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There is no statute of limitations on federal student loans. Private student loans do have a statute of limitations, with lengths varying from state to state.
When collecting a debt, a statute of limitations refers to how long a creditor has to sue for repayment. If the statute of limitations expires, a creditor can’t sue you — but that doesn’t mean your student loans disappear. The loan’s holder may still be able to collect that debt, though it can’t use the court system to do so.
Don’t stop paying loans waiting for the statute to pass. You’ll be years into student loan default before it does, and there’s no guarantee you won’t be sued. But if default has already happened, understanding the loan’s statute of limitations could protect you in court and from debt collectors.
How long is the statute of limitations on student loans?
For debts with written contracts, the statute of limitations ranges from three to 10 years, depending on the state. Six years is the most common statute of limitation for debts like private student loans, with 22 states using this term, according to the nonprofit InCharge Debt Solutions.
Typically, your loans are subject to the statute of limitations for the state you live in. But if you’re sued, the court may use a different statute based on where the lawsuit was filed or language in your loan’s paperwork.
If you’re sued and are unsure which statute applies, hiring a lawyer may help. While you’ll likely have to pay for the lawyer's services, an attorney who specializes in student loans should be able to determine whether your statute of limitations has expired and if you have a case for dismissing the lawsuit.
What happens after the statute of limitations passes?
If a creditor does not know the statute has expired, it can still take you to court — don’t ignore a summons about your debt. You can present a defense that your student loans should be considered “time-barred,” or no longer collectible, based on the statute of limitations.
Even if the court agrees with you, your creditor may still be able to contact you about the debt, depending on your state’s laws. But it wouldn’t have access to collection tactics a court judgment could have enabled, like garnishing your wages or placing a lien on property you own.
The creditor also cannot threaten you with these actions or a lawsuit. All of its collection efforts must comply with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). That includes providing an honest answer if you ask whether the statute of limitations has expired.
By contrast, federal student loan holders can collect defaulted loans via wage and tax refund garnishment without a court order, making a statute of limitations unnecessary for these debts. Getting them out of default is the best way to stop collection actions.
Can you restart the statute of limitations on student loans?
It is possible to restart the statute of limitations on student loans. Like the statutes themselves, actions that do this vary on a state-by-state basis but may include:
Paying any amount toward the loan.
Promising in writing to repay the debt.
Acknowledging that you owe the debt.
You can also pause, or “toll,” your loan’s statute by doing things like moving overseas or filing for bankruptcy.
The FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from using practices that trick you into restarting the statute of limitations. If you feel that this has taken place, contact a lawyer and submit a formal complaint to the Federal Trade Commission.