Seniors, Debt Collection and the Statute of Limitations

Seniors, Debt Collection and the Statute of Limitations

Seniors are often pursued by debt collection firms.  Banks sell delinquent accounts to collection agencies and private debt collection law firms for pennies on the dollar.  These firms make money when the debt is paid.  The credit laws are not well-known and these firms are very sophisticated.  They are not much of a match for unsophisticated senior consumers.  They receive mail and telephone calls from collection firms who often use stern statements and sometimes harassment to get them to pay.  Their knowledge is limited and they fear being taken to court so they often attempt to pay off the debt.  Seniors need to know their rights, what to do and what options they have.

 

Most states have statute of limitations laws.  In Florida the statute of limitations varies for different types of debts.  For written contracts such as personal loans it is five years.  For verbal contracts and revolving accounts, including credit cards, it is four years.  Afterward the debt is considered “time-barred” meaning too long of a time period has passed to make a lawsuit valid.  However there are caveats.  If a “time-barred” debt is partially paid or even promised to pay, the debt may be revived.  “Time-barred” debts can be dangerous to seniors.

 

Recently a woman called me about a letter she received regarding non-payment of a very old credit account.  The original account was with Washington Mutual who filed for bankruptcy in 2008.  The address on the letter was one in which she hadn’t lived since 2012.  But that did not deter the debt collection firm.  Unlike many seniors she had done research and understood that the time period for the statute of limitations in Florida had passed and she was defiant, but many seniors are not.

 

It is legal for debt collectors and creditors to contact people about a “time-barred” debt. However, it is illegal for them to lie about whether or not the debt is “time-barred”, harass people, or discuss one’s debt with a third party. Even though these actions are illegal, it is not uncommon for debt collectors to use these methods. According to the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, over 200,000 complaints were received in 2013 to federal agencies pertaining to unlawful and unethical methods debt collection agencies were using. If one feels that their debt is “time-barred”, a written request must be sent to the debt collector or creditor.

 

If this happens to your loved-one they should:

  • Respond – within the designated time to respond, generally 20 – 30 days after service; send the plaintiff’s attorney a file, stamped copy of the answer – obtained from the court where the answer was filed
  • Challenge the lawsuit – the collection firm must prove to the court they have the right to collect
  • Make the firm prove what is owed – the original signed agreement and a balance on the account from the beginning to the present
  • Raise the statute of limitations as a defense
  • Consider counter-suing under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
  • Contact a debt collection attorney – many will offer a free consultation