The best laid financial plans can be upended by unexpected events. Despite your efforts to manage your debt in difficult financial times, you may face delinquent bills, such as credit card accounts. Even when you cannot pay these debts, you have certain rights that your creditor and any debt collector must respect. In many states, like Nebraska, statutes affecting credit card debt typically involve the period of time when you can be sued. In all states, the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act limits what a debt collector can do when attempting to collect a debt.
Statute of Limitations
Nebraska law includes several statutes of limitations that restrict a creditor's right to sue you in civil court for a debt. The time limit depends on the type of debt. For example, the statute of limitations to sue for a breach of written contract is five years from the date of breach. Because there is no Nebraska statute of limitation that specifically refers to credit card debt, a lawsuit to enforce such a debt is governed by the "catch-all" four-year statute of limitations in Nebraska Revised Statute 25-212, which states that "[a]n action for relief not otherwise provided for in Chapter 25 can only be brought within four years after the cause of action shall have accrued." If your credit card debt is more than four years old, your creditor can be barred from obtaining a court judgment for this debt.
Asserting the Statute
If you are sued because of credit card debt, you must take action to protect your rights, particularly if you have a good defense based on the statute of limitations. A civil lawsuit in Nebraska is started with a two-step process. Your creditor files the required paperwork for a civil lawsuit in your local courthouse and serves a copy of this paperwork on you. You have 30 days after being served to file a written answer with the court. Your response must include the statute of limitations as an affirmative defense -- that is, you specifically state the defense in your answer. If you fail to either answer the lawsuit or assert the defense in your answer, your creditor can claim you waived your rights under the statute of limitations and a judgment can be made against you for the old credit card debt.
Reviving the Statute
Nebraska law includes a statute that causes the statute of limitations on your credit card debt to be reset or revived, depending on your actions. Nebraska Revised Statute 25-216 states that voluntary payment on an old debt or acknowledgment of the debt in writing starts the statute of limitations from the date of payment or acknowledgment. For example, if you did not make a payment on your credit card debt for three years, you will restart the four-year statute of limitations by making any payment on the debt. The same is true even if the statute already expired.
Debt Collection Practices
Debt collectors in all states are subject to the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The act places limits regarding when and under what circumstances a debt collector can call you. For example, if you inform a debt collector that your employer prohibits you from receiving personal calls at work, further calls to you at work violate the law. Also, if a debt collector sues you for a debt that has already expired under the statute of limitations, you may be able to sue the debt collector for damages under the FDCPA.