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I forgot about a debt from 10 years ago. Now they are threatening to sue me. Can they get a judgment after 10 years?


If you have old debts, a collector may not be able to get a judgment. It depends on the statute of limitations.

Debt collectors and creditors have a limited number of years to sue you for collection. The principal statute of limitations in Illinois varies depending on what was on sale or lease. Below are some common limitations:

  • 4 years for the sale or lease of goods (such as a car, and including the obligation to pay for the goods). This includes some things which you might not think of as goods (water, natural gas, heating oil).

  • 10 years for a contract wholly in writing;

  • 5 years for a contract not wholly in writing (such as a bank credit card; sending you written terms which you "accept" by use of the card or other conduct is not considered a "writing");

  • 2 years for bad check penalties;

  • 3 years for bad checks.

These timelines apply prior to judgment. Judgments are enforceable for 20-27 years (shortened to 10 years for many judgments entered after January 1, 2020), with a requirement for revival after 7.

Other Types of Debt and Their Statute of Limitations in Illinois

The statute of limitations is different depending on what type of debt you have. Below are details regarding other types of debt and their statute of limitations.

  • We have obtained a ruling that an equity line of credit secured by your home (HELOC) is governed by the five-year statute.

  • Mortgages are enforceable for the same period as the underlying debt.

  • Illinois courts will generally apply the Illinois statute of limitations unless the "borrowing statute" applies. This basically applies if you lived in another state at the time of default and the limitations period in the other state is shorter.

  • "Writing" is used in a very technical sense in the statute of limitations, so do not assume that just because some sort of document exists the contract is one wholly in writing.

  • While the statute of limitations on a bad check is 3 years, there may be a longer period of limitations on the underlying transaction, depending on what it is.

  • There are no statutes of limitation on federal student loans. Private student loans are subject to the 5 or 10-year statute, depending on the documentation.

  • The statutes are measured from the later of default, last payment or last transaction. Payments may revive the statute and permit suit to be brought again.

  • In some cases, there are provisions for extension of the statute. For example, if you file a Chapter 13 that is late dismissed, the period during which the creditor is enjoined from collecting by the automatic stay is not counted.

  • There is also a special extension provision where the Government (usually the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) takes over a financial institution. The Illinois Appellate Court has held that it applies to entities that buy the debts of a failed financial institution from the Government.

Can a Debt Collector Sue You After the Statute of Limitations?

After the statute of limitations, your unpaid debts are considered to be “time-barred”. A debt collector may contact you about time-barred debts, but they do not have the legal right to sue you. If you are unsure whether or not your debt is time-barred, you are allowed to ask the collector. They are required by law to answer you truthfully.

Another way to confirm is by requesting a record of your last payment from the collector. Your last payment date will give you a “start date” so you can determine if you are before or after the statute of limitations.

Do I Have to Pay a Time-Barred Debt?

It is your choice whether or not you pay a time-barred debt, however considering speaking with a collection defense attorney before making a decision. Remember: a collector cannot sue you for a time-barred debt, however, they can still contact you to pay what you owe. If you want them to cease contact, you must send a letter to the collector demanding that they stop all communication.

You may begin paying back the debt, however depending on what state you are in, even if you promise to pay, this might revive the debt. This means that the clock will reset and a new period for the statute of limitations begins. This also means the collector will be able to sue you for your debt.

If you decide to pay the debt completely, be aware that some collectors may be willing to settle the debt for less than the amount you owe. You may even be able to settle on how large your payments should be. If you choose to do this, make sure you get a signed and detailed document of your payment terms from the collector before you begin making any payments. Always keep records of the payments you make.

Get a Free Consultation with a Chicago Debt Collection Defense Lawyer

Not only is the statute of limitations a defense, but attempts to collect time-barred debts often violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. There may be a violation if they sue, refer to a lawsuit in a letter or call, seek partial payment, offer a “settlement,” or otherwise engage in misleading or deceptive conduct.

We can help you both defend claims against you and assert your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and other laws. This is a technical area of the law, where the assistance of counsel is really necessary. Edelman, Combs, Latturner & Goodwin, LLC represented consumers in many of the leading cases addressing these issues.

Contact a collection defense attorney in Chicago at Edelman Combs Latturner & Goodwin LLC if you are facing unfair collection activity. Our attorneys have a total of more than 100 years experience handling consumer lawsuits, including both lawsuits by consumers and lawsuits against consumers. One of them wrote the book on defending collection lawsuits. D. Edelman, Collection Litigation: Representing the Debtor (Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education 2008, 2011, 2014, 2019 editions), as well as the chapters in Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education publications on the Truth in Lending Act, Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, Telephone Consumer Protection Act, and mortgage-related claims.

We look forward to hearing from you about any consumer legal problem you wish to discuss. We make no charge for a consultation.

Contact us online or call (312) 626-3585 for a free consultation with a debt collection defense attorney in Chicago at Edelman Combs Latturner & Goodwin LLC. We have 200+ years of collective experience.

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