No matter how hard you try, it’s impossible to outrun debt. Yep—debt is a predator, lurking in the shadows of your life, following you from address to address and place to place. And just when you think you’re off the hook, you get a letter in the mail from a debt collector that you don’t even recognize.
But you never want to get tricked into paying for a debt that isn’t yours. That’s why a debt validation letter is so important. And under federal law, a debt collector has to provide it to you when you ask for it. So, why is a debt validation letter so important? Let’s take a look.
What Is a Debt Validation Letter?
A debt validation letter is what a debt collector sends you to prove that you owe them money. This letter shows you the details of a specific debt, outlines what you owe, who you owe it to, and when they need you to pay.
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Legally, a debt collector has to send you a debt verification letter within five days of their first contact with you. And if not, you should ask for one. Why? Because it helps you determine if the debt is actually yours and if there’s anything fishy going on behind the scenes. (And when it comes to debt collectors, fishy is their middle name.) Just because it looks official doesn’t mean it’s your bill to pay.
Remember: when you request your letter, do it in writing and send it by certified mail. But don’t forget to ask for a return receipt. (That way you know they got it!)
Why You Need a Debt Validation Letter
Get this: In 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received around 82,700 complaints from consumers about debt collectors, and a whopping 49% of those complaints were to report attempts to collect debt they didn’t owe!1 That’s definitely not okay.
And that, friends, is exactly why you need a debt validation letter.
Chances are, your “debt” may not even be real. Or your debt may be years old—sold, resold and resold some more. Creditors sell outstanding debts to collection agencies who then release their hounds to come after you. But these agencies don’t have the best record-keeping skills. Mistakes happen and errors are common.
If you just go ahead and pay the debt without requesting a debt validation letter, you could end up:
- Paying money you don’t owe (not cool)
- Reviving debt past the statute of limitations (or the amount of time a creditor can legally come after you for a debt)
- Falling prey to a debt collection scam (yikes!)
After a debt collector receives your request, they have to stop all forms of communication with you until they’ve responded with a debt validation letter. That means no phone calls, no letters and no reporting your debt to the credit bureaus.
What a Debt Validation Letter Reports
When you receive your debt validation letter, it should list several things, including:
- How much you owe
- What creditor the collector is representing
- An opportunity to dispute the amount of the debt within 30 days (after that, the debt will be assumed valid)
- Confirmation that if you dispute the debt within 30 days, your debt will be verified by mail within another 30 days
- And a statement that if you request more information about the original creditor, then the debt collector or agency must provide it within 30 days.
What if the Collection Agency Fails to Validate the Debt?
Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a debt collector must respond to a request for a debt validation letter. If they don’t, they’re in violation of the act. You can report them to your state’s attorney general, the FTC or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). You can also sue for up to $1,000.2
Stay on your toes with these money monsters. Keep copies of every single document, and track all communications, including phone calls, with debt collectors. Keeping a detailed record like this will help in case you need to report them to the attorney general.
What to Do After Receiving a Debt Validation Letter
Once you receive your debt validation letter, read through it closely and make sure there are no errors. If the debt is yours, you need to pay it off. After all, this is where the rubber meets the road in Baby Step 2.
Be as ruthless and as relentless about paying off your debt as the debt collectors have been about chasing you. Picking up a side hustle, putting in extra hours at work, selling all the stuff that’s collecting dust in your basement—now’s the time to throw all you have at your debt.
But let’s say you get your debt validation letter, and something still seems off. Your next step is to send a debt verification letter. Sure, these two letters sound the same, but they are very different.
Debt Validation vs. Debt Verification: What’s the Difference?
The debt validation letter is the document you get from the debt collector outlining what you owe, who you owe it to, and important information about next steps.
The debt verification letter is a letter you write and send to the debt collector, disputing the debt (if you truly don’t owe it or owe as much as the collector says you do). You’ll also send this letter via certified mail with a return receipt request so you have a record of your communication back to the collector.
See? The letters have similar names, but very different goals.
Debt Validation Letter
Debt Verification Letter
Who sends it?
What’s it say?
Outlines the specifics of your debt
Formally disputes the information in the debt validation letter
How much time to respond?
|Debt collectors are legally required to send one within five days of first contact.||
You have within 30 days from receiving a debt validation letter to send a debt verification letter.
Here’s the important part: You have just 30 days to respond to a debt validation letter with your debt verification letter. If you don’t dispute the debt within 30 days, the debt is assumed valid. That means the debt collector can continue to contact you. You can still send a dispute after 30 days. But at that point, the debt is considered valid, and a debt collector is still legally allowed to continue contacting you.
Want to write your own debt verification letter? Check out our sample letter in the next section.
How to Write a Debt Verification Letter
Writing a debt verification letter seems like a tedious task when you’re getting bombarded by the debt hounds. But this letter will actually give you the break you’re looking for—for a little while at least. Because again, once you send your written letter disputing your debt, collectors can’t communicate with you unless it’s in response to your letter (and it has to be in writing).
So . . . in addition to saying you’re not responsible for the debt they’re trying to collect, what else should you include in your letter? Great question. Here are a few things that pesky debt collector needs to provide you with:
- Proof that this debt really belongs to you—like a signed contract
- How much you owe (based on a last statement or bill)
- If the debt is past the statute of limitations
- The last action taken on the account
- And proof that the debt collector has the legal right and license to pursue this debt in your state
Ready to start writing your own letter? We have a template for that. You can use this free sample letter to write your own debt verification letter.
What Happens Now?
If a debt collector can’t verify your debt, then they must stop contacting you about it. And they have to let credit bureaus know so they can remove the debt from your credit report. Don’t let this part slide! Keep checking your credit report until you see a change.
If the debt isn’t removed, you need to contact the credit bureaus and ask them to look into your case. Again, if the collector’s not playing by the rules, you should report them to your state’s attorney general, the FTC or CFPB.
If you ever thought writing a letter wouldn’t make a difference to your debt situation, think again! And now that you’re showing those debt collectors who’s boss, it’s time to give your other debts the boot too. But you don’t have to do it alone! With Ramsey+ you’ll have access to the best money tools and courses to help you get out of debt and save money even faster. Plus, you’ll get a chance to connect with one of our financial coaches (one-on-one) for free!
What are you waiting for? It’s time to take your first step toward a debt-free life.