Under Pennsylvania law, credit card companies must take action on a debt within four years. After that, the law dictates, the debt is no longer collectible. State Rep. Pete Daley (D-Allegheny) has proposed legislation that would force collection agencies to tell consumers if the debt they are pursuing is too old to legally claim and also would require the agencies to put in writing the amount they claim the consumer owes. If collectors can get a debtor to make even a nominal payment, it resets the clock on that debt.
Credit-card companies bundle up old debt and sell it to other companies, and so debt collectors often try to get payments on debt that is so old, the consumer does not have to repay it. Consumers may be fooled into making a good-faith effort to satisfy a debt, but then be taken to court by the collector. Pennsylvania already has other strong rules to protect consumers dealing with collection agencies. Collection agents may call only between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m.; and while they can contact other people only to try to locate the debtor, they are not supposed to disclose that they are calling about a debt. Agencies also may not use harassing conduct or language or lie in order to get a person to pay a debt.