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.
(To learn more about judgments, including how creditors get them, visit our Creditor Lawsuits topic area. To learn how creditors collect judgments, visit Debt Collection: Repossession, Wage Garnishments, Bank Levies, and More.)
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 is 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 does not 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:
garnish your wages
attach your bank account
seize your property, or
make you appear for a debtor's examination.
If a judgment against you has lapsed, that does not mean it has gone away forever. That is because many states allow creditors to “revive” dormant judgments. There may be a time limit for a creditor to revive a dormant judgment. For instance, in Ohio, a creditor has ten years from the date the judgment went dormant to revive it. 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 may 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 may be a violation of the FDCPA. For more information, read Nolo's article Illegal Debt Collection Practices.
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 filed against you in Arizona, it is good for five years. That means that even if the judgment isn't renewed, it can still show up on your creditor report for another two years. 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. (You can learn more about your credit report and the FCRA in our Credit Repair area.)