CreditCards.com compiled this state-by-state listing of credit
card debt collection statutes of limitations. Click on a state;
more information will appear below the map. See
New Hampshire (NH)
New Jersey (NJ)
New Mexico (NM)
New York (NY)
North Carolina (NC)
North Dakota (ND)
Rhode Island (RI)
South Carolina (SC)
South Dakota (SD)
West Virginia (WV)
- 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
- 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
- The most recent full update of the chart was in March
2013, with minor updates in October 2013 and May 2014. Write to
to report updates or corrections.
- See "
How to tell when credit card debt legallly
" for tips on sorting out whether your debt is too old to be
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
"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," said Mark Schiffman, vice president of public affairs
at ACA International, the collection industry's largest trade
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.
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.
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.
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
, 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
, 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
Consumers should be aware of a practice called
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
"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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