student loan debt: Six years
State tax debt: 15 years

Idaho

Credit card debt: Five years
Medical debt: Five years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Five years
Private student loan debt: Five years
State tax debt: 12 years

Illinois

Credit card debt: Five years
Medical debt: 10 years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): 10 years
Private student loan debt: 10 years
State tax debt: 20 years

Indiana

Credit card debt: Six years
Medical debt: Six years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Six years
Private student loan debt: Six years
State tax debt: 10 years (plus renewable 10-year lien)

Iowa

Credit card debt: Five years
Medical debt: Five years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: One year
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): 10 years
Private student loan debt: 10 years
State tax debt: 10 years (plus renewable 10-year lien)

Kansas

Credit card debt: Three years
Medical debt: Five years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Five years
Private student loan debt: Five years
State tax debt: 10 years (liens are renewable)

Kentucky

Credit card debt: Five years
Medical debt: 15 years (for contracts created after July 15, 2014; otherwise, 10 years)
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): 15 years (for contracts created after July 15, 2014; otherwise, 10 years)
Private student loan debt: 15 years (for contracts created after July 15, 2014; otherwise, 10 years)
State tax debt: 10 years (before a lien might be placed)

Louisiana

Credit card debt: Three years
Medical debt: Three years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Three years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Three years
Private student loan debt: Three years
State tax debt: No limit

Maine

Credit card debt: Six years
Medical debt: Six years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): 20 years
Private student loan debt: Six years
State tax debt: Six years (civil action; liens are renewable after 10 years)

Maryland

Credit card debt: Three years
Medical debt: Three years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): 12 years
Private student loan debt: Three years
State tax debt: Seven years

Massachusetts

Credit card debt: Six years
Medical debt: Six years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): 20 years
Private student loan debt: 20 years
State tax debt: 10 years

Michigan

Credit card debt: Six years
Medical debt: Six years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Six years
Private student loan debt: Six years
State tax debt: Six years

Minnesota

Credit card debt: Six years
Medical debt: Six years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Six years
Private student loan debt: Six years
State tax debt: Five years (to file a lien; lien is in place for 10 years)

Mississippi

Credit card debt: Three years
Medical debt: Three years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Six years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Three years
Private student loan debt: Three years
State tax debt: Seven years

Missouri

Credit card debt: Five years
Medical debt: 10 years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): 10 years
Private student loan debt: 10 years
State tax debt: Five years

Montana

Credit card debt: Five years
Medical debt: Eight years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Eight years
Private student loan debt: Eight years
State tax debt: 10 years

Nebraska

Credit card debt: Four years
Medical debt: Five years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Five years
Private student loan debt: Five years
State tax debt: Three years (There is a lien upon assessment. If a notice of lien is filed, lien shall remain in effect for 10 years from the time of filing.)

Nevada

Credit card debt: Four years
Medical debt: Six years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Six years
Private student loan debt: Six years
State tax debt: 10 years

New Hampshire

Credit card debt: Three years
Medical debt: Six years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): 20 years
Private student loan debt: Six years
State tax debt: Six years

New Jersey

Credit card debt: Six years
Medical debt: Six years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Six years
Private student loan debt: Six years
State tax debt: Six years

New Mexico

Credit card debt: Four years
Medical debt: Six years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Six years
Private student loan debt: Six years
State tax debt: 10 years

New York

Credit card debt: Six years
Medical debt: Six years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Six years
Private student loan debt: Six years
State tax debt: Six years

North Carolina

Credit card debt: Three years
Medical debt: Three years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): 10 years
Private student loan debt: Three years
State tax debt: 10 years

North Dakota

Credit card debt: Six years
Medical debt: Six years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): 10 years
Private student loan debt: Six years
State tax debt: Six years

Ohio

Credit card debt: Eight years
Medical debt: Eight years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Six years
Private student loan debt: Eight years
State tax debt: 7 years

Oklahoma

Credit card debt: Five years
Medical debt: Five years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Five years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Five years
Private student loan debt: Five years
State tax debt: 10 years

Oregon

Credit card debt: Six years
Medical debt: Six years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Six years
Private student loan debt: Six years
State tax debt: None

Pennsylvania

Credit card debt: Four years
Medical debt: Four years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Four years
Private student loan debt: Four years
State tax debt: None

Rhode Island

Credit card debt: 10 years
Medical debt: 10 years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): 10 years
Private student loan debt: 10 years
State tax debt: Three years, through writ (six years through a property lien)

South Carolina

Credit card debt: Three years
Medical debt: Three years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Six years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): 20 years
Private student loan debt: Three years
State tax debt: 10 years (for property liens)

South Dakota

Credit card debt: Six years
Medical debt: Six years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Six years
Private student loan debt: Six years
State tax debt: Three years (with some exceptions)

Tennessee

Credit card debt: Six years
Medical debt: Six years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Six years
Private student loan debt: Six years
State tax debt: Six years

Texas

Credit card debt: Four years
Medical debt: Four years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Four years
Private student loan debt: Four years
State tax debt: Three years

Utah

Credit card debt: Six years
Medical debt: Six years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Six years
Private student loan debt: Six years
State tax debt: Three years

Vermont

Credit card debt: Six years
Medical debt: Six years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): 14 years
Private student loan debt: Six years
State tax debt: Six years

Virginia

Credit card debt: Five years
Medical debt: Five years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Five years
Private student loan debt: Five years
State tax debt: Seven years

Washington

Credit card debt: Six years
Medical debt: Six years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Six years
Private student loan debt: Six years
State tax debt: Four years (for assessment)

West Virginia

Credit card debt: 10 years
Medical debt: 10 years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): 10 years
Private student loan debt: 10 years
State tax debt: Five years

Wisconsin

Credit card debt: Six years
Medical debt: Six years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Six years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): Six years
Private student loan debt: Six years
State tax debt: Six years

Wyoming

Credit card debt: Eight years
Medical debt: 10 years
Auto loan debt and retail installment sales contracts: Four years
Mortgage debt (promissory notes): 10 years
Private student loan debt: 10 years
State tax debt: Three years (sales tax)

What to do if you have an old debt

As noted above, just because you have time-barred debt, this doesn’t mean the debt is simply forgiven. Not paying this debt could still cause your credit to plummet.

Here are your three options for managing old debts:

  • Pay nothing on your debt: You can choose to pay nothing on the debt with the understanding that it can hurt your credit and that you may still be contacted by debt collectors, even if you can no longer be sued. Still, leaving this debt unpaid may mean you’ll have a harder time borrowing money in the future.
  • Make a partial debt payment: You can make a partial payment on the debt. However, as explained earlier in the article, this may “restart the clock” and a new statute of limitations period may begin — thus, you may be sued again for the debt.
  • Pay off your debt: If you want to repair your credit, you might consider paying off your debt in full — some debt collectors may even be willing to accept a lower total amount if you agree to pay the debt. But before you make any kind of payment, make sure you get a signed form from the collector stating that the debt is being settled and what amount you’ve agreed upon for payment. If you’re paying back an amount you and the collector have settled on, and you don’t have this document, it’s possible your payment may be treated as a partial payment, rather than a full one. Be sure to keep all written communications and records of payment related to your case.

How to avoid getting in over your head with debt

The best case scenario when it comes to debt is never getting in over your head in the first place. Of course, we all know that it can happen, and sometimes it’s through no fault of your own.

But you can start fresh when it comes to how you manage your new debts, no matter what you decide to do about your old ones. Start by creating a budget to ensure you don’t needlessly overspend. Don’t live above your means; if you can’t meet your basic expenses, consider getting a side hustle to make more cash.

You also might consider refinancing credit card or student loan debt to pay a lower rate. If you find yourself in a really tough situation, you might even consider contacting a debt counselor for help.

You can also check out our post about managing credit card and student loan debt.

Rebecca Stropoli contributed to this report.

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