What is the Statute of Limitations on my debt?
A number of people have asked what the statute of limitations is on debt in Virginia. The answer is both simple and complex.
A contract which is in writing has a 5 year time from the date the plaintiff first has the right to sue, called breach.
A contract which is not in writing (oral contracts are valid in Virginia) which includes promises and other agreements, is 3 years from the date the plaintiff has the first right to sue.
Here is where it gets interesting.
Some contracts are subject to a different Statute of Limitations. If the contract is for the sale of goods, it would be subject to a special term, under the Virginia Uniform Commercial Code, which is 4 years.
And not all oral contracts are enforceable. There is another law, called the Statute of Frauds (which is correctly called the Statute for the PREENTION of Frauds), in which case some agreements, even though they should be enforceable, are not enforceable. Some examples are contracts for more than $500.00; contracts which cannot be performed in less than 1 year, and contracts for the sale or transfer of land. There are other things that are covered by this statute, but those are the most important here.
A contract under seal has a 6 year statute of limitations. But what does a contract under seal mean? It means that where the signature line is that it says SEAL. This is not a notarized contract.
A Notarized contract is a contract with a special kind of witness- a Notary- who witnesses your signature. A Notarized contract should still have a 5 year statute.
Except that not all written documents are a contract in writing. A written contract has all the terms and conditions on its face, or are easily found. For example, a contract that says that the interest rate is the highest prime rate in the Wall Street Journal on the first Monday of each month, is still a contract in writing. A contract that says that the terms can be changed by one party at any time by giving notice 30 days in advance is NOT a contract in writing, IF anyone makes a change.
But what gives the right to sue?
The right to sue come when a party breaches the contract. Typically, it is the first time a person fails to make a payment when due. However, some contracts have other terms that can trigger default, or quasi-default. Examples include if you go over your credit limit. This may be a default, or the contract may specify that if you go over the limit and do not pay it down to under the credit limit within 30 days that would be default. Turning in the collateral MIGHT be a default,
Can the statute of limitations be extended?
Sure. If the time to sue has started, under certain circumstances, a payment may restart the statute of limitations. An unconditional promise to pay in writing will restart the statute of limitations. An oral promise to pay will not restart the statute of limitations.
What if the contract calls for the law of another state?
Virginia law says that the time to sue is the shorter of the time in Virginia or the law of the state of the contract. So what law applies to the statute of limitations? If the agreement says that the law is that of Delaware, and Delaware says the statute is 3 years, then 3 years would be the longest it could be.
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