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Ask the Experts

Do I Have to Pay an 8-Year-Old Debt?

In many states, you're off the hook after a few years

Q. A debt collector called me about a debt that's from at least eight years ago. Am I obligated to pay it?

A. State laws dictate how long a collector can pursue you to pay a debt, so the first thing you'll want to do is research your state's statute of limitations or call your state attorney general's office.

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Pencil erasing ledger entries - the statute of limitations on debt varies by state

Old debts can expire, but time varies by state. — Photo by Masterfile

In many states, a debt expires between three and six years from the date you last made a payment.

If you were to make a payment now toward your balance, the clock would start running all over again.

In some states, collectors are prohibited from going after a debt that's expired. In others, they can sue you but you have a valid defense in court that the debt is too old to collect.

If a collector has contacted you about an expired debt, you may write a letter to the collection agency stating that the statute of limitations has passed and ask that it not contact you again. Mail your letter with proof of delivery and save a copy. If the collector continues to contact you, file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

As far as your credit report is concerned, a collection effort can remain on it for up to seven years. After that, it must be removed, even if the debt has not been paid.

Also of interest: Got debt? It's time for a reality check. >>

Carole Fleck is a senior editor at the AARP Bulletin.

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