How Long Can a Debt Collector Pursue an Old Debt?
When it comes to debt, how old is too old to file a collection lawsuit? Not all debts must be paid, especially those that are past a certain age. It is important to understand your rights as a consumer when it comes to old and expired debt.
The Statute of Limitations on Debt
If your debt is too old, it is quite possible that it cannot be considered collectible. All states have a statute of limitations for various legal issues, and these statutes set how long a claim can be filed on that case. In most states, the statute of limitations for debt collection can be anywhere from four to six years from the date payment was last made. However, in Florida, the statute of limitations is five years for debts that are connected to written agreements and four years for oral agreements.
The problem is, most debt collectors do not advise you as to how old the debt is that they are collecting. In fact, they are not legally obligated to advise you on how old the debt is, even if it is past the statute of limitations. Many debt collectors choose to omit this information purposefully in hopes of getting the person who owes on the debt to voluntarily make a payment. If that person does make a payment on the debt, it completely restarts the statute of limitations and makes the debt current, again. It is for this reason that it is important you request written confirmation regarding the debt before taking any action. The confirmation should disclose information on how old the debt is, and if it is past the Florida statute of limitations.
Many debt collectors target the elderly when it comes to old and expired debts in hopes of getting them to make a payment, even if it is past the statute of limitations or not really that person’s debt. It is how so many senior citizens are taken in by debt collection scams. That is why it is so important to receive written confirmation of the alleged debt.
What Should I Do?
While a legal claim or collections case may not be able to be filed on an old debt, this does not mean the debt collector will not try to contact you. Debt collectors can contact you regarding older debts. Ultimately, you have several different options if contacted regarding an old debt. It is almost always recommended that you talk to an attorney before choosing any of these options.
- Do Not Pay the Debt: The first option is to pay nothing on the debt. If it is past the legal timeframe making it not collectible, you are within your rights to refuse payment. However, the creditor or collector may still try to make contact, at which time you will need to send written communication to that entity demanding that all communication cease.
- Discuss Partial Payment on the Debt: At the end of the day, the creditor just wants to be paid. However, be cautious when doing this because in many states (including Florida), making any type of payment will revive the debt and restart the statute of limitations. Get writing confirmation that the partial payment will settle the debt in full.
- Negotiate a Payment Plan: Along the same lines, it may be possible to sign an agreement for a payment plan to get the debt paid off in full or even at a reduced rate. However, it is important to never give a debt collector your bank account or debit card information.
Defending Yourself Against a Time-Barred Debt
If you find yourself being sued and brought into court on a collections matter for a time-barred debt, it is imperative that you contact an attorney as soon as possible. An attorney will be able to advise you on how to proceed with the defense that the case is past the statute of limitations. Whatever you do, it is important you do not ignore the lawsuit and simply assume the judge will recognize that the debt is too old. You will need to act quickly to raise an affirmative defense and to fight the case before a judgment is issued against you.
If you have questions on this topic or are struggling with insurmountable debt, we advise sitting down with an experienced Orlando bankruptcy attorney for a free consultation. Our offices can help advise you on how to proceed regarding past debts based on our years of experience of helping others in similar financial circumstances.