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State statutes of limitation for credit card debt

Collectors have a limited time to file lawsuits over unpaid card debts

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CreditCards.com compiled this state-by-state listing of credit card debt collection statutes of limitations by individually researching each state's laws and court rulings. We've linked to the law where it is available; additional notes below.

CREDIT CARD DEBT STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS, BY STATE
State Years State statute Source
Alabama 3 years 6.2.37 State law
Alaska 3 years 9.10.053 State law
Arizona 6 years HB 24121 State law
Arkansas 5 years 4-3-118 State law
California 4 years 337 State law
Colorado 6 years 13-80-103.5 State law 2
Connecticut 6 years Chapter 926 Sec. 52-576 State law 3
Washington, D.C. 3 years 12-301 D.C. code 4
Delaware 3 years Title 10, Sec. 8106 State law
Florida 5 years5 95.11 State law
Georgia 6 years6 9-3-24 State law
Hawaii 6 years 657-1 State law
Idaho 5 years 5-216 State law
Illinois 5 years7 5/13-205 State law
Scroll to 735 ILCS 5/13-205
Indiana 6 years 34-11-2-9 State law
Iowa 10 years 614.1.5 State law
Kansas 3 years 60-512 State law
Kentucky 5 or 15 years 413.120 and 413.090 Conflicting state laws 12
Louisiana 3 years 2-3494-4 State law
Maine 6 years 14-205-752 State law
Maryland 3 years 5-101 State law
Massachusetts 6 years 260-2 State law
Michigan 6 years 600.5807.8 State law
Minnesota 6 years 541.05 State law
Mississippi 3 years 15-1-29 State law
Missouri 5 years 516-120 State law
Montana 8 years 27-2-202 State law
Nebraska 4 years 25-206 State law
Nevada 4 years 11-190 State law
New Hampshire 3 years 382-A:3-118 (g)  State law
New Jersey 6 years 2A:14-1 State law
New Mexico 4 years 37-1-4 State law
New York 6 years 2-213 State law
North Carolina 3 years 1-52.1 State law
North Dakota 6 years 28-01-16 State law
Ohio 6 years 2305.07 State law
Oklahoma 5 years 12-95A(1) State law
Go to Title 12 and click on the link. Open the file and go to Section 12-95.
Oregon 6 years 12.08 State law
Pennsylvania 4 years 42 Pa. C.S. 5525(a) State law
Rhode Island 10 years 9-1-13 State law
South Carolina 3 years 15-3-530 State law 8
South Dakota 6 years 15-2-13 State law
Tennessee 6 years 28-3-109 State law 9
Texas 4 years 16.004 State law
Utah 6 years 78B-2-30910 State law
Vermont 6 years 9A-3-118 State law
Virginia 3 years 8.01-246 State law. See note.13 
Washington 6 years 4.16.040 State law
West Virginia 10 years 55-2-6 State law
Wisconsin 6 years 893.43 State law 11
Wyoming 8 years 1-3-105 State law
1On April 12, 2011, the governor signed House Bill 2412 into law. This bill amends Section 12-548 of the state code and makes the statute of limitations for credit card debt six years.
2Clicking on this link takes you to a third-party website. Click "I Agree" to the terms. Click on the Colorado Revised Statutes link on the left column. On the page that appears, type 13-80-103.5 on the search line and hit enter. Scroll down to and click on the link for 13-80-103.5 to go to the section.
3Scroll down to Sec. 52-576.
4 If court decides that documentation of the debt is insufficient to qualify as a "written instrument," four-year statute may apply.
5 According to the Georgia Department of Law, appeals court cases have found the six-year period for contracts applies to credit card debt. See Phoenix Recovery Group Inc. v. Mehta, 2008.
6 An Illinois appeals court ruled on May 20, 2009, that a credit card agreement did not qualify as a written contract subject to the 10 year statute of limitations.
7 Court decisions have affirmed that card agreements qualify as written contracts with a 10-year statute of limitations. However, the state appeals court ruled in 2011 that the plaintiff must provide the debtor's actual agreement, not a generic agreement. If the debt collector can't produce an original credit card agreement, the five-year clock for nonwritten contracts applies, the court ruled. See Gemini v New, 2011.
8 At "Quick Search" section select "Code of Laws" from menu and type "15 3 530" into search window, without dashes; press "Enter."
9 Clicking on this link takes you to a third-party website. Click "I Agree" to the terms. On the page that appears, type 28-3-109 on the search line and hit enter. Click on the item for 28-3-109 for "Contracts not otherwise covered."
10 Utah courts generally apply law of the card issuer's state.
11 Go to page 10 of the pdf file and scroll down to section 893.43.
12Conflicting state laws and a lack of definitive court ruling make it too hard to say whether Kentucky's five-year statute or its 15-year statute applies to credit card debts.
13The state's attorney general has issued guidance calling for card debt to be subject to a five-year expiration clock, under provisions for written contracts, if creditor produces signed account agreement and documentation of repayment terms.
Notes:

  • The chart shows the time limit on revolving credit accounts such as credit card agreements. Most state laws and codes do not refer specifically to "credit cards" or "credit card agreements." Instead, the statutes tend to use general terms such as "written contracts" or "open accounts." State laws are subject to change. 
  • Judges deciding specific cases may interpret state laws differently; those court rulings may then be overturned. Judges also may rule on which state's law should apply -- the one where the consumer resides, or where the card issuer is located. 
  • While the federal Truth In Lending Act defines credit cards as "open-end credit plans," that's irrelevant to the discussion of state statutes of limitation. State laws are concerned with contracts and agreements, and how long they may be enforced. 
  • The most recent full update of the chart was in March 2013, with minor updates in October 2013, May 2014 and May 2015. Write to Editors@CreditCards.com to report updates or corrections.
  • See "How to tell when credit card debt legally expires" for tips on sorting out whether your debt is too old to be legally collectible.

What a statute of limitations is, how it works
Creditors and debt collectors have a limited time window in which to sue debtors for nonpayment of credit card bills. That limit is set by a state's statute of limitations. These laws exist to protect people from claims being brought after evidence has disappeared. Anyone with unpaid credit card debt should know their state's statute.

"In most states, the statute of limitations period on debts is between three and 10 years; in some states, the period is longer," according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Debts that have lingered longer than the statutes allow are often referred to as "time-barred debts."

Time-barred debt
"If a debt collector sues you to collect a time-barred debt, you can have the suit dismissed by letting the court or judge know the debt is, indeed, time-barred," according to the FTC.

Debt collectors and consumer advocates, however, caution that the statute of limitations (SOL) does not prevent debt collectors from attempting to collect on debts. They just cannot successfully sue to collect the debts -- assuming the debtor shows up in court to assert his or her rights.

Debt doesn't go away just because it goes beyond a time threshold.

-- Mark Schiffman, ACA International

"Debt doesn't go away just because it goes beyond a time threshold," said Mark Schiffman, vice president of public affairs at ACA International, the collection industry's largest trade group.

Mary Spector, an associate law professor at Southern Methodist University's Dedman School of Law in Dallas, says many consumers ignore court notices about old debts and end up losing cases that might otherwise be thrown out of court because the statute of limitations has run out.

"In Texas, it's usually up to the defendant to show that the debt is time-barred under the statute of limitations," Spector says. Her advice: Don't ignore the court papers and get a consumer lawyer to represent you.

CREDIT CARD DEBT:
WHICH STATE LAW APPLIES?
Nearly all of the top credit card issuers name the state whose laws should apply to their card agreements. Here's what they say:
Issuer State Years credit card debt is collectible in court
American Express Utah 6
Chase Delaware 3
Bank of America Delaware 3
Citi South Dakota 6
Capital One Virginia* 3**
Discover Delaware 3
US Bank *** ***
Wells Fargo South Dakota 6
USAA Nevada 4
Barclays Delaware 3

*Capital One says Virginia law rules, unless the cardholder's state has a longer statute.

**5 years if creditor produces signed account agreement and documentation of interest rate and repayment terms.

***US Bank's terms and conditions agreement specifies which state law should apply to arbitration, but not for other matters, such as unpaid debt.

Court rulings may take precedence
To construct the map above, CreditCards.com examined statutes and judicial opinions and consulted legal experts to cover all 50 states and the District of Columbia. In most states, the statute of limitation is clear. In some, however, we could find no definitive answer because of ambiguities in state law or conflicts between the law and court rulings.

The uncertainty over when credit card debt expires arises because state laws governing contracts are interpreted by the courts when they are applied to individual circumstances, and those interpretations may change over time.

That was the case in Georgia in January 2008, when a Georgia Court of Appeals ruled (in Hill v. American Express) that the statute of limitations on an unpaid credit card debt was six years. The Georgia code sets the limit on open-ended accounts at four years, but the appeals court applied the law for written contracts to card debt in this case. Another 2008 Court of Appeals ruling (in Phoenix Recovery Group, Inc. v. Mehta) affirmed the Hill ruling and settled the law in the state, according to the Georgia Department of Law.

In other states, it remains difficult to predict how courts will rule when faced with a question about expiring credit card debt. Kentucky specifies a five-year expiration period for oral contracts and 15 years for written contracts. The period that will apply to card debt is unclear; some courts in other states have held that credit card agreements, because they can be changed unilaterally by the card issuer, do not qualify as written contracts. Legal experts said they are unaware of precedent-setting rulings within Kentucky on the question, leaving courts to weigh the circumstances and documents of each case individually.

Federal law
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the federal law that governs how and when debt collectors can contact consumers and collect on unpaid bills, dictates where legal action on debts can be filed. According to Section 811 of the law, debt collectors may file suit in the jurisdiction where the "consumer signed the contract" or where the consumer lives.

Some credit card agreements may stipulate that the laws governing the home state of the issuer, not the consumer, determine the terms and major provisions of the contract. That means that if the credit card holder lives in Maine, but the issuer is based in Delaware, the Delaware statute of limitations may apply.

Do not confuse the statute of limitations with the length of time that a debt may remain on a credit report. A bankruptcy, for instance, will remain on a credit report for 10 years regardless of the statute of limitations. If a creditor successfully wins a judgment for payment of a debt, that information can remain on a credit report for seven years.

When does the clock start to tick? It may vary by state, but generally the statute of limitations begins when a credit card account becomes delinquent -- the date of the last payment. However, in some states the clock begins to tick six months after the last payment. To determine the deadline to file suit on the debt, add the number of years of the statute of limitations to the start time.

Re-aging debt
Consumers should be aware of a practice called re-aging of old debts. The clock on the statute of limitations may start anew if a consumer makes a payment -- even a small amount -- on a debt that has exceeded or is approaching the end of the statute of limitations. Acknowledging an old debt may also extend the time limit on potential debt collection lawsuits. Consumer advocates now advise debtors not to acknowledge old debts or debts they don't recognize as their own to avoid inadvertently resetting the clock on the statute of limitations.

"Any new activity on it could re-age it and make it more collectable," says Lauren Saunders, managing attorney for the National Consumer Law Center, a consumer rights group. "You're better off ignoring a call about an ancient debt. It's best to send them a letter saying I don't recognize this or please verify it."

See related: Court judgments for debt: Your options after the gavel, Debt collection sample letters, 10 tips for dealing with debt collection, collectors, 5 federal laws that protect consumers

Updated: July 12, 2016


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Updated: 09-28-2016


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