So you got a call from a debt collector about an old credit card bill or medical debt you thought you'd never hear about again. Now you're worried they might sue you to collect.

Does Virginia law protect you here?

Lucky for Virginians, the state has time limits—called statutes of limitations—on how long creditors and collectors can go after you for debts. It gives us consumers some major leverage in debt settlement negotiations.

But to use it, you need to know the ins and outs of Virginia's statute of limitations on debt. This guide has your back.

What Is the Statute of Limitations on debt in Virginia?

The statute of limitations limits how long a creditor or debt collector can sue you to collect a debt. This includes:

  • Credit card debt
  • Medical bills
  • Personal loans
  • Payday loans
  • Other unsecured debts

In Virginia, the clock starts ticking from the date of your last payment or when you defaulted on the debt—whichever happened last.

When the time's up, the creditor loses the legal means to collect through the courts. Your debt essentially becomes "time-barred."

Now, the creditor or a collection agency can still ask (or harass) you to pay up even after the statute of limitations expires.

But they can't get a court judgment against you or garnish your wages/bank account. We'll get to what you can do about collectors in a bit.

Here are Virginia's time limits for common debts:

  • Written contracts — 5 years
  • Open accounts — 3 years
  • Oral contracts— 3 years
  • Promissory notes — 6 years, or 10 years if it's under seal
  • Auto deficiency — 4 years
  • State tax debts — 7 years

As you can see, Virginia gives you 3 to 10 years before pulling the plug, depending on the debt type. Not too shabby compared to other states.

Say you had a credit card for years and stopped paying in 2015. The bank sold it to a collection agency in 2020—a few months before Virginia's 5-year limit was up.

That agency can still try to collect or even sue you if they do it fast enough. But after January 2021, it becomes a time-barred debt that's off-limits for lawsuits.

What happens when debt becomes time-barred in Virginia?

After the statute of limitations passes, creditors and collectors don't have much power over you. Here are key things to know:

Lawsuits Are off the Table

No Virginia court will hear a lawsuit about time-barred debts. This applies if you never responded to a summons and got a default judgment years ago.

So you can rest easy knowing there's zero risk of wage/bank garnishment or liens on your property for that old debt.

It Stays on Your Credit Report

Just because creditors can't sue doesn't make the debt magically disappear. It'll stay on your credit reports for up to seven years.

And it can still drag down your credit scores and make it tough to get approved for loans or credit cards.

The good-ish news? Creditors must note time-barred debts when reporting to the bureaus. It's a tiny silver lining, but some lenders may overlook older debts, especially if you have decent scores otherwise.

Collectors Might Still Harass You

Unfortunately, scummy collectors can still bug you to pay even if the statute of limitations runs out. And they don't have to disclose upfront that they legally can't sue you.

Shady move number two? Some collectors will even lie and say you could still be sued or that partial payment resets the clock (it doesn't in Virginia).

Now you can sic the watchdogs on them if they break debt collection laws — more on that shortly. The point is: expired debts can still be a headache.

How can you tell if a debt is time-barred in Virginia?

It pays to know whether a collector contacting you is pursuing a time-barred debt. Here are telltale signs:

Do the math. If the debt is older than the statute of limitations for that type, it can't be legally enforced in court.

Ask for validation. You can send the collector a debt validation letter demanding proof of the debt details and the statute of limitations.

Check your credit report. See when the original creditor says the debt first went delinquent. If it's outside Virginia's time limits, it's expired.

Use online tools. Sites like SoloSuit let you plug in the debt type, origination date, etc. to check if the statute of limitations has passed.

If it looks time-barred, you've got leverage to settle for less or get it removed from your credit reports.

But don't take the collector's word. Do your own digging so you know your rights and can call their bluff.

How should you handle Virginia debt collectors and lawsuits?

Just because collectors can't sue doesn't mean they won't try to pressure or deceive you into paying. Here are tips to protect yourself:

  • Stop communications. Send a cease and desist letter demanding no further contact. They must honor it in writing.
  • Report violations. If collectors keep bugging you, report them to the CFPB and Virginia Attorney General. Each violation can lead to fines of $1,000 or more.
  • Don't fall for tricks. Collectors might pretend the statute of limitations reset or that you could still be sued. Call their bluff if you know the debt is time-barred.
  • Never make a payment. Virginia has no statute of limitations on collecting judgments. So any payment could essentially reset the clock and open you up to lawsuits again.
  • Respond to lawsuits ASAP. If served with papers, don't ignore them! File an Answer denying the lawsuit's claims before the 21-day deadline.
  • Don't admit it's your debt. In your Answer, say the debt is time-barred and demand the collector proves you owe it. Make them work for it!

You can often get the case dismissed with the right evidence and responses. The key is knowing your rights under Virginia's statute of limitations.

The takeaway: use Virginia's time limits to your advantage

Nobody wants to deal with old debts coming back to haunt them. But at least Virginia gives you a few years of protection before creditors can take you to court.

The next time a collector calls, do your homework to see if the debt is time-barred. If so, you can negotiate a lower settlement or get it removed from your credit report since they don't have much leverage.

And if you do get sued, don't panic. Respond on time and lean on the statute of limitations for protection. Know your rights, and you can turn the tables on collectors to resolve old debts on your own terms!