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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.

Sign up for AARP's Money Newsletter.

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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