How long can a debt collector pursue an old debt?

Are you getting calls or collection letters about an old debt from years ago? Perhaps you forgot about it, or you simply did not have the money to pay for it at the time.  But now, debt collectors are calling and sending you letters, demanding that you pay up.  You may be asking yourself: What are my rights? Is it legal for the debt collector to demand payment of this old obligation?

Debt Collectors must follow the Law.

In Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and many other states, debt collectors can lawfully attempt to collect a debt no matter how old the debt is. However, federal law prohibits debt collectors from making any false, deceptive, or misleading statements in connection with the collection of any debt. This means that they cannot threaten to sue you when the debt is too old and beyond the legal time period allowable to file a lawsuit.

For example, in Pennsylvania the statute of limitations on a debt is four years from the date of default or the date of last payment. But sometimes debt collectors make misleading statements in their collection letters which suggest or imply that they have the right to sue or offer to “settle” the debt. This type of misleading statement violates the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. When a collector violates the law, the consumer may pursue a lawsuit against the collector, and the collector will be responsible for the consumer’s legal fees.

Attempts to Collect Old Debt
Even though a debt collector can still make attempts to collect on old debts for which you cannot be sued, you should think twice before volunteering a payment. First, the amount might not be accurate, meaning that you end up paying more than what was required. Additionally, if you make a payment on an old debt, you run the risk of reviving the statute of limitations on the debt, making it possible for the creditor to sue you for the debt when it previously had no lawful basis to do so.

You’ve been sued?  Do not ignore the lawsuit.


Sometimes, the first time someone learns about a debt is through a lawsuit filed against them.  If you have been sued on a debt, it is very important that you obtain legal counsel.  Do not ignore the summons. Instead, you should seek out legal counsel.

Are debts listed incorrectly on your credit reports?

Debts are often reported to the credit bureaus, and then listed on credit reports. These debts must be accurately listed in all respects.  You can dispute any errors that appear on your credit report with respect to a debt, such as an inflated balance or an incomplete payment history.

 

How to dispute errors with the credit bureaus
When you submit a dispute to the credit bureaus, we recommend that you send the dispute by U.S. Mail, Certified Return Receipt, so that you have a good paper trail of your dispute.  For this reason, we recommend that you do not call the credit bureaus to dispute.  Also, do not submit disputes online. In an online dispute, you run the risk of losing important consumer rights buried in the fine print of the terms and conditions.

Also, when disputing, make sure to explain in detail the error pertaining to the debt.  Gather all supporting documents that illustrate the error and provide it to the credit bureau along with your written dispute.  The credit bureau then has 30 days to either fix the inaccuracy or delete the portion of the credit report that you disputed.

What does Charged-Off Debt mean?
There are limits on how long a debt may appear on your credit report.  Debts that have been “charged off” must be removed from your credit report 7 years and 180 days after the date of the charge off.  If such an old debt appears on your credit report, you can dispute this with the credit bureaus to have it removed.

Get Help from a Qualified Consumer Protection Law Firm
Flitter Milz is a nationally recognized consumer protection law firm experienced in representing consumers who have suffered from abusive debt collection practices and credit reporting errors.  Contact Us for a free consultation and find out how we can help.