Navigating Debt Collection and the Virginia Statute of Limitations

If you’re receiving collection calls or letters from creditors seeking unpaid debt, understanding the statute of limitations in Virginia is essential. We often get calls from people saying they are getting letters or calls about an older debt that was barred by statute of limitations. However, statute of limitations can be a more complex analysis; it varies a lot from state to state and each type of debt. Generally, statute of limitations is the legal framework sets a time limit within which creditors or collection agencies can file a lawsuit to collect outstanding debt without a time defense. However, once a debt surpasses the statute of limitations, you may not be obligated to repay it. Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you navigate debt collection laws in Virginia and how seeking advice from a debt relief agency can empower you in managing your debt. 

What are Virginia Statute of Limitations?

The statute of limitations refers to the time limit within which legal action can be taken against a debtor for non-payment of a debt. Once this period expires, creditors some rights on the paid debt, and gives you an affirmative defense to the debt. In Virginia, the statute of limitations varies depending on the type of debt involved. Generally the statute of limitations in Virginia can run between two to seven years.

Each state has different statute of limitations; the statute of limitations for your debt can depend on various factors inducing, where you are living now, where you were living when you opened the account/signed the contract, the choice of venue listed on a contract, and more. So even if you are currently living in Virginia and being sued in Virginia, another state’s laws may apply to the case. If another state’s statute of limitation applies, it is important to review the law and possibly talk to a lawyer licensed in that state.

Types of Debts and Their Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations is a critical aspect of debt collection law, defining the timeframe during which creditors can pursue legal action to recover a debt. In Virginia, the statute of limitations for traditional debts that most people worry about ranges from three to five years for most types of debts, including credit cards, mortgages, auto loans, oral debts, and medical debts. There are some debts you should specifically know:

  • Mortgages: 5 years (from the end of the Deed of Trust)
  • Debts with a Signature/Signed Contracts: 5 years (from last transaction, e.g. payment or use of account)
  • Open Accounts/Debts without a Signature/Oral Debts: 3 years (from last transaction, e.g. payment or use of account)
  • Auto Loans: 4 years (from sale of repossession)
  • Medical Debts: 5 years
  • Virginia Tax Debts: 7 years (for balances assessed on and after July 1, 2016)

It’s important to note that the statute of limitations clock begins ticking from the date of the last activity on the account, such as the last payment made or acknowledgment of the debt. If no activity occurs for five years, the debt may become “time-barred.”

While many creditors will not sue after the Statute of Limitations has passed, in Virginia, even if the debt is passed creditors pursue legal action to collect it. This means that a civil lawsuit or a warrant in debt can still be filed in Virginia for the debt. It is crucial to be aware that the expiration of the statute of limitations does not automatically erase the debt. Statute of Limitations is an affirmative defense in Virginia, which means you must raise it to apply. However, if you are sued and can prove that the amount of time has passed to allow the Statute of Limitations to pass, then you will win; this defense applies even if the creditor can provide you owe the debt and/or signed a contract. In some states, the statute of limitations can bar a creditor from even filing a lawsuit after the time period has passed, but in Virginia, it is only an affirmative defense and if you do not raise that defense, you waive it. 

Additionally, a creditor may also still attempt to collect it through other means, such as contacting you for payment, even after the Statute of Limitations Applies. While creditors may continue their collection efforts even after the statute of limitations has expired, debtors in Virginia are protected from abusive and harassing debt collection practices. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) sets forth regulations to prevent collectors from engaging in deceptive, abusive, or unfair tactics. This means that collectors cannot threaten legal action if the debt is time-barred, and they are prohibited from using false or misleading statements to coerce payment.

Now, if creditor is collecting on a valid debt, then you may need to explore other options to deal with the debt, including settling, payment plan, or bankruptcy.

Judgments and Extended Collection Periods

In Virginia, obtaining a judgment against a debtor can extend the time frame for debt collection significantly. A judgment is a court order declaring that the debtor owes the creditor a specific amount of money. Once a judgment is obtained, creditors have the legal right to pursue collection efforts for the specified period, which can range from 10 to 40 years in Virginia, depending on the type of judgment. After a judgment is obtained, the creditor has many tools to try to collect on the debt, including liens, wage garnishment or bank garnishments. Since creditors have such a long time to collect on your debt, it becomes important to review options to deal with the debt, including payment plans and bankruptcy. 

It’s important to understand that even if a debt is no longer listed on your credit report, it does not mean that you are no longer responsible for it. Removing a debt from your credit report does not erase the underlying obligation. Credit reports are merely a record of your borrowing history and do not affect the validity of a debt or a judgment. A debt actually does not legally even need to be reported on your credit report; the only requirement is that anything anything on your credit report is accurate. Similarly, judgments do not typically show up on credit reports; as a result, if you have an older debt that has been reduced to a judgment, the judgment may still be valid even if the underlying debt has fallen off your credit report years prior.  

Receiving a Collection Letter

If you receive a collection letter, it’s crucial to review its legality. Debt collectors in Virginia are prohibited from falsifying legal documents or making false claims regarding legal action. While they can inform you about the debt owed, they cannot threaten legal action or demand payment through legal means if the debt is beyond the statute of limitations. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or harassed by debt collectors, or if you believe that the statute of limitations has expired on your debt, seeking advice from a reputable debt relief agency. Debt relief agencies can assess your financial situation, provide guidance on your rights under the law, and help you develop a strategy for managing your debt effectively. If a creditor will not set up a reasonable payment plan/settlement and/or you do not have the ability to pay on the debt, then your only option may be bankruptcy. 

Conclusion

Understanding the Virginia statute of limitations for your debts and your rights as a debtor is crucial when dealing with debt collection in Virginia. While the expiration of the Virginia statute of limitations may relieve you of the legal obligation to repay a debt, it’s essential to be aware of your rights and seek professional guidance if you’re unsure about how to proceed. By consulting a knowledgeable debt relief agency, you can take proactive steps to protect your financial interests and regain control of your financial future.

Attorney Ashley F. Morgan, a Virginia licensed attorney that focuses on debt and bankruptcy issues, regularly helps clients deal with debts and Warrant in Debts. She helps clients settle or negotiate debts, and discharging debts through bankruptcy. Ashley has also been able to limit her client’s debts by using Virginia Statute of Limitations arguments in court, including in Chapter 13 payment plans.