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Time-barred debts: how collectors violate the law

In an earlier post, we discussed how the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act protects you from creditor harassment. Essentially, the FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from engaging in harassing, deceptive, or unfair practices in order to collect from you. The FDCPA also prohibits debt collectors from trying to collect on time-barred debts.

According to Ohio law, debt collectors have eight years to sue you for any unpaid debt. This eight-year period is known as the statute of limitations. After the statute of limitations is up, any unpaid debts are considered to be "time-barred." Debt collectors cannot sue you for time-barred debts. If they try to, they could be violating the FDCPA. 

The FDCPA does not prohibit a debt collect from contacting you about time-barred debts. However, the FDCPA does prohibit collectors to sue you or threaten to sue you on time-barred debts.

If you ask the collector whether your debt is time-barred, the collector is required to answer you truthfully. Some collectors may decline to answer your question altogether. In addition to asking whether the debt is time-barred, you should also want to ask for more information on the debt, such as the date of the last recorded payment. This information will be helpful in determining whether the debt is in fact time-barred. The more information you can get about the debt, the better.

One tricky issue with time-barred debts is trying to determine when the clock starts ticking, so to speak. Generally, the statute of limitations period begins when you miss a payment on the debt, though this can depend on the type of debt.

If you do believe that your debt is time-barred, there are steps you can and should take to stop the collectors from trying to collect on the debt. An attorney who is experienced in debt collection can help you gather the information needed to dispute the debt in court. Further, if you believe that the collector violated the FDCPA, the attorney can help you bring your own action against the collector by filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

Source: Consumer.ftc.gov, "Time-Barred Debts," Accessed May 4, 2015

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