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Know your rights: Liability for stolen credit card limited to $50

By By Richard Alderman
Nov. 9, 2013 at 5:09 a.m.


My wallet was stolen, and the thief used my credit cards. I heard that I am not responsible for these charges. Is this true?

Under federal law, the owner of a credit card that is lost or stolen has a maximum liability of $50 per card. If you report the card missing before it is used, you have no liability. I suggest you promptly let your credit card companies know the card was stolen. You may be surprised to find some companies do charge even the $50.

I also should point out that the rule is different for a debit or bank card. For that type of card, your liability is limited only if you promptly report the loss within three days. After that, your liability substantially increases.

My husband does not have a will and has two kids by his first marriage. In the event that he passes, would the house he owned prior to us getting married be left to me?

Without a will naming you as a beneficiary, the house will pass to his children. You will have the right to continue to live in the house, but the children will own it. If that is not the result he wants, he must prepare a will.

My boyfriend of more than 10 years has me listed as his beneficiary on his life insurance policy. He and his ex-wife have been divorced for more than 15 years. His mother says that if something were to happen to him, his ex would receive the money from that policy. Is this true?

I don't know why his mother would say this. Based on what you say, if you are the beneficiary, you will receive the money from the life insurance policy. His ex-wife does not have a claim to the proceeds of the policy.

I was recently contacted by a collection agency concerning a 10-year-old credit card debt. Isn't there some time period after which it can no longer try to collect?

This has become a very common question. It seems that more and more collection agencies are trying to collect very old debts. Under the law, there are time periods within which a lawsuit must be brought. If you delay beyond this period, the suit may be dismissed as time-barred. In most cases, a lawsuit for a credit card debt must be brought within four years of when you defaulted. Obviously, it has been much longer than that. This means that if the debt collector filed a lawsuit, you could have it dismissed. It does not mean, however, that it may not contact you to ask that you pay.

Even though the company may no longer sue, you still owe the money. Until it is paid, it can try to collect. In my opinion, as long as the company does not harass, threaten or abuse you, it may request that you pay a time-barred obligation. Under federal law, however, you may stop all contact by sending a letter demanding they stop all future communication. That should end the matter.

How long do I have to file a claim for damages from an automobile accident?

This is what the law calls a tort, and you have two years to file suit.

I want to get a divorce. What do I have to prove to obtain a divorce?

I assume you are referring to whether you must prove things like adultery, cruelty or abandonment in order to get a divorce. In the past, some standard of fault such as these was required to obtain a divorce. Today, however, Texas is what is commonly called a "no-fault" divorce state. To obtain a divorce, you must show the marriage is "insupportable." You may do this by simply showing that you do not get along and do not want to be married. It is no longer necessary to prove either party did something wrong or explain why you cannot remain married.

Richard Alderman, a consumer advocate popularly known as "the People's Lawyer," is a professor at the University of Houston Law School in Houston. His column appears weekly in the Victoria Advocate. Write to him at UH Law Center, Houston, Texas 77204-6391. He also maintains a Web page at peopleslawyer.net.

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