The statute of limitations (SOL) is a crucial debt collection law in Florida, but it is not the only regulation protecting your legal rights in the Sunshine State.

The SOL time bars creditors from filing a lawsuit to compel payment on outstanding debt. However, it does not absolve you of the obligation, stop collection agencies from contacting you, or change how the negative payment history displays on your consumer credit report.

Meanwhile, a host of other rules dictate what might happen about possible jail time, wage garnishment, liens on a property, and after the death of a spouse or other family member.

Florida Statute of Limitations

The Florida statute of limitations (SOL) for debt depends on the type of legal agreement in question. The SOL begins counting from the date of the last payment and can restart or reset if you acknowledge the obligation in any way.

  1. Oral contracts (4 years): a verbal agreement to pay back borrowed money or goods
  2. Written contracts (5 years): a document signed by you including terms and conditions
  3. Promissory notes (5 years): a written agreement with a specified interest rate, and timeframe for repayment
  4. Open-ended contracts (4 years): has a revolving balance that you can repay and borrow again

Relief Program

Do you qualify for debt relief? A settlement program may be a viable alternative for Florida residents meeting four general eligibility guidelines.

  1. Owe more than $10,000 in unsecured debt such as credit cards, unpaid medical bills, and personal loans
  2. Gainfully employed and earning enough income to fund an escrow account with at least 1/3 of your obligation within 24 months – after stopping payments to creditors
  3. Have not yet reached the SOL expiration date and still face the threat of a lawsuit to garnish wages, or attach a lien against property
  4. Collection accounts appear on your consumer report and will remain for several more years (delete seven years after the date of first delinquency)

Credit Cards

The Florida statute of limitations on credit card debt is four years because this account type is an open-ended contract. The revolving balance shrinks with each payment, allowing you to borrow again in the next billing cycle.

  • Be very careful not to restart the SOL by accident and give the collection agency another four years to file a lawsuit and garnish wages.
  • Consolidating credit card debt wipes out the SOL because you are transferring the balance to a new creditor and begin with a clean slate
  • Charging new expenses to any delinquent credit card account is an acknowledgment that the debt belongs to you and resets the SOL
  • Making a tiny payment to the issuing bank or collection agency also restarts the SOL and extends their legal rights to file a lawsuit

Medical Bills

The Florida medical debt statute of limitations is five years. The statute of limitations (SOL) is four years for oral contracts, and five years for written agreements and promissory notes. Most medical debt starts with the person signing a patient financial responsibility form, which may include terms and conditions.

Do not confuse the SOL with the consumer credit reporting rules for unpaid medical bills. There is no overlap between the two.

  • Display on consumer reports after a 180-day waiting period to allow health insurance companies time to process claims
  • Disappear from consumer reports seven years after the date of first delinquency
  • Reappear as public record judgments if the provider wins a lawsuit filed before the SOL expiration

Mortgage

The statute of limitations on mortgage debt in Florida is five years.[1] Loans secured by the equity in your home are promissory notes, featuring a written agreement with a specified interest rate, and a defined timeframe for repayment.

Given the large principal amounts involved, it is unlikely that a bank will delay foreclosing on the property for long. Therefore, expect to land in court well before the five-year SOL expires if you are severely delinquent on your mortgage.

Florida Debt Collection Laws

A variety of Florida debt collection laws work together to safeguard debtor rights while permitting creditors to pursue repayment of outstanding obligations. Consult an attorney for legal advice on how each of these rules might apply to your situation.

  • The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is a federal statute that governs activities of agencies nationwide[2]
  • Florida has two closely-related state-based regulations that expand on federal law.[3]
    • Commercial Collection Protection Act (FLA stat 559.541-548) covers business-to-business accounts in delinquency
    • Consumer Collection Protection Act (FLA stat 559.55-785) addresses creditors that follow up with delinquent individuals
  • Florida does not have a filial responsibility law which requires adult children to pay for the care of elderly parents as in other states[4]
  • Florida is a common-law state (not community property) which determines who owes what in the event of divorce or death of a spouse[5]
  • Florida (HB 221) prohibits an out-of-network medical provider from balance billing members of a preferred provider organization (PPO) or an exclusive provider organization (EPO) for covered emergency services or covered nonemergency services[6]

Jail Time

In general, you cannot go to jail in Florida for failure to pay any credit card or medical debt. The United States abolished debtor prisons across the country in 1833. Furthermore, the FDCPA prohibits the threat of incarceration by collection agencies.

However, there are exceptions to every rule that could put you behind bars.[7]

  • Failure to pay federal income taxes
  • Violating a court order to pay child support
  • Failing to appear at a debtor’s examination or deposition

Garnish Wages

A collection agency can garnish your wages in Florida if they file suit before the SOL expires, and the court issues a judgment to compel payment on credit card or medical debt. In this case, multiple rules apply to the situation.[8]

  1. Federal rules state that garnishment cannot exceed 25% of your net wages, or more than 30 times the federal minimum hourly wage – whichever is less
  2. The state regulation exempts from wage garnishment people who are head of household and earn less than $750 per week
  3. People out on disability are often exempt from wage garnishment

Hospital Lien

Likewise, a hospital can place a lien against your house in Florida if the file a lawsuit before the SOL runs out, and the court issues a judgment in favor of the plaintiff. The same holds for a credit card company.

A lien is a public record filed at the county level, which can also appear on your consumer credit report. The claim on your home declares to others that you owe another entity a large sum of money to the hospital.

Having a lien does not affect you until the time comes to sell the property or refinance. At this point, you will have to settle with the creditor to clear title on your house.

Deceased Spouse

Florida is not a community property state. Therefore, debts owed exclusively by your deceased spouse are not your responsibility. However, every rule has its nuances.

  • Providers still have the right to collect unpaid medical bills from estate assets. If collections deplete the estate’s assets, the surviving spouse is not responsible for the remainder.
  • Credit card debt held in joint (husband/wife) accounts remain the responsibility of the surviving spouse.

Consult an estate planning attorney for more specific advice.

[1] FL Statute section § 95.11(2)(c)

[2] Federal Trade Commission

[3] Florida Legislation Chapter 559

[4] Elder Needs Law

[5] Consumer Finance Protection Bureau

[6] FL Senate Bills

[7] Parker and Dufresne

[8] The Florida Bar