It varies a lot. Here in Utah, you can count on 6 years being about standard.
The statute of limitations means the amount of time a creditor has to file a lawsuit against you for some kind of debt. For example, you had a medical procedure done 10 years ago, and they just barely got around to filing a lawsuit against you in state court. That lawsuit could be thrown out if you assert the defense that the statute of limitations has run.
Basically, the debt is too old, and they missed their chance.
Here in Utah, the statutes of limitation for debt collection look like this:
judgment — 8 years from date of judgment (unless they renew it, then the 8 years starts again)
credit cards — 6 years from date on signed contract or 4 years from last payment received
car loan — (it’s a signed contract)
gym membership — (it it’s a written agreement, otherwise only 4)
medical debt — (6 years or 4 years, depending on whether or not there’s a written contract)
store accounts (like an RC Willey account)
for work performed (without a contract)
open account for services or materials — (no contract here either)
verbal contract — (Not in writing. That’s why is says “verbal.”)
fraud — 3 years from date of discovery (when the defrauded person learns that he’s been defrauded)
libel, slander, false imprisonment, or seduction — 1 year (and to be honest, I’ve never had a seduction case before, dang it!)
Here are the actual statutes:
An action may be brought within one year:
(4) for libel, slander, false imprisonment, or seduction;
An action may be brought within two years:
(2) for recovery of damages for a death caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another;
An action may be brought within three years:
(2) for taking, detaining, or injuring personal property, including actions for specific recovery; except that in cases where the subject of the action is a domestic animal usually included in the term “livestock,” which at the time of its loss has a recorded mark or brand, if the animal strayed or was stolen from the true owner without the owner’s fault, the cause does not accrue until the owner has actual knowledge of facts that would put a reasonable person upon inquiry as to the possession of the animal by the defendant;
(3) for relief on the ground of fraud or mistake; except that the cause of action does not accrue until the discovery by the aggrieved party of the facts constituting the fraud or mistake;
An action may be brought within four years:
(1) after the last charge is made or the last payment is received:
(a) upon a contract, obligation, or liability not founded upon an instrument in writing;
(b) on an open store account for any goods, wares, or merchandise; or
(c) on an open account for work, labor or services rendered, or materials furnished;
(1) An action may be brought within six years:
(a) for the mesne profits of real property;
(b) subject to Subsection (2), upon any contract, obligation, or liability founded upon an instrument in writing, except those mentioned in Section 78B-2-311; or
(c) to recover fire suppression costs or other damages caused by wildland fire.
(2) For a credit agreement, as defined in Section 25-5-4, the six-year period described in Subsection (1) begins the later of the day on which:
(a) the debt arose;
(b) the debtor makes a written acknowledgment of the debt or a promise to pay the debt; or
(c) the debtor or a third party makes a payment on the debt.