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Credit Card Debt Statute of Limitations: A Guide to All 50 States

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Debt collectors have only a limited window during which they can sue to collect. However, each state has a different period of collection, and moreover, certain circumstances can reset the clock and start the period afresh. Most states have debt collection periods of 3-6 years after the first missed payment, though some have statutes of limitation as long as 10 years.  After that time, the unpaid debt is considered “time-barred,” meaning that a debt collector can’t sue for it. No matter where the debt collector is based, he’s bound by your state’s statute of limitations.

State-by-state statutes of limitation for credit card debt

State Limitation Period Notes
Alabama 3 years Source
Alaska 3 years Source
Arizona 6 years Source
Arkansas 5 years Source
California 4 years Source
Colorado 6 years Source
Connecticut 6 years Source
Washington, D.C. 3 years Source
Delaware 3 years Source
Florida 5 years Source
Georgia 4 or 6 years State law specifies 4-year period, but GA courts ruled in Hill v. American Express that debt can be collected for 6
Hawaii 6 years Source
Idaho 5 years Source
Illinois 5 years Source 
Indiana 6 years Source
Iowa 10 years Source
Kansas 3 years Source
Kentucky 5 or 15 years No court decision on whether 5-year oral or 15-year written limitation applies
Louisiana 3 years Source
Maine 6 years Source
Maryland 3 years Source
Massachusetts 6 years Source
Michigan 6 years Source
Minnesota 6 years Source
Mississippi 3 years Source
Missouri 5 years Source
Montana 8 years Source
Nebraska 4 years Source
Nevada 4 years Source
New Hampshire 3 years Source
New Jersey 6 years Source
New Mexico 4 years Source
New York 6 years Source
North Carolina 3 years Source
North Dakota 6 years Source
Ohio 6 years Source
Oklahoma 5 years Source 
Oregon 6 years Source
Pennsylvania 4 years Source
Rhode Island 10 years Source
South Carolina 3 years Source
South Dakota 6 years Source
Tennessee 6 years Source
Texas 4 years Source
Utah 4 years Source
Vermont 6 years Source
Virginia 3 years Source
Washington 6 years Source
West Virginia 10 years Source
Wisconsin 6 years Source
Wyoming 8 years Source

Types of agreements subject to statute of limitations

Most states have different SOLs depending on the type of contract. For example, some differentiate between written and oral agreements; others separate open-ended accounts such as credit cards. Here are some typical contractual breakdowns:

  • Oral contract: An agreement made with spoken words that is either unwritten or only partially written. It is just as valid as written contracts, though harder to prove.
  • Written contract: As the name implies, a contract where the terms are fully put down and writing, and typically signed.
  • Promissory note: A signed and written agreement to pay a certain amount of money on demand at a specified time.
  • Open account: An account, such as a credit card, where the outstanding balance is not predetermined. Note that this is different from a promissory note because the repayment amount is not defined at the time of opening.

» MORE: How to pay off debt

What happens after the statute of limitations expires?

After the statute of limitations expires, a debt collector cannot sue you for repayment of debt. However, they can continue to contact you about repayment. You can ask your debt collector if your debt is time-barred. The law requires that he answer truthfully, but he may decline to answer altogether. In that case, you should ask what his records show as the last date of payment — this serves to identify the date the clock starts ticking. If the collector refuses to give this information, send him a letter telling him you’re disputing the debt and wish to verify it. This will stop collection procedures until you get verification.

You can decide if you will pay a time-barred debt, but each potential course of action has its benefits and drawbacks. The FTC recommends consulting an advisor before making any decisions.

  • Do not pay any of the debt: Even though a collector can’t sue you to recoup the debt, they can continue contacting you unless you send them a letter telling them to stop. Refusing to pay your debts will also tank your credit score.
  • Make a partial payment: Paying off only some of the debt is a risky proposition, because in some states, if you pay any amount, the debt is revived and is no longer time-barred. This resets the statute of limitations clock, and debt collectors can sue you to collect the full amount plus any interest and fees that accrued during the SOL period.
  • Pay it off in full: Paying off the debt, even though you don’t have to, might help your credit score. Some collectors may be willing to accept a smaller amount than what’s owed, either in a lump sum or installments. However, make sure that you have a written and signed agreement with the creditor that paying this amount will settle your full debt before you begin repaying. Doing so will prevent the issues associated with a partial payment.