North Carolina residents who owe outstanding credit card bills may face a civil lawsuit if they fail to pay. The statute of limitations specifies how long a creditor has to file a civil claim for unpaid debt. In North Carolina, the statute of limitations on credit card debt is covered under Section 1-52 of the Civil Procedure Code. If you're concerned about being sued for credit card debt, you need to understand your rights.
Under North Carolina law, creditors have three years to file a lawsuit for unpaid credit card debt. The clock starts ticking on the date of the first delinquency on the account. Once the debt passes its expiration date, it's considered to be "time-barred," meaning you can no longer be sued. This is true whether the debt is still owned by the original creditor or if it's been sold to a debt collection agency. Some debt collectors may attempt to reset the clock on the account to circumvent the statute of limitations.
Restarting the Clock
If you're carrying around old debt, it's possible to inadvertently reset the statute of limitations, allowing your creditors more time to sue. Agreeing to make a payment, making a payment, entering into a settlement agreement or charging something to the account can all restart the clock, regardless of how close you are to the expiration date. Simply speaking to a debt collector about the debt is not enough to cause a reset, but it's important to choose your words carefully. Just admitting that you owe the debt may be all the creditor needs to initiate a lawsuit.
If You're Sued
If you're sued for a debt in North Carolina that you believe to be time-barred, simply ignoring the summons won't make the case go away. You'll need to appear in court on the day of the hearing and be able to prove the debt is past the statute of limitations. Examples of supporting documentation may include account statements, payment receipts and any written communications between yourself and the creditor. If you're not able to prove the debt is time-barred, the creditor may win a judgment. In North Carolina, your creditor can levy your bank account or put a lien on your property to collect the debt.
Protecting Your Rights
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) affords you certain rights to protect yourself against debt collectors who contact you about time-barred debt. If you've been contacted by a collection agency about a debt you think is outside the statute of limitations, you can send a written request asking the agency to verify the debt. If they're unable to do so, you can send another letter asking them to stop calling you about the debt. If you believe a debt collector has violated your rights under the FDCPA, you should notify the North Carolina Attorney General's Office and the Federal Trade Commission. You may also be able to sue the creditor for violating your rights.
- FTC: Time-Barred Debts
- North Carolina Legislature: Chapter 1 -- Civil Procedure
- ABC News: Debt Re-aging Dangers: Use Caution When Contacted About Old Past-Due Bills
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "My Debt Is Several Years Old. Can Debt Collectors Still Collect?" Accessed Oct. 11, 2020.
- FTC. "Under FTC Settlement, Debt Buyer Agrees to Pay $2.5 Million for Alleged Consumer Deception." Accessed Oct. 11, 2020.
- FTC. "Debt Collection FAQs." Accessed Oct. 11, 2020.
Rebecca Lake is a freelance writer and virtual assistant living in the southeast. She has been writing professionally since 2009 for various websites. Lake received her master's degree in criminal justice from Charleston Southern University.