My Sister Called in Tears Today Over an Old Debt. – Sally

“Dear Steve,

My sister called me this afternoon in tears. She’s been divorced 10 years now from a man who didn’t pay taxes for three years and drove up the balances on several credit cards. He was ordered to pay the IRS and two credit cards. Her husband tried to start his own business and used credit cards to do it. When he failed miserably, he took his name off the credit cards and left my sister as the only cardholder.

She was ordered to pay about a half dozen of the credit cards. He left her with nothing but debt. She paid off all but one of the credit cards. She completely forgot about it over the years but they called her last year and they called her again today. They called her at work. I told her to invoke the the Fair Debt Collection Act to put a stop to the calls at work, but she said when they called her last year, they called on her cell phone.

I realize the statute of limitations has run, but the problem is that she was ordered by the court to pay that balance. If the credit card company has a mind to, it can get a judgment against her. She’s absolutely sick about it. She lives paycheck to paycheck and certainly doesn’t have $9,000.

Is there anything she can do to avoid paying the $9,000? She already paid thousands of dollars in debt that he incurred when she divorced him.


Dear Sally,

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I doubt that the creditors took the ex-husband off the joint debt your sister once had with the guy. I suspect that what happened was that he went bankrupt and in that case the creditors would then only be able to go after your sister as long as she had been an account holder.

Playing the statute of limitations game is problematic. If you think the debt falls under the statute of limitation in your state, I would urge you to verify that with a lawyer in your state.

Even if a debt is outside the statute of limitations it does not mean that it is not collectible, the collector just can’t sue her to collect. However, they can still hound and nag her and make her life hell to intimidate her into paying.

If the debt is outside the statute of limitations she should be able to send a cease and desist letter to the collector and they should then stop communicating with her about this debt.

The only way to really close the door forever on a debt is with bankruptcy but since we really need a legal opinion about if this debt is covered by the statute of limitations, I’m hesitant to recommend anything drastic right now.

I previously wrote about how collectors from get your cell phone number. She can read that post here.

Please tell your sister to relax about the debt right now. There are ways to address this situation and deal with it. But first, you really need to find out if that debt is actually outside the statute of limitations in your state. Get with a lawyer right away and get the facts. Let’s act on facts and not fear.

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Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy and has been helping good people with bad debt problems since 1994. You can learn more about Steve, here.
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