Is there a time limit for collecting old debts?

by Linda
(Madison County, Indiana)

I live in Indiana. A collection agency file suit against my husband and I about 16 years ago for unpaid medical bills. I don't remember the original amount, but I know it was under $1500.

My husband and I decided to file for bankruptcy. Our attorney said I didn't need to file because I was not working at that time. He said it would save us money if just my husband filed, and they couldn't do anything to me, because I was not working.

The collection agency came after me right after my husband filed for bankruptcy. I had to meet with the owner of the collection agency and his attorney at the county courthouse. It was just the 3 of us alone in a private room. The owner said if he ever found out I was employed, he would come after me.

I never heard from them again for 13 years. Then I received a summons to appear in court. That was about 2 1/2 years ago. I have had to meet with them every 2 to 3 months ever since. I became ill shortly after my first summons 2 1/2 years ago. I haven't been able to work and I don't have the money to pay them right now. I'm wondering how long this will go on. If I can't come up with the money to pay them or file bankruptcy, an I going to be summoned every 2 or 3 months for years to come?

Also, we are considering a move out of state in about 3 months. Do I need to notify them before I move?

Thank you.

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Apr 28, 2010
Collecting on old debt
by: Mary

Thanks for submitting your debt collection question on our Q&A page.

There is no time limit for how long a debt collector can try to collect on a debt, but there is a limit on how long a collector has a right to sue you in order to try to get the money he says that you owe. It's called the Statute of Limitations and in Indiana that time limit is either 6 years or 10 years depending on the type of debt. So, it would seem, based on what you wrote in your question, that you should not have been sued 2 1/2 years ago for a debt that was 13 years old.

For that reason alone, I would contact a consumer law attorney in your area with experience in debt collection cases. Find out how to get FREE or low cost legal advice about debt collection from a consumer law attorney here. You may have the basis for a lawsuit against the collector.

When you talk with an attorney, I strongly urge you to tell him or her about the meetings you have been having every 2 to 3 months with the collection agency and its attorney. Not only is it not a good idea to attend these meetings without an attorney to represent you, but based on what you've told me, there is no reason why you should be going to the meetings in the first place. (Also, you are not obligated to tell the debt collector about the fact that you may be moving.) Again, depending on the circumstances surrounding the meetings, they may provide you with another basis for a lawsuit.

Also, if you do not have the money to pay the debt (and assuming you are legally obligated to pay it at this point -- something else an attorney can help you sort out), the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act gives you the right to tell the debt collector not to continue contacting you about the debt. The best way to do this is by sending the collector a cease and desist letter. Make a copy of your letter for your records and send the letter certified mail with a return receipt requested. Once the debt collector receives your letter he is not supposed to contact you again about the money you owe other than to confirm that he won't contact you again or to inform you of any lawsuit he may file against you.

Finally, I encourage you to purchase a copy of my e-book Debt Collection Answers so that you can become more familiar with your legal rights when you are dealing with debt collectors. You can read the first chapter of Debt Collection Answers online for free.

Please share what happens with your situation in the comments section for this question. We are very interested in hearing how this turns out for you, and your experience can help others who are struggling with debt collectors.

Dec 09, 2010
Madison County Indiana
by: Anonymous

I am familar with these practices here.
The send you a "summons" but you do not see a judge.
It is the collection person and their attorney.
If you do not show up they get a judgment against you...... if you do show up and tell them you have no money the process repeats itself
I believe this is against the fair debt collection act but nobody has questioned it.
I spoke to an attorney and all he said was if you get a summons you can request to see a judge, but in these cases then the judge will not be favorable to you.

Jul 28, 2011
Eight Year Old Debt From Kids
by: Donna Faulkner

I want to go to small claims court against my kids for several old debts, 7 years and 18 months but don't know it it's worth it or if time limit is up. We have always let it go for 20 years and just fed up and this time want to stand up. Is the time limit up for court?

Reply from Donna, you need to check what the statute of limitations is your state. In some states, you can still attempt to collect after the statute of limitations has expired, but your child could raise the statute of limitations as a defense.

Keep in mind that even if you win, you still have to collect - and that could cost additional time and money.

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