The Statute of Limitations for Debt Collection in Washington State

If you have unpaid debts languishing in Washington, get familiar with the state's statutes of limitations on debt lawsuits. These laws set a deadline for filing a lawsuit against a debtor who has defaulted on a loan or a credit card agreement. Once the SOL runs out, a defendant can request a court to dismiss the suit for that reason.

The Six-Year Rule

The Revised Code of Washington 4.16.040 sets a six-year statute of limitations for all actions on written contracts, such as auto loans, boat loans, business loans, promissory notes, mortgages and personal bank loans. This deadline covers all debts that are "express or implied arising out of a written agreement," included lease agreements for the rental of real estate.

Oral and Open-Ended Accounts

Washington sets a three-year statute of limitations on oral agreements, as well as open-ended accounts offered by retailers and credit-card issuers. If you signed a credit card agreement offering a revolving line of credit, the creditor has three years to sue you after the last payment on the account. If you file for bankruptcy protection, a federal court will issue an automatic stay that suspends all collection actions, including lawsuits, while the bankruptcy is in progress. If the bankruptcy does not discharge the debt, the statute of limitations recommences when the bankruptcy case closes.

Answering a Debt Lawsuit

The statutory deadline does not prevent a creditor from filing a lawsuit against a debtor and hoping the debtor does not respond. Civil courts are not equipped to verify payment histories, which are confidential, and therefore will not automatically dismiss a lawsuit brought by a creditor based on the statute of limitations. It's up to the debtor or defendant to raise a statute of limitations defense, and move for a dismissal of the case. Without a defendant proving that the statute of limitations has passed, the court may decide for the creditor and issue an enforceable judgment.

Collections and the SOL

Washington's statute of limitations limits the timeframe for a valid lawsuit. It does not time-bar collection by the creditor, who may continue to demand repayment for a valid debt indefinitely. A federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act sets down the rules on collections, but mentions no deadlines. If the statute has passed, and the creditor can convince a debtor to make any repayment, even a small one, the statute of limitations resets, and a creditor again has the opportunity to sue.

With a judgment in hand, a creditor has ten years to collect through legal means such as levies, liens or garnishments, or through the seizure of property. Washington also permits creditors to petition for judgment renewals.

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