Ultimate Guide to the Debt Collection Statute of Limitations in Utah

How long does a creditor have to collect a debt in Utah?

In Utah, the statute of limitations for a written agreement is generally six years. The statute of limitations for a verbal contract is four years. Installment accounts such as store charge accounts for goods, or open accounts for work, labor, services, or materials is also four years. The statute of limitations to enforce a judgment in Utah is eight years.

That sounds simple but the Utah statute of limitations for debt is far more complicated. You have to carefully evaluate the origin and nature of debt to be sure you apply the correct statute of limitations. Other statutes of limitations in Utah may also apply in less common situations. Do not consider this list of statutes of limitations to be exhaustive.

Which statute of limitations applies to my debt?

The type of debt at issue governs which statute of limitations applies. Most debts are subject to a six year statute of limitations since most debts are based on written agreements. Be careful though. Open store accounts are only good for four years. Open accounts for work, labor, services rendered, or materials provided also fall under the four year statute of limitations period.

Judgments are enforceable for eight years. Judgments can also be renewed for an additional eight years if needed.    

Written Agreements

Debts created under a written agreement fall under Utah’s six year statute of limitations. That period applies to debts such as vehicle purchases, medical services, credit card debts, payday loans, gym memberships, and other debts that are one-time purchases or closed ended extensions of credit. Because most consumer debts are founded on a written agreement, the six year statute of limitations is the most common limitations period.   

Open Store Accounts and Open Labor Accounts

Accounts that are open-ended credit accounts for goods from stores are subject to the four year statute of limitations. Accounts for work, labor, or services rendered also fall under the four year statute of limitations. This shorter period applies in limited circumstances. The most common is store accounts that are only good at a particular store such as one-time purchases of furniture, appliances, or tires. Sometimes these open store accounts are referred to as installment accounts.

Do not assume the four year period applies to your debt. Most debts fall under the six year statute of limitations. Analyzing the terms of the agreement is necessary before you can conclude the four year term applies.

Credit Cards

Credit card accounts may seem like open store accounts to the uneducated. That is a dangerous fallacy. Credit card accounts are not open store accounts. Credit cards generally allow you to purchase from any store of your choice. They are also used to buy services. That takes the debt outside what is considered an open store account under Utah law.

Be very careful. Other websites incorrectly categorize credit cards as open accounts in Utah. That is patently false. Most credit cards are not open accounts. As explained above an account must be an open store account usable only at one particular store to fall under the four year statute of limitations. Even then, other factors may be present to classify the store account under the six year statute of limitations.    

Credit card debt is subject to the six year statute of limitations because credit cards are created by written agreement.

Gym Memberships

Gym memberships usually fall under the six year statute of limitations since they are founded on written agreements. This is counter-intuitive since these are similar to installment contracts or open store accounts. The reason the six year period applies instead is because gym memberships are service contracts. Utah’s statute governing the four year period only applies to store accounts for goods, wares, and merchandise.    

Medical Debts

Medical debts could fall under either the six year statute of limitations or the four year statute of limitations depending on whether the debt is based on a written agreement or verbal agreement.

Most medical debts are governed by written agreements. These agreements are widely used by medical professionals so they can add in collection fees, attorney’s fees, and other collection costs if you default. Verbal agreements might allow some of those extra fees to be added to the debt but only in limited circumstances. Verbal agreements including additional terms are also harder to enforce.

In rare cases medical debts are based on oral contracts. That is not typical however. Unless the creditor outright admits there is no written agreement you should assume there is a written agreement and the six year period applies.

Judgments

Judgments have an eight year statute of limitations—the longest statute of limitations in Utah. The period runs from the date of entry of the judgment. Judgments can also be renewed for an additional eight years if necessary.

What other statutes of limitations might govern the debt?

There are other statutes of limitations that might apply to your debt. Most of these statutes of limitations arise out of Utah common law while others arise out of Utah statutes. Here are a few examples:

Account Stated

Account stated is a common cause of action in debt collection lawsuits. It arises as an alternative claim when no written contract exists. Usually, the accounts stated claim comes up in credit card cases where the debt collector or debt buyer owns the debt but does not have access to the original contract.  

An account stated claim can be raised when there is agreement between persons who have had previous monetary transactions with payment promised at a fixed amount. It is essentially a legal creation of a contract through the course of conduct between the parties acting as though there was a contract.

Credit card debt is the most common example of debt subject to an account stated claim. An implied promise to pay is created each time a purchase is charged to the account. The monthly billing statements then prove the existence of the implied contract. They also identify the amount owed.

The statute of limitations for an account stated cause of action is four years. This is the same a verbal agreement which is somewhat similar to the account stated claim.

CAUTION: Each new credit card transaction forms a new agreement. It is not an open-ended extension of credit. Because account stated creates a new agreement each time a new transaction occurs, the statute of limitations for account stated will start on the latest date of the last transaction.   

Unjust Enrichment

The most common of other statutes of limitations pertaining to debt in Utah is a four year statute of limitations for a claim of unjust enrichment.

Unjust enrichment is an equitable principal of law. It allows someone to pursue relief even if there is no contract under a theory that it is unjust for someone to receive a benefit without paying the other person who conferred that benefit.  

For example, if a painter was hired to paint your house but you cancelled the agreement halfway through because you didn’t like the quality of the work, you would still have to pay for the value of the portion of the job he completed. It would unjustly enrich you otherwise since you could retain the value of the work he performed without paying for it.

Unjust enrichment is a common claim in debt collection lawsuits. This is because many creditors either don’t have a written agreement or they allege unjust enrichment as a backup claim. That way if their breach of contract claim fails they can still recover some of the value of the benefit you received by alleging unjust enrichment.

Seeking an award of award of attorney’s fees under a claim for unjust enrichment may violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act depending on the other circumstances of the case.

Unjust enrichment frequently appears as an affirmative defense in debt collection lawsuits. For example, debtor may argue that it unjustly enriches the creditor to charge the full amount of an agreement if they only performed a portion of the work or performed substandard work. 

Quantum Meruit

Quantum meruit is a concept similar to unjust enrichment but on the other side of equation. While unjust enrichment corrects the inequity of benefiting someone without payment, quantum meruit allows the person who performed the work to recover the reasonable value of services rendered.

Fraud

Fraud is occasionally raised in debt collection lawsuits. Instead of fraud, debt collection claims are typically based on breach of contract, unjust enrichment, account stated, and quantum meruit. Fraud is harder to prove, does not allow for attorney’s fees, almost never applies, and has a shorter statute of limitations of only three years.

The statute of limitations for fraud begins running when the aggrieved party discovers the facts constituting the fraud or mistake. This could extend the statute of limitations far beyond when the actual fraud took place. In most cases the consumer will know the facts surrounding the fraud when the fraud occurs. Sometimes they will discover the facts shortly thereafter.

Fraud is occasionally but rarely asserted as an affirmative defense in debt collection lawsuits.

Identity Theft

The statute of limitations to file a claim for identity theft or theft of your personal financial information is three years. Identity theft issues arise in debt collection lawsuits mostly as an affirmative defense. You could also raise the issue as a cross claim but that is a complicated strategic decision. Hire an identity theft recovery lawyer before filing a cross claim for identity theft.

Action to Recover a Short Sale Deficiency

Creditors seeking recovery for any deficiency amounts still owed after a short sale occurs must pursue that recovery within three months of the sale. This is one of the shortest statutes of limitations in Utah but it is uncommon for creditors to file suit outside this particular statute.

Criminal Fines

There is no statute of limitations for payment of criminal fines in Utah. Yes, this is a gross injustice but it is still the law. The state can come after you for your criminal fines for your entire life.

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When does the statute of limitations start?

General Rule

The general rule is that the statute of limitations starts when the default occurs. That is normally when the debtor misses his payment. The statute of limitations starts for some debts when the debt arises, the last payment is made, or the debtor provides a written acknowledgment of the debt, whichever happens last. This issue can be confusing but because Utah’s courts are so anti-consumer and business-friendly it is foreseeable they would apply the latest date possible to creditor and debt collector claims if the issue arises. Generally assume the six year statute of limitations applies unless you have specific reasons to conclude otherwise.

Judgments

The eight year statute of limitations for judgments starts the day the court enters that judgment.

Maturity Date

Another crucial factor that many inexperienced lawyers miss is whether the agreement contains a maturity date. Agreements with a maturity date are becoming far more common and will soon become the standard. Promissory notes for land, real estate, aircraft, luxury watercraft, and other similar purchases often include a promissory note with a maturity date. Listing a maturity date creates an expectation on the buyer to assure he never misses a payment.

The maturity date is the date when the lender expects to be fully paid. In other words you owe the whole debt until you repay that last payment.

Maturity dates are used in promissory notes for real estate, land, and other similar purchases but they can be included in other contracts and promissory notes.

If there is a maturity date in the contract that is when the statute of limitations begins running. For example, if a debtor took out a loan in 2015 with a promissory note that includes a maturity date of 2040, that is when the statute of limitations begins running. Shocking but true.

The maturity date of an agreement is extremely important. The maturity date found in a promissory note will almost always govern when the statute of limitations begins. It can also push out that date so far into the future as to render the statutory limitations period a complete nullity.

The only way around that issue is when the lender accelerates the debt. When the creditor accelerates the debt, the outstanding amounts become due immediately. The statute of limitations then starts on the date of acceleration rather than the maturity date. The lender is therefore in complete control of when the statute of limitations begins running.

Agreements containing a specific maturity date can override the standard statute of limitations. 

Reviving the Statute of Limitations

If you make a payment on a time-barred debt that payment can restart the statute of limitations. Debt collectors and creditors often ask for small token payments on old debt for this exact reason. Making the small payment also verifies your account and ability to pay. Never make a payment on a time-barred debt without first consulting with an attorney.

Signing a written promise to pay the expired the debt or acknowledging the debt in writing can also restart the statute of limitations. This is one reason you should be careful in what you say in dispute letters, validation letters, text messages, and other written correspondence with the creditors and collection agencies. One poorly written dispute letter or text message is sufficient to restart the statute of limitations if it contains an acknowledgement of the debt.     

Waiving the statute of limitations

The statute of limitations is an affirmative defense. That means you must raise the issue properly in the debt collection lawsuit or you waive the defense. The court will not raise the defense for you. Raise the defense in your first answer to the court or it is waived.  

Some sites claim you do not need to provide facts to support your statute of limitations defense. Under the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, it is sufficient to simply aver it in your answer or motion to dismiss as long as you cite to the statute on with that particular statute of limitations is based. Still, it is foolish to provide no factual support. Providing factual details supporting the defense helps the court calculate the defense on the face of the pleadings. Forget the bare minimum requirements. Raise it properly or risk losing it. Contact a lawyer to be sure you handle this defense properly.

Tolling or Extending the Statute of Limitations

Tolling of the statute of limitations means that the time does not start running or pauses for a while until some other event occurs. This happens when the defendant leaves the state for a period of time and then later returns. The time he is absent does not count toward the statute of limitations period.

Like reviving a time-barred debt, making a payment on the debt or acknowledging the debt in writing also extends the statutory limitations period. This is why we highly recommend speaking to an attorney before you make any payments or promise to make payments on an old debt. You don’t want to reignite a dead or nearly extinguished debt.    

Credit Reporting Periods

Debtors frequently confuse the statute of limitations with the time periods under the Fair Credit Reporting Act when a debt can be reported in your credit. These are separate issues.

The statute of limitations for a debt defines the time period when a creditor or debt collector can sue you for the debt. Those limitations are based on state law. In contrast, federal law controls the time limit for credit reporting information. Neither time period affects the other in most cases.

Does a debt statute of limitations prevent debt collection lawsuits?

In Utah the debt statute of limitations does not stop creditors from suing you. Creditors can attempt to collect debt from you for as long as they want. That includes filing a lawsuit. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) prohibits debt collectors from suing you after the statute of limitations expires.

The statute of limitations is a defense you must raise in the lawsuit to prevail. Failing to raise the defense results in a waiver of the defense and opens the door for the creditor to obtain a judgment. The court will not raise the issue for you. It is your responsibility to raise the statute of limitations defense or you lose its protection.   

Federal law treats debt collectors differently from creditors. Debt collectors are prohibited from suing to collect the debt if the statute of limitations expires, . They can still call, email, write, and text. They just can’t sue. That is not because of state law however. It is because the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) treats creditors different from debt collectors. Under the FDCPA debt collectors are prohibit from suing on time-barred debts. This is such an important prohibition that in November of 2021 changes to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act will go into effect to codify this prohibition.   

What should you do if a creditor or debt collector attempts to collect a time-barred debt?

Debt collectors can attempt to collect time-barred debt but they must be careful. They cannot sue or threaten to sue you for a time-barred debt. Doing so violates the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).

Creditors are not covered under the FDCPA in Utah. They can attempt to collect time-barred debt and sue you for time-barred debt without the same consequences as a debt collector would face. It is still a viable affirmative defense in creditor cases. The statute of limitations is just not grounds for counter-suing creditors.

If it applies, raise the statute of limitations as an affirmative defense or you waive the defense and lose the issue.

When a creditor or debt collection agency approaches you about an old debt you think might be outside the statute of limitations or close to expiring, proceed carefully. Start by finding out how old the debt really is. Verify the dates of each charge and payment by checking the contract and billing statements.

Request validation of the debt to verify your findings. Federal law does not require debt collectors to provide copies of contracts or statements in response to a validation notice but many will provide those documents anyway. If they do, it should be easy to check the dates.     

You should also contact an experienced debt collection litigation attorney. That way you don’t risk restarting the statute of limitations or failing to aver it properly in court.  

Either way don’t wait around. The statute of limitations is an excellent defense but it is not automatic. Indeed, the statute of limitations won’t protect you at all unless you raise it properly. 

Conclusion

To determine which statute of limitations applies to your debt you have to figure out which kind of debt you have. Judgments are the easiest to determine as they are entered by a court of law on a specific date. Written agreements are also fairly straightforward.

It becomes more difficult when evaluating whether a debt is an open store account, labor account, or installment account subject to the shorter four year statute of limitations. The key is whether the account extends credit for a single company or specific purpose.

The six year statute of limitations also governs most service contracts like gym memberships and medical services even if they apply to a specific place and purpose.     

If a debt collector is suing you or threatening to sue you outside the statute of limitations, a debt collection litigation attorney should be able to help you stop the collection lawsuit and make the debt collector pay you damages. Some of these cases can be substantial and most good attorneys have a free case review process. Use it. Don’t be a victim when you might have a great defense and possible claims to damages.



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