Collection agencies can try to collect debt after it is deleted from your credit report

Dear Experian,

How many years back can a collection agency go to collect a debt? I have one from 1999 that my ex-wife and I have that was not paid. I am getting letters and calls from them, and they are telling me that they can still take my wages thru a garnishment. My wife was to pay this when we divorced. I make more money than her so they said they are going after me. Can they do this?



Dear TMW,

The statute of limitations for attempting to collect a debt varies by state, so you would need to check the laws for where you live. However, there is a limit on how long that debt can appear in your credit report. So, depending on your state, the collection agency might continue to contact you even after the account has been deleted from your credit history.

Collection accounts are deleted seven years from the original delinquency date of the original account. The original delinquency date is the date the account first became delinquent and after which was never again current.

Your email indicates the account was delinquent in 1999, if not before, so it very likely has been deleted from your report. You can find out by requesting a copy online at

Your situation is complicated by divorce. It is important to understand that a divorce decree does not remove your responsibility for joint accounts because it does not affect the contract you have with your lender. A divorce decree is only an agreement between you and the court.

In order to remove yourself from responsibility for the joint account you must contact the lender and it must agree to change the contract. They may require you or your ex-wife to show that you can manage the debt individually before they will agree to do so.

I would advise you to contact an attorney about the ability of the collection agency to garnish your wages. That is beyond my expertise.

Thanks for asking.

- The “Ask Experian” team

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