This is a topic I’ve written about before, but not in detail, as part of Project Do Better’s Phase I piece, Public Financial Knowledge Infrastructure.
In most states, expired is merely ‘unenforceable’ except that you have to defend by showing the court that the debt is expired. That is why so many suits (around 90%) win by default, as people rarely show up in court to defend, and so that expired debt then gets a loss by default, followed by a money judgement, often on expired, and thus Time-Barred, or, unenforceable or even
Unfair and injust, but frequent.
Two states do ‘extinguish’ the debts after some years (13 yrs, if I recall correctly, in the case of MS), but an expired debt is not extinguished, just legally unenforceable. The problem with that is the need to defend on the unenforceability. (Note that this should not be confused with the 7-year limit on credit reporting by CRAs…)
I find it incredibly obviously stacking the deck to require a defendant to appear in court just to say that the debt is expired, and so cannot be enforced! That is something that constituents can write to their state legislators about changing, and so I wrote a sample letter a few years ago, which should still be reasonably useful, I hope.
Some states now allow the fact that a debt is expired to be stated in ‘The Reply’ to the summons, btw, so that the case can be dismissed, due to clogged courts, but even in those jurisdictions, people have to know to do this, and most folks don’t know, which is addressed in Phase I’s Public Financial Knowledge Infrastructure section of Project Do Better:
“The Honorable Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher
California House of Representatives
1350 Front Street
San Diego, CA 92101
city, state zip
Dear Assemblywoman Gonzalez Fletcher,
I would like to request a bill which would benefit California residents. The state of Maryland has recently passed a law prohibiting lawsuits on any debts which have passed the Statute of Limitation (https://www.dllr.state.md.us/finance/advisories/advisory-debtcol.pdf ). While California requires notification if a debt is expired, many debtors are not able to use that information. And while debt buyers are prohibited from suing on expired debts in California, original creditors are not. Many creditors, like exploitative landlords and lenders, never sell their debts, waiting years to sue, until details of the situation are less clear. Most lawsuits are won by default, even on invalid debts. The key injustice is that proportionately more poor debtors are sued than well-off debtors (due to the fact that the Statute of Limitation must be explicitly raised as a defense by the debtor in CA). Hence, growing numbers of illegitimate judgments against those who do not have either the time or the ability (due to illness, etc) to defend themselves. Debt, credit reporting, and court action can have a direct bearing on citizens’ abilities to access employment and housing. Disallowing suits on all expired debts could help correct this injustice.
Click here to read, if you like:
Thoughtful Readers, please consider reading about #ProjectDoBetter.
Shira Destinie A. Jones, MPhil, MAT, BSCS