I have heard that the federal government can collect on federal student loans forever. But I took out my student loans from a nongovernment private student loan lender. I have been in default for several years. Can the lender sue me forever, or is does it have a time limit to do so?
You are correct that federal loans have no statute of limitations. But private student loans do—and that time period is governed by state law.
Federal student loans are those made by or guaranteed by the federal government. They include Stafford loans, PLUS loans, Direct loans, and others. Private student loans, sometimes called private label loans, are provided by banks or other businesses, and are not guaranteed by the federal government. (As of June 30, 2010, the federal government no longer guarantees student loans, it just makes them directly. But many people who took out loans prior to June 30, 2010 have federally guaranteed student loans—these do not fit within the definition of private student loans.)
The statute of limitations is a rule that sets a time limit within which a creditor may sue you for payment of a debt. The length of time that a creditor has to sue you on an unpaid debt varies from state to state. In some states, it's four years. In other states, it might be longer. To find out your state's statute of limitations for various types of debts, see Civil Statutes of Limitations.
If you are trying to determine if a statute of limitation has run, you must know when the time period starts ticking. For most breach of contract actions, the limitation period starts running when the contract was first broken. That would be when you first stopped paying your student loan. (Learn more about the statute of limitations in collection actions.)
If you've defaulted on your student loan, and then you later make a payment, you can reset the clock on the statute of limitations. You might also risk reviving the time period in which the student loan creditor can sue you if you sign a new agreement to pay the debt, make a payment after the statute of limitations has run, or acknowledge your liability on the debt in some other way. The specifics regarding when you revive a debt or reset the clock depends on state law.
If the statute of limitations has run on your private student loan debt, the creditor can ask you to voluntarily pay the debt. But it can't sue you, threaten to sue you, or take other actions against you to force collection of the debt.