In Maryland, debts must be collected within a certain time. If you owe money to someone, the person is called a creditor, and what you owe them is called a debt. The creditor generally has 3 years (4 years if the debt is owed for the sale of goods) from the date the debt becomes due to ask the court to order you to pay. A court order to pay a debt is known as a judgment. If the creditor does not go to court within the time limit, then the court generally will not order you to pay the debt. Read the Law: Maryland Code, Commercial Law, Section 2-725

If the creditor does go to court within 3 years, and the court does order you to pay it, then that person has 12 years to collect it from you, unless the judgment is renewed.

What can happen if the creditor renews the debt, or you say you will pay a debt

A creditor can “renew” a debt at any time within the 12 years following the entry of a judgment. This means that the person to whom you owe money can go to the court and file a “notice of renewal,” which will reset the 12 year limit on that debt, and cause the debt to remain enforceable for another 12 years or until another renewal. Read the Law: Maryland Rule 2-625

If you admit to a creditor that you owe them money, then the court may find that you have “acknowledged” that debt. If you acknowledge the debt, then you may not be able to use the 3-year limit as a defense in court. Read the Law: Maryland Code, Courts and Judicial Proceedings, Section 5-102

3-year limit on lawsuits for debts

To get a judgment, a creditor must bring the claim to court within 3 years after the debt comes due. If someone claims in court that you owe them money and you believe that the money became due more than 3 years ago, you may be able to raise the 3-year statute of limitation as a defense. Read the Law: Maryland Code, Courts and Judicial Proceedings, Section 5-101

Debt collection and credit rating agencies may still get involved

The 3-year limit on asking the court for a judgment on that debt does not prevent the person or organization you owe money to from reporting your debt to credit rating agencies or trying to contact you to ask you to pay that debt. However, they still must follow certain rules if they are attempting to collect a debt that you owe. For example, they are not permitted to call you or visit you at work, call you early in the morning or late at night, or threaten you.

12-year limit on collecting money on a judgment

If someone or some organization has gone to court and gotten a judgment against you, then they have 12 years to enforce that debt. The 12-year limit starts at the date of the judgment, which is often the date the creditor went to court. If a court ordered you to pay a creditor money more than 12 years ago, the creditor will not be able to enforce that debt against you. This means they will not be able to garnish your wages or attach your property. If you believe that a court ordered you to pay a debt more than 12 years ago and the creditor is asking the court to garnish your wages, you may be able to raise the 12-year limit as a defense to that garnishment. Read the Law: Maryland Code, Courts and Judicial Proceedings, Section 5-102

Installments and arrearages

If a court ordered you to pay the debt in installments, the 12-year limit may be counted separately for each payment at the time that payment became due. For example, even if a court ordered you to pay child support payments more than 12 years ago, you could still be forced to make each payment until 12 years has passed since each payment became due. Read the Law: Maryland Code, Courts and Judicial Proceedings, Section 5-102

Money owed to the government

If you owe the government money and the government has obtained a judgment against you, the 12-year limitation does not apply, and the government can enforce that judgment at any time. Read the Law: Maryland Code, Courts and Judicial Proceedings, Section 5-102


Brian Connor, Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law

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