A “statute of limitations” refers to how long a party has to bring suit in court. Chapter 16 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code sets out limitation periods for various civil causes of actions, and section 16.004 of the Code sets out a 4-year limitation period for suits related to debt. According to the statute, a lawsuit must be brought “not later than four years after the day the cause of action accrues.” The Texas Attorney General provides several articles relating to debt collection and relief that may answer some of your questions.
In addition to Texas law, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is federal law enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC website provides answers to frequently asked questions about debt collection. The FTC website addresses some aspects of collecting on an old debt with the following information:
What if my debt is old?
Debt collectors have a certain number of years they can sue you and win to collect a debt. It’s called the statute of limitations, and usually begins when you fail to make a payment on a debt. Once it’s over, your unpaid debt is considered “time-barred,” but in some states, you have to raise the age of the debt as a defense to win.
How long the statute of limitations on a debt lasts depends on what kind of debt it is, and the law in your state or the state specified in your credit contract.
Also, under the laws of some states, if you make a payment or provide written acknowledgment of your debt, the clock may start ticking again.
Can a debt collector contact me about a time-barred debt?
Yes. Even if a debt collector can’t successfully sue you over a time-barred debt, you may still owe it.
What if I’m not sure whether my debt is time-barred?
Ask the collector when its records show you made your last payment. You also can send the collector a letter within 30 days of receiving a written notice of the debt. Explain why you’re disputing the debt and that you want to verify it. A collector must stop trying to collect until it gives you verification.
If you are unsure of when the 4-year limitations period begins and ends, it would be best to consult with an attorney who could help calculate when your cause of action accrued. Keep in mind that, as the FTC website indicates, certain actions may “reset the clock” or re-age the 4-year period — e.g., making a partial payment, agreeing to a payment plan, affirming the debt. For more information about debt collection, the library has put together a research guide with links to more information about debt collection laws.