A statute of limitations on debt is a time limit on how long a debt collector or a creditor has to sue a person over a debt. Each state has different cutoff periods for when a debt collector or creditor can no longer file a lawsuit to collect on an old debt.

Many states have different statutes of limitations for these four different kinds of debts: written contracts, oral contracts, promissory notes and open-ended debts. Credit card debt is considered an open-ended account type of debt.

After a statute of limitations has passed, a debt is considered “time-barred,” and a debt collector no longer has the right to sue to obtain payment. If you get sued for a debt that has passed its statute of limitations, you may want to contact a lawyer and gather evidence to support your case, such as a canceled check with the date of your last payment.

It’s important to note that even if you can prove that your debt is time-barred, the debt will not be erased, and the creditor can still try to collect as long as they do so fairly. For example, they may call you but they’re not allowed to threaten to take you to court.

Statutes of limitations by state

Each state has its own statutes of limitations for different kinds of debt. Keep in mind that some credit card companies operate according to the statute in their home state, not yours. Here is a breakdown of each state’s statute of limitations for different types of debt (in number of years).

Also know that, depending on the state, the clock for a statute of limitations may begin either when you first miss a payment on a debt or on the date you made your last payment. In some states, if you make a payment or acknowledge the debt in writing at any point after that, the clock on the statute of limitations can be reset.

 

State Written contracts Oral contracts Promissory notes Open-ended accounts
Alabama (source, source) 6* 6 6 3
Alaska (source) 3 3 3 3
Arizona (source, source) 6 3 6 3
Arkansas (source, source) 5 3 5 5
California (source, source) 4 2 4 4
Colorado (source, source) 3 3 3 3
Connecticut (source, source) 6 3 6 3
Delaware (source, source) 3 3 3 3
D.C. (source, source) 3 3 3 3
Florida (source, source) 5 5 4 4
Georgia (source) 6 4 4 4
Hawaii (source, source) 6 6 6 6
Idaho (source, source) 5 4 5 4
Illinois (source, source) 10 5 10 5
Indiana (source, source) 6 6 6 6
Iowa (source, source) 10 5 10 5
Kansas (source, source) 5 3 5 5
Kentucky (source, source) 15 5 10 5
Louisiana (source, source) 10 10 10 3
Maine (source, source) 6 6 20 6
Maryland (source, source, source) 3* 3 3** 3
Massachusetts (source, source, source) 6 6 6 6
Michigan (source, source) 6 6 6 6
Minnesota (source, source) 6 6 6 6
Mississippi (source, source) 3 3 3 3
Missouri (source, source) 10 6 3 5
Montana (source, source, source) 8 5 5 5
Nebraska (source, source) 5 4 5 4
Nevada (source, source) 6 4 3 4
New Hampshire (source, source) 3 3 6 3
New Jersey (source, source) 6 6 6 6
New Mexico (source, source) 6 4 4 4
New York (source) 6 6 6 6
North Carolina (source, source) 3* 3 3 3
North Dakota (source, source) 6 6 6 6
Ohio (source, source) 8 6 6 6
Oklahoma (source, source, source, source) 5 3 6 5
Oregon (source, source) 6 6 6 6
Pennsylvania (source, source) 4 4 4 4
Rhode Island (source, source) 10 10 10 10
South Carolina (source, source) 3 3 3 3
South Dakota (source, source, source, source) 6 6 6 6
Tennessee (source, source) 6 6 6 6
Texas (source, source) 4 4 4 4
Utah (source, source) 6 4 4 4
Vermont (source, source) 6 6 14 6
Virginia (source, source, source, source) 5 3 6 3
Washington (source, source) 6 3 6 6
West Virginia (source) 10 5 6 5
Wisconsin (source, source) 6 6 10 6
Wyoming (source) 10 8 10 6

*10 years if the contract is under seal.

**12 years if contract or promissory note is under seal.

Types of debt

As you can see from the chart, there are four major ways that debt can be categorized. Some states, like North Dakota and New Jersey, have the same timeframe no matter the debt category. Other states like Oklahoma and West Virginia have different timeframes for different kinds of debt. It’s important to know where your debt falls.

Written contract

A written contract is a physical document that explains the terms and conditions of a transaction in detail. It is an agreement between two parties that outlines each party’s responsibilities. A written contract is signed by both parties involved, making it a legally binding document. An example of a written contract is the document you sign when you take a car loan from an auto dealership.

Oral contract

An oral contract is also an agreement between parties. Oral contracts, however, are harder to legally enforce because they are verbal agreements with no written documentation signed by the parties. These kinds of contracts are usually made between you and someone you know. An example might be an oral agreement you make with a friend to purchase their car.

Promissory notes

A promissory note is similar to a written contract as it’s also a written promise of payment. Promissory notes will state how much is to be paid, by whom, at what interest rate, and in what timeframe. A promissory note is generally less detailed than a written contract and only requires the signature of the borrower, although the lender can also sign a promissory note. Common examples include the documents you sign when you get a mortgage, student loan or a personal loan from family or friends.

Open-ended accounts

Open-ended accounts are accounts that give you a credit line that you can tap into as needed. Even when money is owed on the account, the account remains open for you to use as long as the appropriate payments are being made. Credit card accounts are considered open-ended accounts because you are constantly using and repaying them. A home equity line of credit (HELOC) is another example of an open-ended account.

The bottom line

A statute of limitations on debt protects you from being sued over a debt after a certain timeframe has passed. If a debt collector attempts to sue you after that timeframe has passed, you are protected by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Even though a statute of limitations protects you from being sued for a debt after a period of time, you still have an obligation to repay your debt. And morals aside, it takes seven years for a negative account to be removed from your credit report, which will make it difficult to get new credit or loans in the future.