Tick-tock goes the clock on old debts

Here’s a fun way to think about a tricky topic. You know the scene in Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland when the white rabbit hops off saying “I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date!”? Imagine the rabbit is a debt collector. The important date? It’s his last chance to legally make you pay money you owe. Why he’s late? The debt collector has run out of time to sue you for an old and unpaid, or time-barred, debt. For more, follow me down the rabbit hole...

What is a time-barred debt?
It’s a debt that’s too old for a debt collector to sue you to make you pay. Debt collectors have a limited number of years – called the statute of limitations – to sue you to collect on money you owe. Statutes of limitations vary by state, and by type of debt.

What can I do if a debt collector calls about an old debt?
Debt collectors can contact you about time-barred debts at any time. If you get a call from a debt collector, they might come right out and say they can’t take you to court to make you pay a time-barred debt. If a debt collector doesn’t tell you this, ask for the date when you made your most recent payment. Then, ask for a validation notice – a legally required letter detailing the amount owed, and the creditor name. Once you receive the notice, send a letter back within 30 days explaining that you are 'disputing' the debt and that you want to 'verify' it. Debt collectors must stop trying to collect until they give you verification.

What if I’m sued for an old debt?
Don’t ignore it. Defend your debt collection rights. Consider talking to an attorney in order to prove that the debt is time-barred, and have the lawsuit dismissed. To do this, you may be asked to provide a copy of the verification from the collector, or any information you have that shows the date of your last payment.

Do I have to pay a time-barred debt?
It’s up to you. Here’s what can happen:

  • Pay nothing. Not paying a debt may lower your credit rating. So check your free credit report first to see if a time-barred debt has been reported. If the debt appears on your credit report, this could make it harder and more expensive for you to get credit, insurance, or loans. Debts stay on your credit report for seven years after you stop paying. Although debt collectors can no longer sue you for a time-barred debt, it won’t make it go away. Debt collectors can keep contacting you to pay because you still owe the money. If you want them to stop, send a cease communications letter.
  • Partially pay. If you make, or promise to make, a debt payment, the statutes of limitations clock may reset and your debt will no longer be considered time-barred. A debt collector can then sue you for the full debt amount, plus interest and fees.
  • Pay it off. Before making a full payment, get a signed letter from the debt collector saying that your entire debt is being settled to release you from further obligations.

Debt or debt collection issues on your mind? Talk to us! Write your questions in the comments section below, and we will pick a few to answer. To report a scam, visit ftc.gov/complaint.

Blog Topics: 
Money & Credit


Good to know! finally between Capital one and portfolio recovery trying to collect on the account,knowing for the last 6 years knowing that the credit cards were stolen. capitol one made me add it to my year end tax and still tried to collect after that showing it was earned income, then they sold it to portfolio recovery & they were trying to collect on it as well. I finally send them a copy of what capitol one sent me to give to our accountant, I blacked out all pertinate private info like me social security and b date. a month later Capitol one and Portfolio still trying to collect on that account. I finally threaten them with writing to the state attorney general in their state and it stopped for awhile. I am waiting to see if they stopped thinking I forgot and will try again.
cannot trust those 2 companies..

Hi i really need help fixing my credit report.What is the best thing to do,I already paid off some creditors, but it stills looks the same on my credit score please help me

This FTC article about credit repair explains things you can do yourself to improve your credit.

Find a non profit certified credit counseling agency in your area. Go to the NFCC web site they have a list.

Would like to receive your information about your organization on a regular basis.

To stay informed about scams, subscribe to get FTC Scam Alerts and other news at ftc.gov/stay-connected, or go to our Scam Alerts page.

5/3 /bank want me to payed for scam tht to great expectation a dating service after l repotered to the banks many times and sokes to lots of people in the bank complainning of the scam in the internet of 358 complaints l discover and they refused tohear me out,p.p.s. l payedthis bank $6.00 a month to let know if someone takes large amounts of monies of my accounts they also refusd to abbly it.

You can report a problem with a bank to the agency that regulates banks in your state.

Your articles are wonderfully written. Many thanks for using your talent on these topics.

I filed bankruptcy and it was denied/dismissed. Why does this still appear on my credit report?

This article explains how to dispute errors on your credit reports. 

If you already told the credit reporting company that you dispute the error and you have a complaint about the credit reporting company, contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Thank for the information concerning old debts. Many times the debt is over 8 to 10 years old and no longer are on the credit reports. Thanks for the reminder.

I'm assuming this does not apply to student loans,child support or alimony payments?

The FTC enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The FDCPA covers personal, family, and household debts, including money you owe on a personal credit card account, an auto loan, a medical bill, and your mortgage. This blog post is about debts covered by the FDCPA.

To determine the statute of limitations on other kinds of debts, you can contact a legal aid lawyer or another attorney.

Great article. I shall pass it on.

The attorney it is fine, but when you are in a hardship situation how and where you are going to get the money to pay for an attorney ?

You can help yourself by learning about your debt collection rights.

State law determines how long the debt collector has to sue you. To determine the statute of limitations on different kinds of debts under state law, check with a legal aid lawyer, another attorney, or your State Attorney General's Office.This FTC article says more about time barred debt.

What do you do when the government is part of the issue Or problem. LAFH, has commited a crime and was very disrespectful to gay women until they stole my ideas then tortured me and still wil not give me my information..

Great information!

I have a huge complaint about my school loan. Metropolitan State College of Denver was more than happy to take federal and state school loan money from me until I defaulted in 1992. So I worked and got the money to pay cash for one class a semester until I completed the remaining 17 credit hours. But after completing just one more three credit class they refused to let me register for classes until I paid off my defaulted loan of $17,000 So basicly Metro closed the door to me on my degree. I started school 14 years out of high school with a wife and two kids but I wanted a better life for my family and I completed 142 credit hours with only 14 credits left for my BS in Engineering. Now for the last 22 years the department of Ending Education has seized my federal tax return and paid it to some blood sucker that paid pennies on the dollar for the debt and is then allowed to steal even more money out of my kids mouth by charging $600.00 to send three letters a year that says nothing about how much I have already paid but just that they expect more with interest. I asked the latest new thief for validation of debt so they send copied papers that have clearly legible the date, amount borrowed and my signature every thing else on the paper is blurred. But then something surprising happens I find a paper that,s dated 2002 and it says I owe a $1000 dollars. It looks just like the other papers but wait I could not have taken a loan for school because I was in default ten years ago and still have no end in site. I still have no idea how much I have given to these third party blood suckers for Metro to temp me to wast my life on a degree I would never see and an engineer I will never be. I was taught that a man should expect to get what he pays for and not be expected to pay a swindler. I have more but I have to help Trump save America from these pathetic pukes.

The FTC’ s Debt Collection article has information about your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).

Under the FDCPA, a debt collector may not engage in unfair practices when it tries to collect a debt. For example, it may not ttry to collect any interest, fee, or other charge on top of the amount you owe unless the contract that created your debt – or your state law – allows the charge.

You can report problems you have with a debt collector to your state Attorney General’s office, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. To report to the FTC go to ftc.gov/complaint.

Blog comments don't go into the law enforcement complaint database.

Hi federal trade commission how you doing I have a debt wish is a.loand school years ago but I was doing payments of $200 dollares for mouths they was asking me about my check pay and my income tax from 2013_2014 when I show the paper that they need my payment is up gonna be more if $800 I think I need some help please my phone number is

You may want to talk to a credit counselor. This FTC article about credit counselors will give you ideas about how to choose a credit counseling organization and the services it may have. You can also talk with your lender and see what repayment options it offers.

When I try to get a credit report from any of the agencies I am asked for a credit card #, and because I do not have a credit card I cannot get a credit report. What can I do to get a FREE credit report?

Get your free credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com. By federal law, you are entitled to one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting bureaus. Watch this FTC video to learn more.

I have had a mortgage for over 15 years that I always paid timely. However, my credit score is not that great b/c it does not reflect the 15-years I have paid my mortgage b/c my mortgage has been sold numerous times and the only record on my credit is the last two mortgage "servicers" which dates back only 5 years. Can the FTC make a law to require companies to report your debt. Also, I have a Discover account that I opened in 2001 and have always paid on-time, yet it is not on my credit report. I believe that if this Discover account and ALL my mortgage accounts dating back to 2000 were on my credit report, my credit score would be much higher. I believe that financial cos. may collude with each other to intentionally NOT report things that will increase your credit score b/c financial cos benefit from consumers with low credit scores by charging them higher interest rates.

You can contact your credit card company to ask about reporting your payment history. The FTC articles about Credit Scores and Disputing Errors on Credit Reports have more information for you.

My x wife got into debt more than she can handle .Then dealer ship sold her a brand new car knowingt with her income there was no way she could make the payments . Does she have any options of geting out of this cituation she has had and having medical issues she is on social security and my maintnace payments ? thanks !!!

You can contact your state and local consumer protection agencies if you're concerned about the car dealer's practices. You can talk with a credit counselor for help with finances. This FTC article has information about choosing a credit counselor and services they offer.

If a debt is charged off can the instution still hold you responsible for that debt? Or if it is turned over to a collector and then the company charged off anyway can the collection agency still collect.

You check with a legal aid lawyer, another attorney, or your State Attorney General's Office about this question. 

To find an attorney, you can check this state-by-state list from the American Bar Association or visit this site from the State Bar Associations. Look for the state bar association in your state.

I have a small debt on a cable TV box that is now obsolete.This has been on my credit report for more than ten years.The box was mistakenly moved and lost through more moves and storage.Is it legal to continue the debt on an obsolete item and remain on my credit report for over 10 yrs?

 In general, negative information stays on your credit report for seven years.  This FTC article about disputing errors on credit reports has more information.

I decided to go back to school, I had to borrow, $2500, and $1500 a total of $3,700.00. Which turned into 26,700.00. I believe that 425% percent interest is Racial Over Charging. Now I have not been able to obtain employment, and I've been told its because of my $26,700.00 dollar Student Loan Debt, this is a national problem the only difference is that if you are African American, your interest rate is higher, if you are white your student loans do not hinder them only the minority class/group of people. To me this is called "Racial Over Charging", Economic oppression, I need to make a song out of this problem, maybe I would be able to obtain a Record Deal?

For information about federal loans, contact

U.S. Department of Education
Federal Student Aid Information Center
800-4-FED-AID; www.StudentAid.gov

Federal Student Aid is an office of the U.S. Department of Education. It administers the federal student financial aid for education beyond high school and interacts with schools and  financial institutions to deliver services that help students plan and pay for college.

Notify the Federal Student Aid Ombudsman at 1-877-557-2575 if you have a complaint that you cannot resolve with your lender.

what about student loans in this regard?

The FTC enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The FDCPA covers personal, family, and household debts, including money you owe on a personal credit card account, an auto loan, a medical bill, and your mortgage. This blog post is about debts covered by the FDCPA.

To determine the statute of limitations on other kinds of debts, you can contact a legal aid lawyer or another attorney.

For information about federal education loans, contact:

U.S. Department of Education
Federal Student Aid Information Center
800-4-FED-AID; www.StudentAid.gov

Federal Student Aid is an office of the U.S. Department of Education. Notify the Federal Student Aid Ombudsman at 1-877-557-2575 if you have a complaint that you cannot resolve with your lender.

What if this post came too late, I did notify the FCC and the local police of calls coming to my friend asking for me. Then they called me, they said they were a collection company for Paypal but, I don't have a paypal. I have been receiving emails from Paypal for a very long time that I have notified them of. Some were very unprofessional, I had my identity stolen and have a police report and FTC report from the past. I have a new police report but, the new web site for the FTC is hard to navigate it timed out before I printed all 3 credit reports, it seems different than before or more difficult to navigate to update my file. I just want them to always know when an incident occurs. The idea of "once your identity is stolen your 10 times more likely" that is a huge understatement. Twitter and LinkedIn wont takedown a person impersonating me. I wont pay for funds I didn't borrow or merchandise I didn't buy so I guess they can sue me

If you're having trouble using identitytheft.gov to update your affidavit, you can call the FTC at 1-877-438-4338.

I've just had my wages garnished for a debt that I know nothing about. A notice about the debt and pending court case was sent to an address where my father lived but I have never lived in the home. It is also in a County that I have never lived. When I contacted the attorney to find out what this was about he told me they had already sent me doumentation and were not obligated to send anything further. I told him I have never lived at the address where the Court documents were served nor have I ever had a credit card from Citi Bank. He stated that the Sheriff's entry of service was signed by my step mother. I was unaware that this ever took place. A Default Judgement was given to the debt collector because I was not at court. How can you be charged with a credit card you never owned and judgement given by a court in a County you never lived in and now garnished 10 &1/2 years later?

You can contact the court clerk in the courthouse where the judgement was entered and get copies of documents about the matter. You may need a lawyer to help you. This FTC article talks about hiring a lawyer.

To find a lawyer, you can contact:

Is there a time limit on repayment of a payday loan? I get threatening calls from people claiming they are going to serve me court papers from a processor and that I need to provide an ID when they arrive. I have records of paying my loans in full. Why are they contacting me still?

If this is a legitimate debt collector, you can send a written request and ask for written proof of the debt. If you ask them in writing, the debt collector has to provide verification of the debt in writing. It's against the law for a debt collector to not give you proof.

The callers might be fake debt collectors. The article Fake Debt Collectors provides tips to help you handle calls like the one you describe.

A caller may be a fake debt collector if he:

  • is seeking payment on a debt for a loan you do not recognize;
  • refuses to give you a mailing address or phone number;
  • asks you for personal financial or sensitive information; or
  • exerts high pressure to try to scare you into paying, such as threatening to have you arrested or to report you to a law enforcement agency.

Cannot trust Paypal! They are insanely tenacious, > 7 years. Don't ever pay them. It's underregulated dirty money. Dispute all with an upstanding bank and make Paypal work to submit rebuttal documents.

I have a small medical bills showing on my credit report from 2007 and 2011. They are listed as closed. They were not paid. Will paying these now, get them off the credit report and will it have a positive effect or is it too late to do anything with these?

You may want to talk to a credit counselor about your credit report.

I was with a debt settlement named World Law who just recently filed Bankruptcy. I had several debts owed that they were supposedly settling, but since I have no proof of settlement I am now left with the same debt I started with 3 years ago and being harassed by debt collectors again. I just recently recent my first letter from Hunt & Henriques threatening to sue me for the money owed to Citibank. I do not want to do now. I have no idea which direction to go. Please help!

You check with a legal aid lawyer about the payments you already made, or talk to a credit counselor about your situation. If the company you were sending money to didn't give you receipts or records they were supposed to provide, you could report it to your State Attorney General's Office.

Paypal seized $176 balance in my account this morning, saying that I owed them $242 from a negative balance on a different account from 14 years ago that they "linked" to my current one. I disputed this ancient debt as soon as I got word about it.

I have a hard time accepting that they think the old debt can be verified- most people don't keep records back that far. Isn't this illegal? how can I fight them or prove it is a falsehood with no proof of anything? In the meantime they are keeping $176 of my money from my current account which was only opened a couple of years ago and not letting me have access to the funds in the meantime. They will not let me withdraw, transfer, pay or send the $ anywhere. They will only let me ad funds to the account.

Is there anything I can do about this? if the action is coming from paypal directly, it's not from a third party debt collector, so is the old debt still considered time-barred? In this case I don't actually owe them the old debt they are trying to collect. I was defrauded by another person.

A debt collector is someone who regularly collects debts owed to other people. Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the term 'debt collector' doesn't include original creditors who collect their own debts.

Did you sign a contract or agreement when you opened an account recently? That contract/ agreement may say what your rights are when you have a dispute with the business. You can contact the company that took your money and ask them to show you proof that they have a right to take your money. If you think the company isn't treating you fairly, you can contact its customer service department, or contact your state and local consumer protection agencies.

Please advise. I was under the impression that time-barred or statute of limitations does NOT apply to federal student loans? Thanks.

You can follow the link in the blog post to this FTC article about time-barred debts.

Often, state law determines how long the statute of limitations lasts. You could ask a legal aid lawyer, another attorney, or your State Attorney General's Office about the statute of limitations on different kinds of debts under each state's law.

If you want to know about federal student loans, go to the U.S. Department of Education site.

I recently received a letter stating i owe court fees for an infraction 24 years ago. i do believe i paid what i owed at the time however 2 decades later i have no proof. Are courts also held to the same FTC rules on statue of limitations,

This FTC article about time barred debts explains that collectors may not be able to sue you to collect on old debts. That's because debt collectors have a limited number of years — known as the statute of limitations — to sue you to collect. The statute of limitations varies from state to state, and for different kinds of debts.

A debt collector is allowed to contact you about a time-barred debt. The article explains what you can do if a debt collector calls about a time barred debt. The decision to pay a time-barred debt is up to you. You have options, but each one has consequences. Consider talking to a lawyer before you choose an option.

I opened a PayPal account several years ago butnever used it. About three months ago I decided to use this account because they kept saying that they added 30 units to my account. I did not borrow money, but instead, tried to enter $20 dollars so as to buy some items. But, when I tried to verify the $20 deposit i learned that they do not have an account in my name and have no record of my deposit.

My concern is how will I get my $20 back?

You could contact customer service and tell them the account number you used. Ask if they can trace the money you deposited.

I have a card that I bought but is no good to me, unless I can prove that I bought it.

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