Statutes of Limitations by State for debt law related actions
Although most people have a general idea of what statutes of limitations are, there is actually a good bit of confusion. Perhaps this article will help. Below, you will also find a chart of many state time limits that might apply to your case. You must not depend on these charts, however, but if you believe the statute of limitations may have run out in your case you should do some further research to make sure. We suggest you do this before answering the suit if at all possible.
Time Limited is Time for Filing
The statute of limitations is a time-limit on when someone can bring (file) a claim (lawsuit). Sometimes pro se parties misunderstand, though – the lawsuit does not need to be completed, it merely needs to be started, before the statute of limitations runs out in order to be timely. If a debt collector sues you, you may have a counterclaim, and this, too, will be subject to whatever its own statute of limitations is.
Laches is somewhat related to the statute of limitations, but is separate. Laches is an “equitable” concept and is related to fairness. The idea behind laches is that if you wait “too long” the passage of time and intervening events may have caused something to happen that would unfairly hurt the chances of the defendant to defend himself. The unfairness is usually tied to the legal defense (i.e., the destruction of records or some legal development that would compromise the defense) rather than general life events (i.e., a financial reverse or a move, or something else that would compromise your ability to defend, but not from a legal standpoint).
You won’t see laches raised successfully very often, but perhaps if the bank suing you has changed identities several times, or some other event involving the destruction of records has taken place, it could happen.
Debt Collectors often bring their claims under various different theories – often in the same case. Each legal theory (count) has a time limit for bringing it – they can’t wait forever. This table shows you some of the most important statutes of limitations for claims related to debt law. Numbers are in years.
These laws change from time to time, so you must research your own state’s laws carefully and cannot rely on the information in this chart – or even, without checking, the information in the sources cited by this chart. If the statute of limitations has passed, and nothing has “tolled” it (i.e., stopped it from running, such as moving out of state, for example), you will be free of legal danger from the suit. Creditors can still report the debt for the statutorily permitted time for that, however.
Statutes of Limitations are, in most jurisdictions, a defense that must be asserted by the defendant. It can possibly be waived, and it can certainly be ignored – and a judge will indeed ignore it if you don’t bring it up. So don’t depend on anyone else to make this defense for you. If the suit is brought by a debt collector beyond the statute of limitations, that is widely regarded as a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, so it could also be asserted, separately, as a counterclaim.