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Understanding The Statute Of Limitations


One of our readers, Jennifer, sent us this question:

I have a cc from 10 years ago that my late ex husband opened in my name and charged it up and now the cc company has said that they were gonna take $600 a month out of my check until the card is paid off. Is this correct?

Hi Jennifer, thanks for your question!

Here’s the deal:

The credit card company cannot take any money out of your check unless you specifically authorize them to, and then it would still not normally be removed from your check. Usually a payment arrangement would come out of your bank account at regular intervals that you agree on. If you haven’t agreed to it, then no money can come out.

One exception:

If you have a judgment against you for the debt, then yes, they can legally garnish your wages. If you have a judgment, then you should have been notified of it. If you have moved several times, and are not sure whether or not you have a judgment against you, then you need to check your credit reports at all three credit bureaus. It will be listed there as a public record.

Now the thing that bothers me about this is that the debt is ten years old. Usually by this time, the statue of limitations has expired. So, let’s take a better look at that.

What is the statue of limitations?

The statue of limitations is the legal amount of time that creditors are allowed to attempt to collect a debt from you. Usually the statue of limitations is between 4 and 6 years, but the laws vary by state.

Problems with the statue of limitations:

If you speak to a creditor about your debt, set up a payment plan, promise to pay the debt, or even call to inquire about it, then you effectively reset the statue of limitations. This means that if the laws in your state say that they have four years to collect from you, and a collection company calls you and speaks to you about the debt at three years and eleven months, then the statue of limitations is reset for another four years.

So, if you have not spoken to anyone about the debt then you should be protected under the statue of limitations. If you have spoken to them however (and it sounds like you have) then this will probably not apply to you.

Now, there’s another issue here. You said that your ex-husband opened up an account in your name, and then charged the account up. If this is the case, and you are being sued for the debt, then you are either going to have to treat the debt as identity theft (meaning that he did not have your permission to open the account) and possibly attempt to prosecute him for it, or you are going to have to find a way to pay the debt back.

Regardless, this is a very old debt, and the collections agency cannot garnish your wages without a judgment. So, the first step for you right now is to pull your credit reports and see if you have a judgment against you. You can request a free copy of all three of your credit reports here.

If you do not have a judgment against you, then rest assured that they cannot take any money out of your check without your permission.

Thanks again for your question.

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