When it comes to unpaid, old credit card debt, borrowers need to know what debt collectors can and can’t do. The statute of limitations for credit card debt dictates whether a debt collector can sue a borrower over unpaid debt. Debt collectors can no longer sue once the statute of limitations has passed.

However, this doesn’t mean that you don’t need to repay the debt. Debt collectors can continue to try to collect the debt, and the only way to make it go away is by paying it off in full or negotiating a settlement.

What Is the Statute of Limitations on Credit Card Debt?

The statute of limitations for credit card debt is a law that limits the number of years collection agencies and lenders have to sue a borrower for unpaid debts. This time frame varies from three to ten years, varying by state.

The statute of limitations also varies based on the type of debt:

  • Oral contracts: Debt with verbal agreements to repay the money.
  • Written contracts: A written agreement signed by the lender and borrower with the terms of the loan.
  • Promissory notes: A written agreement to repay the debt at a specific interest rate, in specified payments, by a specific date.
  • Open-ended accounts: Debts on revolving accounts where you can borrow when needed if you repay the balance. A credit card is an open-ended account.

State by State

Each state has a statute of limitations that dictates how long lenders must sue you for credit card delinquency. Some states have different time periods for statute of limitations for all four types of debts, while others have the same.  

“It’s important that you understand the laws based on the state where you reside,” shares Teresa Dodson, debt expert and founder of Greenbacks Consulting. “As a consumer, you have rights and do not want to concede them to collection activity that’s not legal.”

Here’s a look at the statute of limitations in each state:

StateWritten contractOral contract Promissory noteOpen-ended accounts
Washington D.C.3333
Nevada 6434
New Hampshire 3363
New Jersey6666
New Mexico6444
New York6666
North Carolina3333
North Dakota6666
Rhode Island 10101010
South Carolina3333
South Dakota6666
West Virginia10565

Should You Pay Your Debts After the Statute of Limitations Expires?

Even if the statute of limitations has expired, you’re still liable to pay off credit card debt. While the lender can’t sue you once the statute of limitations for credit card debt has expired, they can still try to collect.

If you can’t pay the full amount, you can negotiate credit card debt and set up a payment plan or convince the lender to accept a lump sum that’s lower than what you owe. If you don’t pay off your debt, it’ll continue to negatively impact your credit score and make it difficult for you to secure affordable credit in the future.

What Laws Limit What Debt Collectors Can Say or Do?

Even if the statute of limitations for credit card debt has passed, you still owe the debt, and collection agencies can still attempt to collect it. However, debt collectors can’t violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) provisions.

This means they can’t threaten or harass you, claim that you can go to jail for credit card debt, or misrepresent the amount you owe. If you don’t want them to contact you, send a written letter asking them to cease communications. If a debt collector violates the provisions of the FDCPA, you can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or the Federal Trade Commission.

Time Limits for Legal Action on Credit Card Debt

Debt collectors can contact you and, in rare cases, even sue you after the statute of limitations for credit card debt has expired. However, a credit card debt lawyer can present a defense that the statute of limitations has expired and that the debt collector is wrongfully suing you.

If a debt collector has sued you, you must attend the court hearing. If you don’t appear in court or ignore the collection lawsuit, the court can award a default judgment against you.

What Is a Time-Barred Debt, and Can I Get Sued for It?

Time-barred debt is no longer collectible because the statute of limitations on it has passed. Technically, a lender can’t sue you for such debts. However, they can try to collect it by contacting you and asking you to pay.

If the lender feels that the statute of limitations on a debt hasn’t passed, they may still sue you. Responding to the summons and attending the court hearing is important to avoid a default judgment.  

It’s also important to remember that the statute of limitations can be revived or reset when you take certain actions. For example, if you admit that a debt is yours or make a payment on a debt, the statute of limitations for credit card debt is reset.

Collecting or Suing on Credit Card Debt

Even if the statute of limitations for credit card debt has expired, it doesn’t mean that you no longer owe the money. Debt collectors can still try to collect, and in most cases, they’ll continue to do so until you pay.

If a lender doesn’t believe that the statute of limitations has passed because of information on their records, they can still sue. It’s best to consult an attorney in this case because they can guide you through the case, present relevant proof, and ask the judge to dismiss the case to protect your rights.

The Bottom Line on Statute of Limitations for Credit Card Debt

The statute of limitations protects borrowers from being sued by lenders after a certain amount of time has passed. However, you’ll still owe the consumer debt, and debt collectors or credit card companies may continue to seek payment. The best way to stop it is by creating a plan to get out of credit card debt through a partial payment or another debt relief method.