Seattle bay
Dene Miles/Shutterstock.com

Once a bad debt is older than the statute of limitations in your state, a debt collector no longer has the right to sue you for payment. You may still have a moral obligation to pay up, but you can’t be taken to court.

A statute of limitations is a law that specifies a period of time during which legal action can be taken. For example, if you live in Washington, D.C., a debt collector has only three years to sue you for delinquent debts.

Any debt collector who threatens to sue you over a debt that meets the statute of limitations in your state is in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, a federal law.

The chart below shows the statute of limitations for delinquent debt for the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The “open accounts” column includes credit cards.

If you need legal assistance with a delinquent debt, visit the website of the National Association of Consumer Advocates and search for an attorney with expertise in debt collection in your area.

Statutes of limitations for each state (in number of years)

State Written contracts Oral contracts Promissory notes Open-ended accounts (including credit cards)
Alabama 6 6 6 3
Alaska 6 6 3 3
Arizona 5 3 6 3
Arkansas 5 3 3 3
California 4 2 4 4
Colorado 6 6 6 6
Connecticut 6 3 6 3
Delaware 3 3 3 4
D.C. 3 3 3 3
Florida 5 4 5 4
Georgia 6 4 6 4 or 6**
Hawaii 6 6 6 6
Idaho 5 4 5 5
Illinois 10 5 10 5
Indiana 10 6 10 6
Iowa 10 5 5 5
Kansas 5 3 5 3
Kentucky 10 5 15 5
Louisiana 10 10 10 3
Maine 6 6 6 6
Maryland 3 3 6 3
Massachusetts 6 6 6 6
Michigan 6 6 6 6
Minnesota 6 6 6 6
Mississippi 3 3 3 3
Missouri 10 5 10 5
Montana 8 5 8 5
Nebraska 5 4 5 4
Nevada 6 4 3 4
New Hampshire 3 3 6 3
New Jersey 6 6 6 6
New Mexico 6 4 6 4
New York 6 6 6 6
North Carolina 3 3 5 3
North Dakota 6 6 6 6
Ohio 6 15 15 6
Oklahoma 3 5 5 3
Oregon 6 6 6 6
Pennsylvania 4 4 4 4
Rhode Island 10 10 10 10
South Carolina 3 3 3 3
South Dakota 6 6 6 6
Tennessee 6 6 6 6
Texas 4 4 4 4
Utah 6 4 6 4
Vermont 6 6 5 3
Virginia 5 3 6 3
Washington 6 3 6 3
West Virginia 10 5 6 5
Wisconsin 6 6 10 6
Wyoming 10 8 10 8

** The statute of limitations in Georgia is four years, but the Georgia Court of Appeals released a decision on Jan. 24, 2008, indicating that the statute of limitations on credit cards is six years.

Source: Bankrate.com