Debt Help Getting Rid of Debt

Does Debt Have an Expiration Date?

Consumers rarely set out to create credit problems for themselves. Most people don’t wake up thinking, “Today is a great day to stop paying my bills. Let’s see how quickly I can trash my credit scores.” Instead, bad credit and debt problems tend to come from either bad luck or poor planning on the part of the consumer.

Unfortunately, the world of credit reporting is self-policing and credit mistakes can haunt a consumer for many years. Creditors and the credit bureaus rarely accept excuses, even legitimate excuses, for unpaid debt.

And while the lenders’ decision to report late payments to the credit bureaus is voluntary, it’s so consistent that it seems mandatory.

Thankfully in most cases delinquent debt is not able to haunt consumers forever. There are strict time limits that control how long a creditor may legally pursue a consumer for unpaid debt.

However, as with many credit and debt related topics, there is a lot of confusion on the subject and most people do not truly understand the time limits associated with unpaid debt. Take a look at five overlooked facts regarding unpaid debt and how long they can hang around your neck:

1. The two clocks

When a consumer promises to pay back a debt based on terms they’ve executed, it’s called a “promissory note.”

This note gives creditors the right to attempt to collect said debt in the event of a default. Should a consumer become delinquent on payments then the creditor can take actions to compel the consumer to pay.

These actions put pressure on the consumer to pay back the debt and include tactics like (A) reporting negative information to the credit bureaus, (B) selling it to a collection agency/debt buyer or even (C) suing the consumer.

All of the collection tactics above are governed by time limits. The statutes of limitation that govern the pursuit of unpaid debts are often informally referred to as “clocks.” There are two statutes of limitation (SOL) clocks involved in protecting consumers who have defaulted.

The first clock controls debt collection and the second clock controls credit reporting. Although both SOL clocks are concerned with the same event — an unpaid debt incurred by a consumer — the clocks are completely separate and do not influence one another whatsoever.

2. Time-barred debt

The first SOL clock concerns how long a creditor is allowed to file a lawsuit against a consumer in an attempt to collect an unpaid debt.

Once the SOL for lawsuit-based debt collection has passed, the debt is referred to as being “time-barred.” When a debt becomes time-barred the creditor no longer has the ability to sue the consumer in an effort to collect, although some will try.

Debt becomes time-barred based upon the state laws where the consumer lived in when the debt was initially incurred, or the state law that governs the promissory note, which is also normally the state were the consumer lived when incurring the debt.

Each state sets its own SOL clock for when debts become time-barred. The SOL clocks range from 3-15 years. Here is a cheat sheet:

# of Years Before a Debt Becomes Time-Barred: State:
15 KY and OH
10 IL, IN, IA, LA, MO, WV, WY
8 MT
6 AL, AK, AZ, AR, CO, CT, GA, HI, KS, ME, MA, MI, MN, NV, NJ, NM, NY, ND, OR, SD, TN, UT, VT, WA, WI
5 FL, ID, NE, OK, RI, VA
4 CA, PA, TX
3 DE, MD, MS, NC, NH, SC, Washington D.C

3. Time-barred debt exceptions

Certain types of debt, namely federal student loans and tax liens, will never become time-barred. In other words, there is no SOL clock and no expiration date for the collection of these obligations.

A consumer may not technically be sued for these financial obligations, but there are other actions that can be taken in an attempt to collect these debts that are just as nasty as a lawsuit.

Consumers with defaulted federal student loans can have their wages garnished, their tax refunds seized, and even their estates can be responsible for satisfying the unpaid debt in the event of their death.

Additionally, there are ways for consumers to accidentally restart the SOL clock on previously time-barred collections. For example, if a consumer lived in Maryland when an unpaid debt was incurred then the debt would become time-barred after three years. However, if that same consumer decided to make a payment on the debt (rather than paying or settling the debt in full) then the SOL clock for debt collection would be re-started allowing the creditor another three years to sue, should they desire to do so.

4. Credit reporting

The second SOL clock is the credit reporting statute of limitations which, again, has nothing to do with the SOL when a debt becomes time barred.

The credit reporting SOL clock is governed by the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The FCRA dictates when an item must be purged from a consumer’s credit report based on the type of account or financial obligation. Here is another cheat sheet to help:

# of Years an Item Is Allowed to Remain on a Consumer’s Credit Report: Type of Item:
  • Unpaid Tax Liens
  • Unpaid Federal Student Loans
10 Years
  • Chapter 7 Bankruptcies (10 Years from Date Filed)
  • Chapter 13 Bankruptcies (7 Years from Discharge Date, 10 Years Max)
7 Years
  • Charge-Offs
  • Judgments
  • Collections
  • Foreclosures
  • Repossessions
  • Released Tax Liens
  • Late Payments


If a debt was incurred by a consumer living in the state of Maryland, for example, the debt would become time-barred after a short three years. However, the debt could still legally remain on the consumer’s credit report for another four years before the account would be deleted.

Nothing can restart the credit reporting SOL. When it has reached its maximum allowed number of years, it has to be permanently removed.

5. Exceptions

You may have noted on the credit reporting chart that there are definitely some exceptions to the rule when it comes to the credit reporting SOL clock. Just as is the case with time-barred debts, there are certain types of financial obligations that are not required to be removed from a consumer’s credit reports until they have been paid and satisfied.

Since there is no SOL clock associated with these types of unpaid items they can legally remain on a consumer’s credit reports forever, although the credit bureaus could choose to remove them earlier as a matter of policy.

The FCRA does not require defaulted student loans and unpaid tax liens (both state and federal) to be removed from a consumer’s credit reports, ever. In fact, the FCRA is completely silent on the subject of federal student loans and credit reporting SOLs.

The credit reporting of defaulted federal student loans is addressed by the Higher Education Act, which allows them to remain on a consumer’s credit report indefinitely. The FCRA specifically states that federal tax liens are not to be removed from credit reports until seven years from the date that the lien is released.

About the author

John Ulzheimer


  • Man, these credit bureaus don’t give you a break, do they! They couldn’t care less if you have bad credit in the past. Two things really bother me. One is when a collection company sells your debt to another collection company, all the dates are moved up so it so recent even if it is over 7 years old. I had payday loans and I always thought that they would not do a credit check and just rely on your bank account. That is why it is called pay-day loans. But, to my dismay, these pay-day loans do check your credit and that does not look good on the books. It is even worse than regular collections. How do you rid of all that stuff?

  • I have three credit cards which were charged cash advances over the limit due to payments which i was promised and all were returned. What can i do about this? I feel like i was scammed out of the money and now have bad credit hits. Previous to this my credit was nearly perfect. Any advice…

  • If someone has a few credit card debts in Canada that are over 10
    Years old, are you still legally responsible for them? I had a mixture of cc debt that totalled about $50,000. At the time , I was unable to pay and didn’t go BK. They have all disappeared from
    my credit report and I am slowly starting to build up my ctredit again. What I really want to know is if someone stiffs Amex, Royal
    Bank of Canada, and a few other majors, would they ever allow
    Or approve an application for a new credit card after all years?
    Or basically, do they keep a STIFFER LIST. Would really appreciate
    Your feedback, cause I really want another Amex card and I’m scared to apply. Thanks in advance for your help. BTW love your site and all the info you provide. Have a great day.

    • I’m in the same boat as Steven, November 28, 2017 at 6:52 am, but I’m in the US. Wasn’t there an answer for Steven, and likely for me?
      I’m very interested in an AE card, also. In case you can’t find Steven, here’s his post:
      If someone has a few credit card debts in Canada that are over 10
      Years old, are you still legally responsible for them? I had a mixture of cc debt that totalled about $50,000. At the time , I was unable to pay and didn’t go BK. They have all disappeared from
      my credit report and I am slowly starting to build up my ctredit again. What I really want to know is if someone stiffs Amex, Royal
      Bank of Canada, and a few other majors, would they ever allow
      Or approve an application for a new credit card after all years?
      Or basically, do they keep a STIFFER LIST. Would really appreciate
      Your feedback, cause I really want another Amex card and I’m scared to apply. Thanks in advance for your help. BTW love your site and all the info you provide. Have a great day.

  • I have a did a short sale of my home in 2012 and yet the mortgage default keeps showing as “120 days late” on my report. How can this be after 5 years now?

    • As long as a creditor continues to report your late payments and or does not remove the negative information from your credit bureau report. You will be haunted by this. I have malignant shadows haunting me from seven years ago. You see the credit bureaus couldn’t care less. They make money selling your info. Good or bad it doesn’t matter. They make money selling all info about you. Even if it’s bogus info. They are in a win win situation.

  • Hello. I find your articles to be very educational. Thank you for taking the time to write them. My question is about “closed”accounts. Are they the same or different from “charge off” and how long can they stay on your credit report?

  • I’ve finally got a little bit of Credit within the last 2 years & haven’t missed a payment on my credit cards. However, I cashed a Check I received from a Loan Company & Have paid 5 months on it until this month of Dec..Simply because I don’t have it & I told them I’d pay in Jan. The Lady called me & wants me to take up enough to pay them a payment & leave me with a $100.00. It would also put my Payments back to the beginning & 6 months of payments of $125.00 A Month to start over . I called & told them again I couldn’t pay until next month & I didn’t want to take up the Money. I haven’t missed any payments except this one, so what does anyone suggest. Thanks very much.

  • How long can medical bill collections remain on your credit report & do future banks/creditors consider these unpaid medical bills at all in determining your qualification for a mortgage, auto, personal loans and/or credit card apps.? (living in Taxachusetts MA)

  • I would like to speak to you about unpaid debt and how to get my credit back in order. I have been working on it by myself for a short time now, but need to know if my ideology is sound. I can be reached at [omitted]. Thanks in advance.

    • Hi George,
      Thanks for being a reader! We do not contact people one-on-one. You will need to look to a company like Credit Pros who helps with that. You can call them at 855-980-4898. I have also omitted the personal information in your post for your safety.

  • When I receive an email saying click here to see how long an unpaid debt lasts and I do not get the immediate answer I was looking for then I will unsubscribe.

  • why is it that i have debt over 7 years ago that was sold to another company as debt that keeps rolling over and seems to extend the expiration date.

      • All you have to do is send letters to the three reporting bureaus, explain the situation, last date of transaction on the debt. If it has been 7 years since it became delinquent (unless you screwed up and made a payment in the past 7 or years), they have to completely remove the debt, no matter how many collectors are reporting it. Also, these are really easy to get rid of because it’s the burden of the collector to PROVE the last date of transaction. If you dispute in this manner…The collectors will not lie, if so and you can prove otherwise,,,,the reporting agencies will not deal with them anymore,,,my Aunt works for Trans Union..

        • Sorry Floyd,
          Please read my letter above about LDAs and Debt Extending. Also a client has to contact the CA directly, preferably by “certified mail-return receipt requested” to stop the collection. All credit bureaus only do what their customers demand, not others.

    • Each company can hold the debt up to a certain amount of years in hopes that you will pay a full or partial payment. When it is obvious that you are not looking to pay the debt, they then sell your debt to another company which generates another cycle of the 7 year period starting from the date in which the debt was purchased. The good news is that most companies will not purchase the debt if two or more companies have done so because they know that you’re not looking to pay the debt off, and at that point the company is stuck with it. At this point, the company will call more frequently to get you to pay off the debt. Remember that they do have a statue of limitation which is 3 years. At this point they can’t contact you any longer about the debt, however, they can sell your debt to a willing collection agency.

    • I have bad debts due to a divorce on my records over 10 years that keep rolling over to other companies I’m totally disabled from a stroke can’t work anymore 70 yrs old how long is this go stay in credit bureU? Thank You

    • Hi David,
      It is illegal for a collection company to extend a debt beyond the original debts (LDA))-last date of activity, this is called “extending a debt” and you can file a cause of action against a collection agency for doing so. If they attempt to do so you can collect $1,000 in damages. Check your states “statute of limitations” on debts, you will probably find your debt became expired for collection at 4 years and is already dead. If so send them a “Cease and Desist Letter” and the debt will probably disappear.

  • I purchased a share of a recreational property in the early 80s with a friend of mine (in my name, as I had decent credit, and she didn’t). When she joined the military and was stationed elsewhere, we tried to sell the membership (Supposedly a share in the actual real estate, willable to my heirs, not simply a timeshare.) the company blocked the sale. They claimed they had the right to refuse any investor. Several years later, the company was purchased by Worldmark, then by Wyndham. I was sent papers indicating my number of shares. Since I was by then disabled, and unable to use the membership, I tried again to sell and was again blocked. Then I was sent a letter telling me I was in default. Several times I have had offers to buy the membership shares, but it consistently comes up as in default, unable to be sold.
    Last year I had a problem with identity theft and found that the “mortgage” on the property is listed in good standing. I am not able to benefit from this status, so it really didn’t make a whole lot of difference to me. I have been told that there was some lawsuit about the maintenance fees, and the company lost, so my “property” may not currently be in default. I just want it removed from my record. It has been about thirty years since I made a payment, how can it still be on my credit report?

    • Mary,
      So sorry for your troubles! It sounds to me like there may be a mistake on your credit report that is keeping it on your record. You may want to try contacting your credit reporting company to see if it can be taken off. Here’s an article on how. I hope that helps!

    • Hi James,
      The amount of time you stated can stay on your credit report for seven years and 180 days. The action the company took regarding the unfulfilled payment may also change that time. Thanks for reading!

    • This is why you should never allow a “paid less than full amount” note on your account, unfortunately this is almost as bad as not paying it at all!!
      Try to get all partial payments to state, “Paid-settled, or simply paid when paying”
      One other thing I keep reading about is about resetting the clock by debt collectors, the only LDA,”last date of activity” is the date the debt became overdue, selling a debt to a collector does not reset the LDA!! Normally the LDA starts 30 days after a debt is due, and contrary to some beliefs making a payment does not restart the clock unless the debt is brought up to date. I’ve had a few people make small payments, $25.00 or so and run the debt out out to the 4 year SOL and then have it canceled by a “cease and decease” letter. Not recommendedl but effective.

  • So a question… for example if I owed Capital One or American Express or discover after a 7 to15 year period of time and it is not on my credit report would I still be able to get credit through them today if my credit score is good?

  • You forgot to mention exempted cases, when, according to “§ 605. Requirements relating to information contained in
    consumer reports [15 U.S.C. § 1681c],” Credit transactions of $150,000 or more, life insurance for $150,000 or more, employment for a position expected to pay $75,000 or more. So, nobody may expect to get away with bad debt, even after seven years.

  • John,

    If I negotiate and settle the debt with the creditor and they accept my payment, how long will my negative mark stays on my credit report? Is there any way I can remove the negative mark on my report?

  • Can another billing company take over an old medical bill that was never paid and does this start the seven years all over again?


    • Hi Sandi,
      You will have to contact those companies and see why they are requesting payment, and possibly contact a lawyer if the mistake isn’t cleared up. Thanks for reading!

    • I receive collection notices for old debt that has since been charged off every now and then. At the bottom of the page in small writing it says that it cannot reported to the credit agency nor can they sue me for this debt because of the length of time or the age of the debt. So for those of you who are getting these collection notices for older debts, over 7 years, read them very carefully at the bottom. They’re not reporting this to the credit agency. If they are, I’m sure you can write a letter of dispute or contact lawyer.

  • I really enjoy reading the news letters that you send. The information is very helpful. You make it very easy to understand .There are so many things I didn’t know about credit and how it works. Thanks to you I’m learning what to do and what not to do.

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