What is the Statute of Limitations on Debt In Florida?

Most unpaid debts won't follow you forever. Florida's Statute of Limitations states how long a creditor has to sue you in Florida courts. Usually creditors are out of luck if the debt is more than five years old.

Oral or Written

In most cases, it doesn't matter what kind of debt you're dealing with — payday loan, credit card bill or an unpaid medical bill. What's important is the type of contract, not the nature of the debt. If the debt results from a written contract or agreement, the creditor has five years to collect, unless the contract specifies a shorter time-frame. If all you had was an oral agreement, the debt becomes time-barred after only four years.

If you try to duck your creditors, this tolls the statute of limitations, halting the countdown. For example, if you move out of state for six months, so that a debt collector can't give you a summons to court, that may add another six months to the time before the debt expires.

Special Cases

Some debts receive different treatment from others:

•Debts resulting from injuries or property damage you caused have four years before they become time-barred.

•Tax liens — a claim on your property to pay for back taxes — can last up to 20 years, but may expire sooner, depending on the type of tax debt.

•Court costs or fines -- no time limit — the state may sue you to collect at any time.

•Alimony -- Your obligation to pay back alimony doesn't expire, says Florida attorney Daniel Copeland.

•If your creditor has a judgment from a Florida court saying you owe her money, she has 20 years before the judgment becomes ineffective. Until then, she can garnish your wages or put a lien on your property. For out-of-state courts, the judgment becomes ineffective after only five years.

•If the debt is due to fraud, the statute-of-limitations timeline starts when the victim discovers the fraud, or should have discovered it if exercising reasonable diligence, not when the fraud took place. After 12 years, however, the debt becomes time-barred no matter when the victim discovered it.

Zombie Debts

After a debt is barred, some creditors or debt collectors may resurrect it as a zombie debt, pressuring you to pay even though you no longer have an obligation. A debt collector can even sue you for a time-barred debt. You can win by showing the judge how old the debt is. If instead you ignore the court summons, the judge may rule for the collection agency by default.

In some states, offers or promises from you to pay the debt can restart the clock. The Florida statutes say this only applies in the Sunshine State if you put it in writing and sign it.

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