When a debt exceeds the statute of limitations, it is referred to as “time-barred debt.” That means creditors cannot legally sue you. But they may still try. They may continue contacting you. It is important you proceed with caution, because the practice of debt collection has many pitfalls.
Perhaps you never took out the debt, that the collector has the wrong amount or that you already paid and the collection attempt is a mistake.
A debt collector should send you a validation notice within five days of first contacting you. This notice should include the debt owed, the amount, date of last payment, who the collector is and how to request information on the original creditor. If you do not receive this notice within 10 days after the debt collector first contacts you, ask for it.
If you are being asked to pay a time-barred debt that is not yours, that was already paid off or invalid, you can write the creditor to dispute the debt.
You have 30 days from first contact to challenge the debt before it is deemed accepted by default. If you dispute the debt within this window, debt collection efforts must stop until the issue is resolved.
Be as specific as possible in your letter. Say why the debt collection attempt is invalid, including information about payment history or why the debt may not be yours and any other relevant information. Send the letter by certified mail so you get confirmation of receipt.
If for any reason you feel the debt collector has violated your consumer rights, file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or the Federal Trade Commission.
The Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA) originally enacted in 1978 requires that debt collectors provide consumers with certain basic information such as the amount of debt owed and the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed. A lesser-known requirement of the FDCPA says debt collectors must give consumers a 30-day notice to dispute the debt before it is assumed as valid.
Pay it off- but proceed with caution.
Although you may think paying a little bit of the debt owed will get the creditor off your back, it can make things much worse. Making even a single payment on time-barred debt can bring it back from the dead and reset the statute of limitations. In some states, even if you pay as little as a $1, you will reactivate the entire debt and you can be sued for the original debt plus fees.
If you want to pay off the debt, you have several options:
- Pay in full with a lump sum;
- Work with the creditor to set up a payment plan;
- Make an agreement to settle the debt by paying a portion.
If you pay the debt in full, make sure the collector sends you a confirmation in writing. Hold onto this in case the payment is not properly recorded or the debt gets sold, again.
Discharge the debt through bankruptcy.
If you feel the debt is just too much to pay off or you want to rid yourself of the debt for good, you could file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. After filing, you are likely to see your credit scores improve.
Steps to take if you are sued.
Creditors may sue you even though a debt is past its statute of limitations.
The most important thing: DO NOT ignore the lawsuit. Ignoring it will likely lead to an automatic judgment against you and result in wage garnishment. Consider talking with an attorney about how to proceed, and gather all documents you have proving that the debt is time-barred.
If you are in financial crisis and considering filing for bankruptcy, contact an experienced Miami bankruptcy attorney who can advise you of all of your options. As an experienced CPA as well as a proven bankruptcy lawyer, Timothy Kingcade knows how to help clients take full advantage of the bankruptcy laws to protect their assets and get successful results. Since 1996 Kingcade & Garcia, P.A. has been helping people from all walks of life build a better tomorrow. Our attorneys’ help thousands of people every year take advantage of their rights under bankruptcy protection to restart, rebuild and recover. The day you hire our firm, we will contact your creditors to stop the harassment. You can also find useful consumer information on the Kingcade & Garcia website at www.miamibankruptcy.com.