The FDCPA, or Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, is a federal law designed to prevent abuse in the debt collection field. Consumer rights are protected by the law, including preventing collection agents from lying to consumers about things like a debt’s statute of limitations.
A debt’s statute of limitations is the timeframe that debt collectors have to recover monies from consumers. State laws set the time limit, but the FDCPA governs how collection agents can communicate with consumers, including preventing unethical communications intended to trick consumers.
How do Debt Collectors get Around the Statute of Limitations?
Delinquent and old debts have a “shelf life” and once they are past that date, they are essentially written off. That is, unless a debt collection firm or agency buys the old debts and attempts to reactivate them by tricking consumers into acknowledging and/or agreeing to pay the debt.
Debt collectors often use unethical and illegal tactics. These include telling consumers that they can be sued or that their wages will be garnished for a debt that has already passed its statute of limitations. This practice is among the prohibited actions under the FDCPA, but that doesn’t stop debt collection firms from using the tactic.
Uninformed consumers acknowledge the debt, either in writing or verbally and that is all it takes for the debt collector to reactive the debt. Reactivation means the statute of limitations is reset on the debt and that the consumer is now saddled with a debt that was formerly past it’s “expiration” date.
What are the Statutes of Limitations by State?
In some states, different types of debts have their own statute of limitations. In others, the time period is the same for all debt forms. Here are the statutes of limitations on debts with written contracts, with the exception of credit cards and other “open-ended” accounts.
- Three Years – Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, The District of Columbia, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, and New Hampshire
- Four Years – California, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Texas
- Five Years – Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Vermont
- Six Years – Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin
- Eight Years – Montana
- Ten Years – Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Rhode Island, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wyoming
- Fifteen Years – Kentucky
Getting Help when a Debt Collector Tries to Reset the Clock on a Debt
Debt collectors commonly try to restart the clock on old debts by threatening or harassing consumers. If you’re receiving incessant phone calls or letters from a debt collector about an old or delinquent debt, consider contacting an attorney that specializes in FDCPA cases. A lawyer can protect your interests and may even be able to hold the collection firm legally and financially accountable for violation of your consumer rights.