How long after a default can a debt collector attempt to collect a debt?

UPDATED: Apr 22, 2011

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How long after a default can a debt collector attempt to collect a debt?

I just got a call from a debt collector saying that I owe money from about 6 years ago. I had no idea I owed this money. If I did I would have paid. Is this legal after all these years? Why didn’t I hear about this before? How do I know if I really owe this money?

Asked on April 22, 2011 under Bankruptcy Law, Illinois


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

What was the default on? If it was on a credit card or similar open account, then the statute of  limitations, or time period to sue (which effectively defines how long someone has to take enforceable legal action on a debt or amount owed), is only 5 years after the occurence of the default. If it was on a promissory note or written contract, then they have 10 years to take action. And if there was a judgment--such as a default judgment--obtained against you, then they have up to 20 years to take action to collect their money.

The debt must be proven. First, you can send a written letter to the debt collector requesting they validate the debt. If they don't, or if they do and you still don't believe you owe the money, you can force them to take legal action to try to recover the money. In that action, they will have to be able to prove the existence and amount of the debt, and you may raise any evidence or defenses in your favor, or challenge their evidence.

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 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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