The Statute of Limitations for Debt Collection in Washington State

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

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Washington State Collections Laws' Time Limits

The Revised Code of Washington 4.16.040 sets a statute of limitations for 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. According to Lending Tree, the following debts have different time limits:

  • Medical debt: 6 years
  • Credit card debt: 6 years
  • Auto loan debt: 4 years
  • State tax debt: 4 years

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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.

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Lawsuits and the Statue of Limitations

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.

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Washington's statute of limitations limits the timeframe for a valid lawsuit and 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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Washington Collection Agency Requirements

Washington state collections laws require collection agencies to follow specific rules to collect on a debt:

  • They must give you its contact information, the contact information of the original creditor and must have a license to operate in Washington State.
  • They must tell you what the original debt is, with additional interest and fee
  • They must state that you have right to dispute the collection attempts, if you don't believe you owe anything

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Collections agencies cannot make an attempt to contact debtors more than three times a week. Only one of these attempts can be made while you are at work. A collection agency can you or your attorney, if you have one. They can also contact other people in your life to find you, but they cannot mention your debt.

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