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Limitation periods

Apart from the regular limitation period of 3 years, there are numerous special regulations. Do you know which claims are time-barred and when? Or what exactly "suspends" a limitation period?

Editorial Team Germany | Jan 31, 2024 7 min
How long is the limitation period?

Definition of limitation period

The so-called limitation period is the period during which a creditor can legally enforce a claim against a defaulting debtor. If a creditor waits too long, i.e. until the time when the limitation period has expired, the claim can no longer be legally enforced if the defaulting debtor invokes the limitation period.

The regular limitation period

The regular limitation period is 3 years. This is regulated in the German Civil Code (BGB) under § 195 BGB. According to Section 199 BGB, the period begins at the end of the year in which the claim arose and both contracting parties became aware of this claim.
In principle, all claims are subject to the regular limitation period unless special regulations apply or §§ 196 et seq. BGB do not specify a longer period. The regular limitation period therefore also applies, for example, to all claims arising from the employment relationship, unless otherwise stipulated in § 197 and 852 BGB.

When does an invoice expire?

The limitation period for a monetary claim is based on the regular limitation period and therefore generally ends after 3 years.

Debtors who are unable to pay should always seek dialogue with the creditor or debt collection agency, as in the event of non-payment it is highly likely that legal proceedings will be initiated very quickly in order to secure the claim by titling it. This is because the claim then only becomes time-barred after 30 years. 

Plea of the statute of limitations

A time-barred claim still exists, it is just no longer enforceable and has therefore become ineffective because the debtor has a right to refuse performance due to the time-barring of the performance that was claimed too late. However, the prerequisite is that the debtor invokes the limitation of the claim (so-called plea of the statute of limitations) – otherwise this will not be taken into account in the process.

Start and end of the regular limitation period

The limitation period begins when the calendar year in which the claim arose ends. If, for example, a seller wishes to claim late payment from a customer, to do so, they have three years from 1 January of the year following the year in which the goods were delivered.
The regular limitation period ends after three years. The cut-off date for the limitation period is therefore 31 December of the third year. If the end date of the limitation period is on a Saturday, Sunday or public holiday, the end of the limitation period is postponed to the next working day.  

An overview of the most important limitation periods

In addition to the regular limitation period, there are further limitation periods with different durations and different commencement rules for the various bases for claims.

Type of claim Start of the limitation period Duration of the limitation period

Claims for defects in sales law  

Date of handover of the purchased item

2 years

Claims for defects in contracts to produce a work (e.g. craftsmen's work in the home) – except for work on buildings 

Date of acceptance of the work  

2 years

Claims arising from a travel contract (such as travel defects)

Contractually agreed end of the journey 

2 years

Claims to wages  

After expiry of the year in which the claim arose and knowledge of the claim 

3 years

Warranty claims for defects in a building 

Date of acceptance of construction work by the client

5 years

Rights to a property 

Date on which the claim arose  

10 years

Legally established claims (e.g. judgements, cost assessment orders, enforcement orders)

Date of legal force

30 years

Claims arising from enforceable settlements or deeds  

Creation of the document 

30 years

Claims for damages due to long-term consequences of bodily injury

Occurrence of the act 

30 years

Claims in family and inheritance law 

Date on which the claim arose  

30 years

Avoid expiry of the limitation period

If there is a threat of the debt becoming statute-barred, creditors can take a number of measures to "suspend" the limitation period, as it is correctly termed in law. From a legal point of view, this does not extend the limitation period, but merely stops it from running for a certain period of time.

The limitation period can be suspended, among other things, by taking legal action or by a deferment of the claim. Prosecution measures include, for example, the service of a payment order or the filing of a lawsuit. 

If the limitation period is suspended by legal action, the suspension only ends six months after the final judgement or other termination of the proceedings, § 204 (2) sentence 1 BGB. A court payment order can therefore postpone the limitation period for up to six months from the date of service. 
The course of a suspended limitation period is restarted if the defaulting debtor acknowledges the claim, for example by starting to pay in instalments. In doing so, the debtor recognises the claim and shows that they are aware that the claim has arisen. 


The regular limitation period is three years, the longest limitation period is 30 years. Creditors should review their outstanding claims by the end of the year at the latest in order to be able to take measures in good time before a claim becomes time-barred.

Keeping an eye on all of this is not easy in often hectic everyday life! A debt collection company such as Riverty Back in Flow can mediate between creditors and debtors and thus provide great added value for both sides. 


Please understand that for reasons of readability we only use the grammatically masculine form when referring to persons. This always refers to people of any gender identity.