Reviving Expired Debt through Trickery

Reviving Expired Debt through Trickery

The banks are always trying to revive debt, through fair means or foul. Here’s a trick you need to be alert for: issuing you a new card with an old balance on it.

The Scam

Here’s how the scam works. I’m sure you know all about statutes of limitations and the way they eventually operate to make old debts uncollectable through lawsuits. But this legal inability does not stretch to a practical prohibition. In other words, just because the debt collectors (or banks, in this case) can’t sue you, they can keep trying to get you to pay the debt back “voluntarily.” And they know that people who have had trouble paying off their debts in the past also have trouble getting credit now – after all, they do their best to make that so.

So here’s what they do: they send credit card offers to the people they can no longer sue, offering them credit cards with reasonable rates and no annual fees – but the only problem is that the cards carry the balance of the old debt. Accepting and applying for the card simply requires accepting responsibility for the debt.

What they Don’t Tell You

What the banks don’t tell you is that once you accept renewed responsibility for the debt, you have created an entirely new obligation to the old debt with an entirely new statute of limitations. If anything happens to prevent you from paying the whole amount – at any time – they’ll be free to sue you for the whole amount – at any time within the next several years.

Is it Really a Scam?

There are certainly deceptive features of the program – and a lot of opportunism. People are not generally told or reminded that the debt that is being revived is out of the statute of limitations and couldn’t be collected by lawsuit. And in my opinion, that essential deception suggests that the bankers regard their actions as a scam. Why hide the information if they’re offering such a good deal? Still, it does offer people with troubled debt history access to some credit, and it may be the only opportunity they have. Whether the bank will continue to extend credit after the credit balance is restored to zero (paid off) is a question I have, although it would seem to be in their interest to do so.


If you get one of these offers, think very carefully before you accept. Doing so will revive a potentially crippling debt that you had escaped and will probably not have any impact on your actual credit score, but it might bring you access to credit that would be otherwise unavailable. Before accepting such an offer, you should certainly make sure you do not, in fact, have other access to credit. Would your credit union, for example, lend you money if you kept a balance with them? How large would the payments on the new card be? How many such payments would it take to equal the amount of credit the card would extend? (i.e., suppose they offer you a card carrying a balance of $5,000, giving you minimum payments of $250 per month, and offering you a credit limit of $300 over that. After a little over a month, if you just saved the money, you would have more money than you would be able to borrow on the card.)


There might be better ways to restore your prosperity than paying a lot of money to someone you don’t owe anything.