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

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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

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 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.


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