What Happens To Unpaid Credit Card Debt After 7 Years

What Happens To Credit Card Debt When You Die
BY Aaron Crowe
Feb 16, 2023
Key Takeaways:
  • Debts are yours forever
  • Statutes of limitation generally prevent debt collectors from collecting debts 3-6 years after they’re reported delinquent
  • Unpaid debts can fall off your credit reports after 7 years

Removing unpaid credit card debt and other types of debt from your credit report doesn’t require a magic act. What it sometimes requires is time (seven years). Even so, getting it off your credit report is not the same as getting it out of your life completely.

In most states, debt doesn't expire or disappear until you pay it.

Do you have to pay a debt after 7 years?

Unpaid credit card debt doesn’t go away after seven years, but it’s possible that no one can make you pay it.

Debt is legally yours forever, but state laws on collecting debt limit what creditors can legally do. After the statute of limitations expires, the creditor can no longer sue you for the debt, get a judgment against you, garnish your wages, or take any other legal action (though they might try). The statute of limitations ranges from three to six years in most states, but in Alaska, Rhode Island, and Missouri it’s 10 years; in New Hampshire, it’s 20 years.  

Those timelines can be reset if you make a partial payment. Suppose a debt collector comes to you with credit card debt that you haven’t paid for almost seven years, and asks for a small payment to show that you’re willing to pay off the debt. If you make a payment, then the clock starts again and the debt is legally collectible for another seven years. 

If you are sued for a debt after the statute of limitations has passed, then you can use that expired timeline as a defense to the lawsuit. It’s a violation of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practice Act for a debt collector to sue you if it knows the statute of limitations has passed.

Some debts remain on credit reports longer

Unpaid credit card debt is one type of debt that might come off a credit report after seven years. That can help your credit score rise again, making it easier to get loans and other types of credit.

But related problems, such as bankruptcy and legal judgments, can stay on credit reports for longer than seven years. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy can stay on a credit report for up to 10 years.

When does credit card debt go away?

There are three levels of certainty for when credit card debt can go away.

  • For sure: You paid it off.

  • Kind of: You may be responsible, but the debt is uncollectible or your assets are exempt from collection.

  • Doesn’t go away: You reset the clock.

Being judgment proof is an example of where you’re kind of responsible. You might even have a judgment against you. But if your income is exempt from collections, for example, social security, you don’t have to pay the debt. While a creditor can win a judgment against you, being judgment proof prevents it from collecting on it.

You might be judgment proof if you:

  • Don’t work or have a very low-paying job.

  • Don’t own assets such as money in a bank account or real estate.

Some income, such as unemployment, Social Security, and other public entitlement benefits, are exempt from seizure by judgment creditors. 

Being judgment proof isn’t always permanent. If your financial circumstances change, a creditor may be able to collect by filing another lawsuit against you.

Can debt collectors call me after 7 years?

Debt collectors can call you after 7 years but they must follow state and federal laws. The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) prohibits debt collectors from calling you repeatedly or with intent to harass, oppress, or abuse you. A debt collector can’t call you about a particular debt:

  • More than seven times within seven days.

  • Within seven days after talking to you on the phone about the debt.

These only apply to calls placed by the debt collector to you. They don’t apply to text messages, emails, in-person interactions or social media, which may all have other protections.

Even if a debt falls off your credit report after seven years, debt collectors may still call you to try to get you to pay part of a debt by telling you that you have a moral obligation to. That’s between you and your conscience, but the statute of limitations in your state is the real rule you should be paying attention to.

Making a partial payment can reset the clock, putting the debt back on your credit report for seven years and giving a debt collector another chance to sue you for the debt.

Be careful. Even admitting that you owe the debt can restart the clock under some circumstances. Don’t talk to debt collectors at all. The way to deal with collection agencies is to get information from them, and then make a decision about the best thing to do.

Federal laws also limit when debt collectors can call you, and require that they stop contacting you when you tell them to. They can’t call at an unusual or inconvenient time, such as before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. You can notify the debt collector in writing that you don’t want to receive any more calls, and they must comply.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the statute of limitations on credit card debt?

The statute of limitations on debt collection in most states is between 3 and six years. In Alaska, Missouri, and Rhode Island, it is 10 years. In New Hampshire it is 20 years. This only means that they can’t come after you legally. Your obligation to pay it never goes away.

Debts can show up on your credit report for seven years past the date of delinquency, and in a few cases, longer than that. 

A creditor can continue asking you to pay a debt, as long as:

  • The debt is yours

  • The amount is correct

  • The debt collector is entitled to collect 

If you’re sued for a debt, the age of the debt can be your defense. After the statute of limitations expires, debt collectors may lose a lawsuit against you because their legal time to collect has run out.

Do I still owe an unpaid debt after 7 years?

Technically, yes, debts are yours forever. 

But if the statute of limitations has expired, which is as short as three years in some states, then the creditor may not take legal steps to make you pay.

Is it true that after 7 years your credit is clear?

Your credit report may be cleaner after seven years if a delinquent debt is removed.

If you have a judgment against you related to the debt, you might see longer lasting damage. The collection or charge off is supposed to be removed after seven years, and so are judgments. If you have a legal judgment against you that is related to the debt, it is likely dated much later than the original debt. The judgment will remain for seven years.

Again, remember that just because unpaid credit card debt is no longer listed on a credit report, the debt doesn’t expire or disappear in most states until you pay it. You could be hearing from debt collectors for years after negative information falls off your credit report. They will try many tactics to revive the debt.