Ask Stacy: Can a Debt Be Collected Forever?


What's Hot


2 Types of Black Marks Might Vanish From Your Credit File SoonBorrow

6 Ways the Obamacare Overhaul Might Impact Your WalletInsurance

7 Dumb and Costly Moves Homebuyers MakeBorrow

This Free Software Brings Old Laptops Back to LifeMore

Obamacare Replacement Plan Gets ‘F’ Rating from Consumer ReportsFamily

Beware These 12 Common Money MistakesCredit & Debt

21 Restaurants Offering Free Food Right NowSaving Money

17 Ways to Have More Fun for Less MoneySave

House Hunters: Beware of These 6 Mortgage MistakesBorrow

30 Household Uses for Baby OilSave

25 Ways to Spend Less on FoodMore

Nearly Half of Heart-Related Deaths Linked to These 10 Foods and IngredientsFamily

5 Surprising Benefits of Exercising Outdoors in WinterFamily

10 Ways to Save When You’re Making Minimum WageSave

Boost Your Credit Score Fast With These 7 MovesCredit & Debt

7 Painless Ways to Pay Off Your Mortgage Years EarlierBorrow

The Most Sinful City in the U.S. Is … (Hint: It’s Not Vegas)Family

The True Cost of Bad CreditCredit & Debt

10 Companies With the Best 401(k) PlansGrow

This Scam Now Tops ID Theft as the No. 2 Consumer ComplaintFamily

6 Stores With Awesome Reward ProgramsFamily

6 Ways to Save More at Lowe’s and The Home DepotSave

6 Healthful Treats for Your DogFamily

New Study Ranks the Best States in the U.S.Family

Thousands of Millionaires Moving to 1 Country — and Leaving AnotherGrow

Strapped for College Costs? How to Get the Most From FAFSABorrow

6 Overlooked Ways to Save at Chick-fil-AFamily

Ask Stacy: What’s the Fastest Way to Pay Off My Mortgage?Borrow

Where to Sell Your Stuff for Top DollarAround The House

8 Ways to Get a Good Price on a Shiny New AutoCars

Ask Stacy: How Do I Start Over?Credit & Debt

Secret Cell Plans: Savings Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint Don’t Want You to Know AboutFamily

30 Awesome Things to Do in RetirementCollege

14 Super Smart Ways to Save on TravelSave

The Rich Prefer Modest Cars — Should You Join Them?Cars

You’ll Soon Pay More to Shop at CostcoSave

10 Ways to Save When Your Teen Starts DrivingFamily

You have an old debt that's beyond the statute of limitations and long ago dropped off your credit history. Then one day you get a call from a debt collector insisting you pay it. Can they do that?

You probably know that if you owe money, the company you owe can do lots of things to try to collect it – like damaging your credit score, sending a collection agency after you, and suing you in court. But can they come after you for the rest of your life?

Nothing lasts forever. Nearly all transgressions in our society have a limit beyond which those doing the pursuing have to give it up. It’s called the “statute of limitations.” While there are a few crimes that don’t have one – murder comes to mind – debt does.  Here’s today’s question…

I have an old catalog debt that was placed into collections. This debt has finally been removed from my credit reports for a few years now from all three credit bureaus. Yet I have recently started getting letters again from a collection agency regarding this debt. To the best of my knowledge, this account is also past the Florida Statute of Limitations. What should I do about this? Is there a time frame when they can no longer harass you for payment?

If I start paying on it again, will it be placed back onto my credit report?  (I don’t want it placed back on my credit report. I’ve worked hard getting my credit back in good standings.) Should I pay it off? Or should I just ignore the situation?

Any advice you can offer would help me a lot. Thank you so much.

– Tammy in Florida

Here’s the deal, Tammy…

While there’s nothing barring a company from attempting to collect forever, their legal remedies do expire, and they’re defined by the laws in your state. To find the statute of limitations on debt, check out this chart from CreditInfoCenter.com, or this one from BCSalliance.com. In Florida, they have four years to collect a bad debt for “open accounts” – the category that includes credit card debt.

But just because they can’t win in court doesn’t mean they can’t sue. Nor does the statute of limitations prevent them from calling you, sending you letters, or otherwise trying to get you to pay. In fact, this practice is quite common. Collection agencies and law firms routinely buy old debts for pennies on the dollar and attempt to collect them. And they’re certainly not above saying or doing just about anything to get you back on the hook.

Tread carefully

The laws regarding debt collection are tricky. For example, there are states that allow otherwise legally noncollectable debts to be reinstated if the consumer makes a payment – or even acknowledges the debt.

Keep in mind that after the statute of limitations expires, unless the debt has been charged off or discharged in bankruptcy, you still owe the money. In other words, the statute of limitations doesn’t wipe out the debt, it just reduces the legal remedies available to collect it.  So if you find yourself in this situation, the smart move is to call a consumer attorney (you can find one at the National Association of Consumer Advocates’ website) and ask them what to do.

Do this before responding in any way to any collection notice or other contact from a collection agency. Otherwise, you might inadvertently make yourself liable for an old debt.

Your credit report

What shows up on your credit report is determined not by state but federal law. The credit reporting agencies (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) have to remove most negative information after seven years. Bankruptices can remain on your report for up to 10 years, and there are some other, less common debts, like unpaid taxes and child support, that can remain on your report indefinitely.

The seven-year period normally begins 180 days after the debt becomes delinquent – the day you first missed a payment. But if you start once again making payments, the debt could reappear.

Here’s what to do…

There are plenty of places to learn more. MSN’s Liz Pulliam Weston has written some great stuff on this topic: See Is There a Statute of Limitations on Debt? and Don’t Ignore That Debt Collector. But no matter how much you read and think you understand, I’d still advise at least talking to, if not hiring, an attorney. The more money at stake, the more important this becomes.

While I’m all for do-it-yourself solutions for everything from remodeling to making a will, this area is too much of a minefield to go it alone. It’s a complex topic, and reading simple stuff online probably won’t answer all your questions or completely put you at ease. Talking to someone who does this for a living, however, will.

Stacy Johnson

It's not the usual blah, blah, blah

I know... every site you visit wants you to subscribe to their newsletter. But our news and advice is actually worth reading! For 25 years, I've been making people richer without making their eyes glaze over. You'll be glad you did. I guarantee it!

💰🗣📰

Read Next: 10 Key Facts to Test Your Credit Card IQ

Check Out Our Hottest Deals!

We're always adding new deals and coupons that'll save you big bucks. See the deals to the right and hundreds more in our Deals section.

Click here to explore 2,016 more deals!