What are Time-Barred Debts?
Under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a debt collector is someone who regularly collects debts owed to others. This includes collection agencies, lawyers who collect debts on a regular basis, and companies that buy unpaid debts and then try to collect them. The term 'debt collector' doesn't include original creditors who collect their own debts.
When is an old debt too old for a collector to sue?
Typically, state law determines how long the statute of limitations lasts. Usually, the clock starts ticking when you fail to make a payment; when it stops depends on two things: the type of debt and the law that applies either in the state where you live or the state specified in your credit contract. For example, the statute of limitations for credit card debt in a few states may be as long as 10 years, but most states impose a period of three to six years. To determine the statute of limitations on different kinds of debts under each state's law, check with an attorney.
The statute of limitations for a debt is usually different from the reporting period for a debt on your credit report. In general, negative information stays on your credit report for seven years.
What should I do if a debt collector calls about a time-barred debt?
Collectors are allowed to contact you about time-barred debts. They might tell you that the debt is time-barred and that they can't sue you if you don't pay.
If a collector doesn't tell you that a particular debt is time-barred — but you think that it might be — ask the collector if the debt is beyond the statute of limitations. If the collector answers your question, the law requires that his answer be truthful. Some collectors may decline to answer, however. Another question to ask a collector if you think that a debt might be time-barred is what their records show as the date of your last payment. This is important because it helps determine when the statute of limitations clock starts ticking. If a collector doesn't give you this information, send him a letter within 30 days of receiving a written notice of the debt. Explain that you are 'disputing' the debt and that you want to 'verify' it. The more information you give the collector about why you are disputing the debt, the better. Collectors must stop trying to collect until they give you verification. Keep a copy of your letter and the verification you receive.
It's against the law for a collector to sue you or threaten to sue you on a time-barred debt. If you think a collector has broken the law, file a complaint with the FTC and your state Attorney General, and consider talking to an attorney about bringing your own private action against the collector for violating the FDCPA. Call 718-674-1245 for legal assistance or message here.