Creditors have a limited window within which they can legally sue you to collect on a debt. Once a bill has exceeded the statute of limitations, it becomes known as a time-barred debt. However, collectors can still legally try to get you to pay after an obligation achieves this status. Whether or not you do is up to you though.

Here’s what you need to know about time-barred debts:

How Old Is Too Old?

The clock starts ticking on the date of the last payment. The amount contained in the hourglass varies depending upon the type of debt and the state in which it occurs. Some states give creditors up to 15 years, while others limit it to as little as two (depending upon the type of debt).

Do You Have to Pay?

The short answer is no, but there are consequences. You can bet it will show up on your credit report, where it will reside for seven years from the date of the first missed payment, making it difficult to get credit for other purchases. Keep in mind though, if you acknowledge ownership of the debt, promise to pay, or make even a partial payment, the clock restarts on the debt, giving the collector more time in which to file a lawsuit against you to get the money.

What to Do If You’re Called?

Never acknowledge ownership nor make any offer to pay when collectors call you about a debt. If its time barred, you’ll restart the clock on the debt and give them an additional window within which they can file suit against you. And yes, they always record phone calls.

You can ask if a debt is time barred without admitting ownership. Say something along the lines of, “I have no recollection of any such debt. Can you tell me when the last payment was made on the account?” According to the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, they are required to answer this question truthfully.

Tell them you are disputing the debt and ask for written verification of all information they provide. By law, they have to stop calling you until they provide this verification.

Can You Settle?

Depending upon the type of obligation, time-barred debts can be ripe for settlement agreements. In most cases, these bills have been sold to a third-party collection company for pennies on the dollar. They don’t need to recoup the entire balance to make money, so they’re open to negotiating settlement agreements.

Many people contract with debt settlement firms to accomplish this, as they ‘d rather not deal with all of the back and forth and negotiating. To find a reputable organization, you can consult information like Freedom Debt relief reviews to get an idea of the character of the company.

If you negotiate a settlement on your own, get a signed document from the collection company outlining the agreement your reach before you send a payment. It should confirm that the entire debt is being settled and the amount you pay them will release you from any further obligation.