Is your card debt ever too old to accumulate?

Legally, your old debt can follow you forever, even if you Can Not be sued for it
By Michelle Crouch  |   Published: August 21, 2017

Personal Finance WriterHer work appears regularly in Reader’s Digest, Parents, Real Simple and more.

You’ve ever got a telephone call from a debt collector asking about an old debt
You barely remember, then maybe you’ve wondered: Is debt ever too old to
simple answer is no. While debt collectors have a limited number of years
(called a statute of limitations) to sue you in court for repayment, there is
Nothing in the law to prevent them from continuing to try to
Can try to collect on old debt forever,” says Donald E. Petersen, a
Florida consumer protection attorney who defends credit card cases. “I’ve had
Consumers contact me who are getting calls about debt that’s 14, 15 or 16 years
old. The record so far is 21 years.”
Those cases are becoming more common, attorneys
Say, because lenders are increasingly selling off debts they have removed from
Their books for pennies on the dollar to third-party collection agencies. Those
Agencies try to collect even though the statute of limitations has run out.
Because the debt was cheap, they have nothing to lose.


Gather the facts and don’t admit the debt or agree to make payments right away.
Assess whether the debt has passed the statute of limitations.
Decide whether to dispute, repay or dismiss the debt.


Gather the facts and don’t admit the debt or agree to make payments right away.
Assess whether the debt has passed the statute of limitations.
Decide whether to dispute, pay off or ignore the debt.

“Once debt moves out of statute, it moves
Out into the secondary market and has sold and resold and resold again,” says
Eric Ridley, a consumer protection attorney in Ventura, California. “They eventually
Get bought from these bottom-dwelling collection agencies who sign up a slew of people
To make calls to find out what they can shake down.”
While collectors have the right to contact
You, they can’t harass you. They still must follow the laws outlined in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. That means they can’t
Lie about a debt, by way of instance, or threaten to sue you if they don’t have the law
On their side or the means to do so.
Here are three steps you should take —
And what you will need to know — if you’re getting calls about an old debt.
Step 1: Gather the factsIf you get a call about an old
Debt, don’t acknowledge that the debt is yours or agree to make any
Payments, even a partial one, until you have more information. If you do, you could accidentally reset the statute of limitations, so you might be sued for the debt after all.  
Instead, collect information from
asking questions, Ridley says. Ask for the name, address and telephone number of the
company contacting you. Ask what their records show as the original debt holder
And the date of the final payment. You can even ask if the debt is beyond the
statute of limitations.  
“I’ve had consumers contact me who are getting calls about debt that’s 14, 15 or 16 years old. The record so far is 21 years.”
Take notes during the conversation
And be cautious if the collector isn’t willing to share information about his company,
Petersen says: “There are all kinds of debt collection scams out there and
That’s a sure sign of one.”
Debt collectors are required to
Provide you with a written notice within five days after first contacting you. If you don’t get that letter or if you
Still need more info about the debt, you can send your own letter asking the company validate the debt. Under
The legislation, the company then must stop all communication until it provides you
With some basic information: the name of the original creditor, the amount owed
Along with the charge-off date.
Step 2: Is the debt past the statute of limitations?Use the information you collect to try
To figure out whether the debt is past the statute of limitations. The clock usually
Starts when the account goes into default. Debt That’s past the statute is
called time-barred debt.
Figuring out the statute of
Limitations can be tricky as it varies by state and for various kinds of
Debt, ranging from three years to as long as 15. In addition, card
Issuers occasionally argue in court that the law in their home state — not yours —
Is what ought to apply.
Don’t be afraid to call a consumer
Protection attorney or bankruptcy lawyer if you need assistance, says Jonathan
Ginsburg, an Atlanta bankruptcy lawyer. “Lawyers like me, we’ll talk to
anyone,” he says. “A lot of times you find enough in a 10-minute dialog
To empower you to deal with the situation yourself.”
Step 3: Decide on a course of actionIf the debt is out of statute, you’ll
Have to decide what you need to do. Here are your choices:
Dispute the debt. If you determine that the debt is not yours or
That you paid it off, write to the lender to say  you’re disputing
the debt. If you send the
letter within 30 days of the collector’s first contact with you, by law the
Collector has to stop calling you for payment while your dispute is being
Pay off
the debt. Though the collector can’t sue you to collect, you may want
To pay back the debt to get it out of your life once and for all. The collector may be
willing to settle for less than what you owe. Just make sure you get a signed
Form or letter before you make the
Payment stating that the entire debt has been paid and that the payment will
release you from any further obligation. Pay by check rather than
electronically, and keep a record of your payment.
Nothing about the debt. You might decide not to cover the debt since the
Collector can not legally force you to pay. If the collector tries to sue you, you will
Need to go to court with proof that the debt is too old to accumulate. To stop the
Phone calls, you can send a “cease communication” letter to the
collection agency demanding that it stop contacting you. Send your letter by certified mail and pay for
A “return receipt” so you’ll have proof it the letter was obtained. Keep in mind that if your debt is
Resold, you might be contacted again about exactly the same debt by a different
collection agency.
The calls don’t stop after you have sent a cease communication letter, if the
Collector is making threats or if you believe the collector has violated some other element of the Fair Debt Collection
Practices Act, the law gives
you the right to sue. Contact a consumer rights attorney to talk about
your case. (The National
Association of Consumer Advocates provides a lawyer look-up page on its
website). Debt collectors who break the rules face
A $1,000 penalty, plus they have to pay reasonable attorney fees.
See related: Don’t restart the clock on expired debts, What it means when a debt is written off,  How to tell if a debt is too old to accumulate

We promote an active and insightful conversation among our customers. Please help us keep our neighborhood respectful and civil. For your safety, do not disclose confidential or private information such as bank account numbers or social security numbers. Anything you post may be disclosed, published, transmitted or reused.
If you’re commenting with a Facebook account, your profile information might be displayed with your comment based upon your privacy settings. By leaving the ‘Post to Facebook’ box selected, your comment will be printed to your Facebook profile along with the space below.
The editorial content on isn’t sponsored by any bank or credit card issuer. The journalists in the editorial department are different from the company’s business operations. The comments posted below are not provided, reviewed or approved by any company mentioned in our editorial content. Additionally, any companies mentioned in the content do not assume responsibility to ensure that all posts and/or queries are answered.

Three latest Legal, regulatory, privacy issues tales:’s Newsletter

Did you like this story? Then sign up for’s weekly e-newsletter for the most recent news, advice, articles and tips. It’s FREE. Once a week you will get the top credit card industry news in your inbox. Sign up now!