The statute of limitations sets how long a creditor has to sue you for an unpaid debt. Once the statute of limitations is up, the creditor can no longer sue you or threaten to sue you. Each state sets its own statute of limitations for types of debt. The statute of limitations for written contracts, including cell or home phones, varies from three to 15 years, depending on your state.
State Statutes of Limitations
In several states, such as Alabama, Kansas, North Carolina and Maryland, the statute of limitations for written contracts is just three years. In 18 states -- including Ohio, Utah and Wisconsin -- the statute of limitations is six years. Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Rhode Island, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming have a 10-year statute of limitations. Kentucky has a 15-year statute of limitations.
The statute of limitations begins with the first date of uninterrupted delinquency. If the debt is sold to a collection agency, the statute of limitations will not be extended. However, if you negotiate a repayment plan with the creditor and default, the clock will start over again.
Obligation to Pay
The debt is not forgiven or erased once the statute of limitations expires, so you may still owe the debt. The creditor can't sue or threaten to sue, but it can contact you and ask for payment. If you try to establish a line of service with the same phone provider after the statute of limitations expires, it may require you to pay the debt first. Even if you live in a state with a short statute of limitations for phone debt, the debt can still appear as a negative account on your credit report for up to seven years.
Jeannine Mancini, a Florida native, has been writing business and personal finance articles since 2003. Her articles have been published in the Florida Today and Orlando Sentinel. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Central Florida.