If an unsecured debt is over 4 years old, is it true that you can no longer be sued for it?

UPDATED: Nov 18, 2011

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If an unsecured debt is over 4 years old, is it true that you can no longer be sued for it?

Asked on November 18, 2011 under Bankruptcy Law, Pennsylvania


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

As a general  rule, no, this not true, though it may be true in individual states for specific causes of action.

Every obligation to pay a debt arises out of some legal cause of action. Usually, in the case of unsecured debts, it has arisen out of 1) a written agreement to pay or promissory note; 2) an oral agreement to pay; or 3) an "open account"--like a revolving charge account. (Note: some states don't distinguish open accounts from written contracts or agreements.)

Each cause of action has what's called a statute of limitations, or time limit on how long the creditor has to bring a legal action (sue) to enforce the debt. Once the statutory period has passed, the debt is unenforceable.

Each state sets its own statutes of limitations. It may be the case, that for the cause of action underlying your particular debt, the statutory period in your state was less than 4 years, in which case, yes, it would be late to enforce it. But to know for sure, you have to check the statute of limitations for that cause of action in your state. If you repost your question with more detail, someone here should be able to look this up for you.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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