How long can a collection agency try to collect a debt?

Written by melvin richardson
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Each state determines the length of time that a debt collector can collect on a debt. If a debt collector isn't notified about this, he could attempt to collect a debt indefinitely. When a debt collector tries to bring legal action beyond certain time frames, he is in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which governs the activity of third-party debt collectors.

Legal Action

A debt collector can attempt to collect on a debt for as long as she wants. She cannot, however, bring legal action against you once the statute of limitations has expired. At this point, she may still attempt to contact you by phone and written correspondence, but that is legally the extent of the actions. Some will still try collecting on expired debts and even attempt to take you to court. If you receive a summons, you must attend the court date and provide proof that the statute has expired. If you don't attend the hearing, you could lose the case and the creditor could receive a default judgment even though the statute has expired.


The statute of limitations starts following your last activity, such as the last payment received. For the most part, the statute of limitations begins when you miss a payment or the creditor accelerates your contract due to delinquency. Your actions from this point forward could restart the statute of limitations. For example, if you make a payment, acknowledge that a debt is yours, or if you agree to pay a debt collector this can reactive the statute of limitations. These rules and regulations will vary from state to state.


The type of debt you have will determine the duration of the statute of limitations according to your state laws. There are four types of accounts to which statutes apply, including oral contracts, written contracts, promissory notes and open-ended accounts. Each of these could have a different time frame for the statute of limitations.

Oral Contracts/Written

Oral contracts are verbal agreements between two or more parties, but they are still legally binding. These types of contracts are more difficult to prove in court because no one has any type of documentation to back up their claim. It's all based on what the parties have verbally discussed or agreed to. Written contracts will also have a different time frame for statute of limitations. A written contract will have signatures from both parties on a legally binding document, which can be between a debtor and a lender.

Promissory Note

A promissory note is similar to a written contract, but it will also include the amount of finance charges to be paid along with the number of payments to be made.

Open-ended Accounts

Open-ended accounts, such as credit cards, will have a different time frame as well for the statute of limitations. Any revolving account falls under this category.


To gain a clearer understanding, it is a good idea to review the statute of limitations for your state. Familiarise yourself with all of the particulars regarding the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which will help you when it comes to dealing with debt collectors.

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