Dear Let's Talk Credit,

I just received a phone call from a debt collector trying to collect on an old bank account that I had in 2005 or 2006. I have not had this item come up on my credit report, nor have I received any sort of paperwork regarding this past debt.

I live in Washington State and was wondering if this sort of debt has a six-year statute of limitations on it? If it is a six-year statute of limitations on this debt, should I just let the company who is trying to collect this debt know that the six years has passed or should I await the "case" that they say they are preparing to take to court?

Funny how I have not heard one thing on this debt over all these years, but here they are now threatening me with legal proceedings. I guess I am just wondering what the best thing to do would be? I just purchased my first home last year and did not run into any sort of information about this debt. Thanks. 

- Tracy

Dear Tracy,

Yes, you are correct that the six-year statute of limitations for written contracts in Washington would apply to your bank account debt. What that means to you is that the collector cannot legally pursue collection of the debt using the courts. However, many collectors do file with the courts, even when a debt is past the statute to collect. So, don't ignore any summons that you might receive to appear. You would need to provide proof to the court that the statute of limitations has expired.

However, just because the statute of limitations has expired does not mean that the collector must cease collection efforts. The statute applies only to collection efforts using the courts. You may want to inform the collector that you know the statute of limitations has expired and that you will inform the court, if necessary. You also have the right to send them a written request not to contact you about the debt again.

Because the debt is either seven or eight years old, it cannot legally be reported to the credit bureaus. If you find it on your credit report, simply dispute it with the bureau that is reporting it. In addition, because the debt can't be collected through legal channels, you don't really have much of an incentive to pay the collector.

But, if the amount of the debt is large, I wouldn't be surprised if you continue to receive collection calls. Should you tire of the collection efforts, you might consider settling the debt for a reasonable amount that you can afford. Be sure to get the settlement agreement in writing, though, before you make the payment.

Let's keep talking!

See related: State statutes of limitations for credit card debt -- all 50 states