How long does a creditor have to collect on a judgment against me?
That depends on the laws of your state, and the method that the creditor uses to try and collect on that judgment. Usually, judgments are valid for several years before they expire or “lapse.” In some states, a judgment is effective between five to seven years. In other states, like New York, it can be twenty years or longer.
The time period is usually starts running from:
the date of entry of the judgment
the date that a creditor last tried to execute (collect) on the judgment, or
the later date of either event.
Potentially, a judgment can effectively become permanent. That is because many states allow creditors to renew their judgments. That means that if a creditor gets a court order or files an affidavit or other document, it can renew the judgment for another cycle. In some states, creditors are allowed to renew a judgment once or twice. In others, there's no limit.
If a judgment creditor does not renew a judgment on time, then that judgment lapses. A judgment may also lapse if the creditor doesn't do anything to execute on that judgment for a certain period of time. When a judgment lapses (or becomes “dormant”), the creditor can no longer legally enforce it. That means a creditor cannot:
attach your bank account
seize your property, or
make you appear for a debtor's examination.
If a judgment against you has lapsed, that doesn't mean it has gone away forever. That's because many states allow creditors to “revive” dormant judgments. There might be a time limit for a creditor to revive a dormant judgment. State laws vary on how the time period is calculated. The clock may begin to run from the time the creditor last tried to collect on the judgment, or it might run from the time the judgment later went dormant.
Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a bill collector may still contact you on a lapsed judgment and ask you to pay. However, a debt collector cannot threaten to garnish your wages or take other legal action to pressure you into settling that old judgment. If a debt collector lies to you about the age of the judgment and whether it lapsed under your state's laws, then that also might be a violation of the FDCPA.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), a judgment can show up on your credit report for at least seven years. It can show up even longer, depending on how much time your state's laws give effect to that judgment. For example, if a judgment was entered against you in California, it can show up on your credit report for ten years, or even 20 years if the creditor renewed it on time.