Thank you for the Accept of my prior Answer, I appreciate it!
Now, on to your new questions:
Question: so, assuming I have no other assets (excluding furniture and household items) and assuming I live in an apartment and lease a car (or have no car), and assuming I attend court (if I were to be served), then I am pretty much protected against credit card debt - is that what you are saying?
Answer: I can't tell you if you are protected in particular since I can't make that determination on an online forum, but I am saying that essentially anyone who has no garnishable income nor unexempt assets (based on State law of the State in which the defendant resides) and who never becomes in contempt of court for any reason (such as failing to attend a hearing that person was ordered to attend), is generally considered to be "judgment proof." Assets which are generally safe in Virginia are listed here, though I do not know if that website is up-to-date. There are also federal laws protecting other assets in addition to those assets protected by Virginia law.
Question: also, I have a small amount of money in my TSP (the gov't version of a 401K), am I correct that this money, too, cannot be garnished?
Answer: Again, I can't tell you if your TSP is safe in particular for legal reasons (see here), but generally Thrift Savings Plans are an "exempt" asset, meaning they cannot be pursued by creditors for collection of a judgment. A government website, here, confirms that "The funds in your TSP account are held in trust for you by the TSP and, by law, are protected from the claims of creditors. Your TSP account cannot be garnished to pay debts."
I believe the U.S. Code section protecting TSP's is 5 USC § 8346(a), here, but there are multiple government retirement systems (Social Security, FERs, etc) so I'm not sure if this is the right Code section for TSP's but I think it is.
Question: Also, wouldn't the credit cards "drop off" my credit report after a certain time (like 7 or 10 years)?
Answer: Yes, but there is a difference between dropping off the credit report and becoming uncollectible. Credit accounts fall off of your credit report after 7 years, and judgments fall off your credit report after 10 years (generally - see the Fair Credit Reporting Act, § 605 (15 U.S.C. §1681c), here). However, the length of time a creditor has to collect on a debt (i.e. the statute of limitations) does not follow the same rules regarding what is on your credit report. A credit card may be collected for a period of time as dictated by the law of the State in which you reside, or another State if your credit card agreement indicates that a particular State's laws apply to your account. A website, here, indicates that the State of Virginia gives credit cards only 3 years to collect, though I do not know if that website is current. If you go to the Code of Virginia, here, section § 8.01-246 (here) seems to imply the statute of limitation period on credit cards is 5 years. You would need to confirm with a Virginia attorney what statute applies to credit card lawsuits in that State.
Also, in most States, the statute of limitations runs from the last time the card is used or paid, so each time a person uses his or her credit card, or each time a person makes a payment toward his or her credit card, the statute of limitations period starts all over. Also, if the credit card company does file a lawsuit and gets a judgment, they will have another period of years to collect based on the statute of limitations that applies to judgments. A website, here, indicates that judgment creditors in Virginia have 8 years to collect on judgments, though again I don't know if the website is up-to-date - the actual Code of Virginia seems to imply the statute of limitations on judgments is actually 10 years (see Code of Virginia § 16.1-94.1, here). Judgments can often be "renewed" even when they do expire for another period of years in most States also.
Question: Finally, would a credit card company really sue me, if I owe them, say, $9K?
Answer: They certainly could and, in my experience, usually do eventually if they do not get paid. Credit card companies sue people quite frequently, and for all different balance amounts. I have seen credit card lawsuits as low as $500 before. Also possible is that the credit card company will sell the debt to some other company who will then file the suit. In other words, credit card companies often sell off debts they can't collect for reduced amounts to third party companies, and then those third party companies sue everyone and try to make money. For example, a credit card company may lump 1,000 accounts together on which they are owed a total of $1,000,000 and sell the accounts for, say, $20,000, to some company, and then that company will sue everyone and try to get more than their $20,000 back (which is often tough since the credit card company usually tried to collect prior to selling and couldn't).
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