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State statutes of limitation for credit card debt

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

Summary

Creditors have a limited time in which to file suit over unpaid credit card debt. Here are the statutes of limitation for all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

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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

StateYearsState statute Source
Alabama3 yearsTitle 6 Ch.2 Sec. 37State law
Alaska3 years9.10.053State law
Arizona6 yearsHB 24121State law
Arkansas5 years4-3-118State law
California4 yearsCode of Civil Procedure S.337State law
Colorado6 yearsColorado Revised Statutes Title 13 S.80-103.5State law 2
Connecticut6 yearsChapter 926 Sec. 52-576State law 3
Washington, D.C.3 years12-301D.C. code 4
Delaware3 yearsTitle 10, Sec. 8106State law
Florida5 years495.11State law
Georgia6 years59-3-24State law
Hawaii6 years657-1State law
Idaho5 years5-216State law
Illinois5 years7Code of Civil Procedure 5/13-205State law
Scroll to 735 ILCS 5/13-205
Indiana6 yearsTitle 34 Art.11, 2-9State law
Iowa5 yearsCh. 614.1.4State law See note.14
Kansas3 years60-512State law
Kentucky5 or 15 years413.120 and 413.090Conflicting state laws 12
Louisiana3 yearsCivil Code Sec. 2 Art. 3494State law
Maine6 years14-205-752State law
Maryland3 yearsSection 5-101State law
Massachusetts6 yearsGeneral Laws Part III Title V Ch. 260-2State law
Michigan6 yearsCh. 600.5807.8State law
Minnesota6 yearsCivil Procedure Ch.541.05State law
Mississippi3 years15-1-29State law
Missouri5 yearsCh. 516-120State law
Montana8 years27-2-202State law
Nebraska4 years25-206State law
Nevada4 years11-190State law
New Hampshire3 years382-A:3-118 (g)State law
New Jersey6 years2A:14-1State law
New Mexico4 years37-1-4State law
New York6 yearsCivil Practice Law & Rules, 2-213State law
North Carolina3 yearsCivil Procedure 1-52.1State law
North Dakota6 years28-01-16State law
Ohio6 yearsCourts – Common Pleas, Ch. 2305.07State law
Oklahoma5 years12-95A(1)State law
Go to Title 12 and click on the link. Open the file and go to Section 12-95.
Oregon6 yearsOregon Revised Statutes, Civil Procedure Ch. 12.080State law
Pennsylvania4 yearsJudicial Procedure 42 Pa. C.S. 5525(a)State law
Rhode Island10 years9-1-13State law
South Carolina3 yearsCode of Laws Title 15 Ch. 3 Sec.530State law 8
South Dakota6 years15-2-13State law
Tennessee6 yearsTitle 28 3-109State law 9
Texas4 yearsCivil Practice and Remedies Code, S.16.004State law
Utah6 years78B-2-30910State law
Vermont6 years9A-3-118State law
Virginia3 years8.01-246State law. See note.13
Washington6 yearsRevised Code of Washington 4.16.040State law
West Virginia10 years55-2-6State law
Wisconsin6 years893.43State law 11
Wyoming8 years1-3-105State 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.
3Go to Statutes, then Browse statutes, scroll to Ch. 926, Sec. 52-576.
4 Search by section number.
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.” In search results, select link for “Chapter 3.”
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 See 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.
13Three-year expiration applies to unwritten contracts; courts may apply five-year clock for written contracts if creditor produces signed account agreement and documentation of repayment terms.
14The 10-year expiration for written contracts could apply if the creditor was able to produce sufficient documentation of the amount of the debt. In practice, however, creditors have only general descriptions of the account, such as the terms and conditions, which fails to meet the standard for a written contract of debt.


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, May 2015, August 2017 and November 2017. 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.”

“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’s law applies?

Nearly all the top credit card issuers name the state whose laws should apply to their card agreements. Here’s what they say:

IssuerState Years credit card debt is collectible in court
American ExpressUtah6
ChaseDelaware3
Bank of AmericaNorth Carolina3
CitiSouth Dakota6
Capital OneVirginia*3**
DiscoverDelaware3
US Bank******
Wells FargoSouth Dakota6
USAANevada4
BarclaysDelaware3
*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 chart 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.”

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