Ask Laz: Debt collection: How long before you can’t be sued?
Betty says an old bank loan was turned over to debt collectors in 2010 and that they’re still coming after her.
“Can they sue me if I refuse to pay them anymore?” she asks.
The answer is no.
Each state has a statute of limitations for the period in which you can be sued for outstanding debt.
After that time has passed, a debt collector can still try to squeeze money out of you, but he or she can’t take you to court.
In California, the limit is four years for most debt. So if your debt dates back to 2010, Betty, you’re now out of the red zone. For oral contracts, the statute of limitations is two years.
Politely inform the collector that you’re aware the statute of limitations has expired. In most cases, the collector will close the book on your case.
This is important for all consumers to keep in mind. Debt collectors often count on people not knowing their rights, and they will keep insisting on some payment, even for a fraction of the total debt.
Remember, the collectors likely acquired the debt for pennies on the dollar. Any amount of money pulled from you represents profit. So they have a strong incentive to keep coming after you until they realize it’s a lost cause.
A state-by-state listing of statutes of limitations for debt can be found here.
One last thing: This isn’t a game of Beat the Clock. If you owe money, you have a responsibility to repay it.
Even if you can’t afford to cover the entire amount, ask the collector how much he or she would settle for. Fair is fair, after all.
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