If you’ve found yourself in a heap of medical debt, you’re not alone.

At last check, American consumers had amassed a combined $88 billion in medical debt. And the amount in collections is thought to be even higher, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Now might be the time to address any medical debts you haven't been able to pay, especially if debt collectors are threatening to take legal action.

Just as there is for other types of debt, such as credit cards, there’s a medical debt statute of limitations.

A statute of limitations on medical debt is a law meant to protect consumers from creditors who are escalating the matter to court after a prolonged period of time.

The medical statute of limitations varies from state to state, but the general range is three years up to about a decade, with states like Delaware on the shorter end and Wyoming on the longer end of that range.

If you are facing unpaid medical bills, keep reading as we explore the statute of limitations on medical debt collection by state.

What is the medical statute of limitations?

Statutes of limitations date back several centuries and originally had to do with property rights.

Generally speaking, it’s a time limit on the amount of time that an individual or business may bring legal action against a debtor for unpaid bills.

These statutes exist to protect individuals from claims against them that have lost their relevance for one reason or another.

Once your medical debt reaches your state’s medical statute of limitations, it becomes what’s known as “time-barred,” meaning the clock has run out for the creditor to take any legal action against you.

In healthcare, the medical statute of limitations is similarly designed to protect you from being sued by debt collectors for unpaid balances that are years old.

If you are in this situation, the statute of limitations on medical debt may apply.

The first step is to assess the age of your unpaid bills. That's when the clock starts ticking on the medical statute of limitations.

Second, check the statute for your state to determine whether or not you are eligible to use it as a defense to begin with.

State by state

State laws, not federal, govern the statute of limitations on medical debt.

It’s up to each state’s legislature to determine the terms for debt collection. And each state has its own unique set of parameters for the statute of limitations on various types of debt.

Medical debt often falls under the written category of debt. It may also be grouped under the promissory note bucket, depending on the details of the contract.

Below is a listing of all 50 states and Washington, D.C., as well as the general medical statute of limitations, though it could vary depending on the contract type.

StateLimitation (in years)StateLimitation (in years)
Arizona 6Arkansas 5
Washington, D.C.3Florida5
Kansas5Kentucky 10
New Hampshire3New Jersey6
New Mexico6New York6
North Carolina3North Dakota6
Rhode Island 10South Carolina3
South Dakota6Tennessee6
Washington6West Virginia10

Let’s explore a short sample case study to learn in more detail how it works.

Example: How long can medical debt be collected in Colorado?

In the state of Colorado, the medical statute of limitations runs out in six years.

This means that a medical debt collector has up to six years from the date that the last payment was made toward the balance to take legal action.

If you receive a debt collection summons, the state of Colorado allows you 21 days to respond by filing what’s known as an Answer in the same court in which the complaint was filed.

So let’s say the last time you paid anything on this debt was in 2016.

If you receive the summons in 2023, beyond the six-year mark, the medical debt has become time-barred.

You have every right to include in your Answer that the statute of limitations has been exhausted.

Fine print

Keep in mind that a favorable outcome isn't guaranteed.

If debt collectors do take the matter to court, it will be up to you to know what the statute of limitations in your state is and whether your debt qualifies.

It's not the judge's responsibility to make that call.

In fact, even if the debt collector knows that the medical statute of limitations has passed, they may still pursue a lawsuit, betting that the debtor isn’t aware of this legal defense.

There are other ways in which a debt collector’s strategies can work against you. For example, they might try to convince you to make even one small payment on an old debt.

They do this because they know that doing so will will reset the medical statute of limitations clock back to zero, giving them leverage in any potential legal battle.

Even if you are able to score a legal victory, it won’t erase the debt altogether. You’re still responsible for paying the medical bill balance.

And that’s not all.

The statute of limitations on medical debt collection by state cannot stop debt collectors from reporting your missed payments to the major credit agencies.

So, even if your case is dismissed in court, your credit score could still take a hit.

Clearly, it does not pay to let medical bills collect dust in hopes of wiping them out through a statute of limitations for medical debt.


If you find yourself the recipient of a lawsuit after the statute of limitations on medical debt collection has run out, this is not the time to sit back and do nothing.

Even if you know that the medical statute of limitations in your state is up, you’ve still got to take action to make it work for you.

It requires you to compose an Answer in writing and present it to the plaintiff’s attorney.

As the defendant, you will also probably want to hire an attorney so you've got an expert by your side throughout the process. In this situation, the sooner you respond, the better.