Be judicious with payments
If you get an offer to pay "a little something" on an old debt, be wary.
"Under many state statutes, a partial payment puts you back on the hook," for the entire debt and restarts the clock on forced collections, says Hobbs.
It pays to do a little research before you agree to anything.
"For people who have a lot of debt and are trying to decide which debt to pay and which to pay first, it makes sense for them to understand the statute of limitations issues so that they can make a rational decision on which debt they pay first," says Thorleifson.
If you have questions on the statutes in your state for various types of debt, the state attorney general's office or department of consumer affairs is often a good resource.
"The educated consumer is going to understand the issues and pay debts accordingly," says Thorleifson.
If you decide to pay it in full or negotiate a settlement for a lesser amount, get a written agreement beforehand "acknowledging payment in full," she says.
That way, if the debt is later sold to a debt buyer, you'll have proof that it's been paid, she says.