Can a Debt Collector Restart the Clock on My Old Debt?

You have a very pleasant phone call with a debt collector. The person begs you to send in a just a small sum, say $10, to settle the payment and promises to never bother you again. Suddenly, you get a new bill with the date of the collection account reset to the current date. Is it legal?

Yes, most likely.

“You send in that $10, and that starts the statute of limitations all over again,” said Margot Saunders, counsel at the National Consumer Law Center. “Their promise is not enforceable.”

The statute of limitations on debt — how long a collector can sue you over a debt — varies by state. But that ticking clock can reset from the moment you pay part of it, or even if you say the wrong thing over the phone.

In some states, if debt collector calls the consumer and asks, “Do you admit that you owe this debt and you’re just refusing to pay it?” and the consumer says “Yes, I can’t pay it, but I agree I owe it.” That can count as a reaffirmation of the debt, which in some states restarts the statute all over again.

What should a consumer say?

“‘I don’t agree I owe it,'” said Saunders. “There’s no reason to ever have a friendly conversation with a debt collector. You don’t need to be rude, but you also don’t need to give them any information, whatsoever.”

One of our readers commenting on our site may have been caught in such a technicality:

I have a collection on an account from 2010. It has been dated at 2015 by the debt collection company. This is illegal or re-aging, isn’t it? What can I do? I live in Alabama and 6 years is the max from original date of the contract.

Read on.

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