Each state has their own laws regarding when creditors may sue debtors for failing to pay or violating a written contract. This would include credit card accounts, accounts set up for buying a car, rental leases, and other contracts involving debt.
Some states have a limitation that can be six years, in some states it can be up to 15 years. Check your own state law. If a debt is older than the state's law, the collector has no legal authority to really collect the debt.
Typically, the "clock" starts at the time of last activity, such as the last payment or inquiring on the bill. On a credit card, every payment you make renews this "clock."
Even if you make a payment of $5 to a debt collector, that becomes an acknowledgement of the debt... and means that you'll have to pay it all. A debt collector sees their job as persuading a person to make even the just the smallest payment toward a debt that is too old to be taken to court, then debt is renewed. But if you don't say anything at all to the debt collector, most likely they can not collect on the debt... of course you'll have to check the laws for your state.
To stop a collector from contacting them, consumers can write a letter telling the collector to stop contacting them. After that, according to the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the collector cannot contact a consumer unless it's to say there will be no further contact or to notify of a specific action, such as taking the consumer to court.
If the consumer owes a debt and it's within the time frame, the collection agency or the creditor can seek legal judgment.
Again, and I can't stress this enough... a person needs to be very careful about what they say or write to a debt collector, because it might be a way of admitting the debt, therefore restarting the clock.
For example, if a person didn't get enough information from a debt collector over the phone and wrote a letter stating something to the effect of, "Could you please send me an itemized bill," that could be considered owning up to the debt.
To avoid confusion, anyone caught in this situation should write the collector a letter stating that they do not owe the debts and to stop contacting them.
There are also other rules in the federal law that collectors must follow. If the rules are broken, consumers can file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission.
We've experienced collectors calling on debts that are 12 years old. These collection companies are what's referred to as a "debt buyer." Debt buyers make a living acquiring old, charged-off accounts from creditors, then collecting on them.
Here's the most important key to it all: often they'll buy the accounts for pennies on the dollar because the accounts are too old to be taken to court.
To be safe, consumers should check their credit reports and dispute bad debt claims. And if a collector calls you... deny the debt and ask them to stop contacting you. Copyright 2005.
Jessica Deets researches the internet and finds information of value to help people. The website at http://www.bestcreditreportinfo.com has more news and information about credit reports. You can also comment on the credit blog at http://www.bestcreditreportinfo.com/blog/