What Is the Statute of Limitations on Debt in Washington?


So What’s the Deal with the Statute of Limitations on Debt in Washington?

If you’ve got old debts hanging over your head, you’re probably wondering how long those pesky creditors can legally come after you to collect. Well, friend, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s break down the statute of limitations on debt in Washington so you can get some peace of mind.

The statute of limitations is the amount of time creditors have to sue you for unpaid debts. This time limit varies from state to state. In Washington, it’s between 3 and 6 years depending on the type of debt you owe. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • Written contracts, rent, or fees – 6 years
  • Oral contracts – 3 years
  • Open-ended accounts (like credit cards) – 3 years

So if you’ve got a credit card bill from 5 years ago, that creditor is out of luck in Washington. The statute of limitations has passed and they can’t sue you (see RCW 4.16.040). Pretty sweet, right?

When Does the Clock Start Ticking?

Now you might be wondering when exactly the statute of limitations clock starts ticking. Generally, it begins when you fail to make a payment on time. For example:

  • You miss a credit card payment on March 1, 2020.
  • The credit card company can sue you for the debt until March 1, 2023.
  • After March 1, 2023, the statute of limitations has expired in Washington.

Easy peasy! But of course, there are some caveats. The date can get a little murky if the creditor sues you to collect first. We’ll dig into that next.

What Happens If You Get Sued for a Debt?

So about getting sued…hopefully it doesn’t happen to you! But if it does, here’s what you need to know about how it impacts the statute of limitations in Washington:

  • If the creditor sues you before the statute of limitations is up, and gets a court judgment against you, they can keep coming after you for years trying to collect on that judgment.
  • If they sue you after the statute of limitations has expired, you can use that as a defense against the lawsuit. The court should dismiss the case if you prove the debt is too old.

The key is that once a court judgment is entered against you, that restarts the statute of limitations clock all over again. At that point, the creditor has 10 years to collect based on the court order (see RCW 4.56.190).

So if you get sued for an old debt, don’t ignore it! Be sure to respond and assert the statute of limitations as a defense. If you don’t, the court will likely rule against you by default and you could end up in an even worse situation.

Can You Reset the Statute of Limitations?

Okay, say you’ve got a 6 year old debt and the statute of limitations is about to expire. Can the creditor do something to reset the clock and get more time to sue you? Unfortunately, yes.

Here are some common ways creditors try to restart the statute of limitations in Washington:

  • You make a payment on the old debt. This resets the clock to zero.
  • You make a written promise to pay. Same deal – the clock starts over.
  • The creditor sues you and gets a court judgment (we just talked about this one).

So if you want to wait out the statute of limitations, don’t make any payments, don’t put anything in writing, and be prepared to respond if you get sued! Seems easy enough, right?

Can Collectors Still Contact You About an Old Debt?

Now just because the statute of limitations has passed doesn’t mean you’re totally in the clear. Collectors can still bug you to try to get you to pay. But they have to follow some rules.

In Washington, collectors can’t sue you if the debt is old, but they can still:

  • Call you to request payment
  • Send letters asking you to pay
  • Report the unpaid debt to credit bureaus

This can be super annoying. Collectors will try to pressure or scare you into making a payment so they can restart the clock. “It’s best if we resolve this today,” they might say. Don’t fall for it!

If you’re getting harassed, you can send the collector a cease and desist letter demanding they stop contacting you (see a sample letter). Or you can report them to the Washington State Attorney General’s office if they violate debt collection laws.

Should You Pay an Old Debt?

Even if the statute of limitations has passed, you may still want to consider paying off an old debt if you can afford it. Here are some pros and cons to weigh:

Pros of Paying

  • It will stop creditors and collectors from contacting you.
  • Your credit score may improve once the debt is marked “paid.”
  • You won’t have to stress about getting sued if you make a payment.

Cons of Paying

  • Collectors could take the payment as an admission that you owe the debt and pursue more payments.
  • The debt may be so old that it doesn’t appear on your credit report anymore. Paying could re-report it and hurt your score.
  • You give up your strongest defense – the statute of limitations.

So in summary, weigh your options carefully and don’t let collectors pressure you into anything! Consulting a consumer rights attorney may also help if you’re unsure what to do.

The Bottom Line

Dealing with debt collectors is the pits. But knowing your rights in Washington can help you rest easier. To recap the key points:

  • Written contracts, rent, fees – 6 years
  • Oral contracts – 3 years
  • Open accounts – 3 years
  • Court judgments can restart the clock for 10 more years
  • Don’t make payments or promises to pay on old debts
  • Collectors can still bug you even if the debt is old

Hopefully this breakdown gives you a game plan for dealing with old debts. And remember – you’ve got options to protect yourself. Don’t let shady collectors pressure you into anything. Now go relax and forget about those pesky old debts!

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