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Statutes of Limitations on Debts

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For some types of debts, a statute of limitations exists that protects debtors who have been delinquent on repaying a debt for a certain amount of time.

A statute of limitations does not absolve the debtor of responsibility for the debt, and does not prevent lawsuits and judgments. However, the statute of limitations may void any lawsuits made by the creditor, so long as objections are made in court. Simply ignoring a lawsuit may result in a judgment against the debtor.

Measuring the Statute of Limitations

Exactly when the statute of limitations goes into effect depends on the state laws and type of debt. The clock may start ticking when:

  • The debtor fails to make a timely payment
  • The lender sends a demand for payment in full

After one of these events, the debt may become time-barred from anywhere between 2 and 10 years. State laws control when the statute goes into effect, which is different for different categories of debt. The categories of debt include:

  • Oral: a verbal or "handshake" agreement with no written contract or terms.
  • Written: a written agreement signed by both parties.
  • Promissory: a type of written contract that details the installment, interest rate and other specifics, such as a mortgage.
  • Open-ended accounts: a revolving line of credit where the monthly amount due may change, such as a credit card.

Debt Statute of Limitations by State*

State Oral Written Promissory Open-ended Accounts
AL 6 6 6 3
AR 5 5 5 3
AK 6 6 3 3
AZ 3 6 6 3
CA 2 4 4 4
CO 6 6 6 3
CT 3 6 6 3
DE 3 3 3 4
DC 3 3 3 3
FL 4 5 5 4
GA 4 6 6 6
HI 6 6 6 6
IA 5 10 5 5
ID 4 5 5 4
IL 5 10 10 5
IN 6 10 10 6
KS 3 6 5 3
KY 5 15 15 5
LA 10 10 10 3
ME 6 6 6 6
MD 3 3 6 3
MA 6 6 6 6
MI 6 6 6 6
MN 6 6 6 6
MO 5 10 10 5
MS 3 3 3 3
MT 3 8 8 5
NC 3 3 5 3
ND 6 6 6 6
NE 4 5 5 4
NH 3 3 6 3
NJ 6 6 6 3
NM 4 6 6 4
NV 4 6 3 4
NY 6 6 6 6
OH 6 15 15 6
OK 3 5 5 3
OR 6 6 6 6
PA 4 4 4 4
RI 10 5 6 4
SC 3 3 3 3
SD 6 6 6 6
TN 6 6 6 6
TX 4 4 4 4
UT 4 6 6 4
VA 3 5 6 3
VT 6 6 5 3
WA 3 6 6 3
WI 6 6 10 6
WV 5 10 6 5
WY 8 10 10 8
*Data provided by the Federal Trade Commission. Last updated January 8, 2008.

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The above summary is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. Laws may vary according to your situation. For legal advice about statutes of limitations on debts, speak with a local bankruptcy lawyer.