Does this scene sound familiar? After a hard day’s work, you pull up to your house and check the mail. It’s a task you already dread because there’s never anything in the mailbox but bad news—old bills, new bills, borderline threats from debt collectors. It’s enough to make you get back in the car, drive until you run out of gas, and start a new life there! But you’re committed to getting out of debt, so you don’t go running for the hills (or running from the bills) anymore. You face creditors and collectors head on these days!
So let’s say a new notice from a collection agency arrives. You recognize the original creditor’s name, but you don’t recognize the amount. In fact, the amount looks a lot higher than you remember, even with interest included. Before you pay a debt that isn’t yours, you need to request a debt validation letter. And under federal law, a debt collector has to provide it to you. Let’s take a closer look at why a debt validation letter is important.
The Role of a Debt Validation Letter
Depending on the amount of debt you’re carrying, you might not know offhand how much you owe or who you owe it to. Or some bill may come out of the blue that you’ve never heard of. But just because you’ve got gazelle intensity to knock out every debt that comes your way doesn’t mean you should accept everything a debt collector says at face value.
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Chew on this surprising fact: In 2019, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received 75,200 complaints from consumers about debt collectors.1 A whopping 45% of those complaints were to report attempts to collect debt not owed.2 That’s definitely not OK.
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 which 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.
That means you could be:
- Paying money you don’t owe
- Reviving debt past the statute of limitations
- Falling prey to a debt collection scam
You need to check—or validate—what a debt collector is saying you owe. Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), they must send you a letter within five days of first contact, notifying you of your debt validation rights. First contact refers to the first time a debt collector reaches out to you about a specific debt, whether that’s by phone or mail.
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 they’re representing
- An opportunity to dispute the amount of the debt within 30 days or 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.
But that’s not all you can do to protect yourself moving forward.
What if the Collection Agency Fails to Validate the Debt?
If anything looks fishy on the statements or bills you receive from a debt collector—like you don’t recognize the amount or the creditor—you can request a debt validation letter. You’ve got to make your request within 30 days though in order to uphold your federal protections. Another way you’ll want to protect yourself in this process is to make your request for a debt validation letter in writing, then send it via certified mail with a return receipt request. This way you can confirm your request was received.
Under the 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, plus damages.3
Stay on your toes with these money monsters. Keep copies of every single document, and track all communications, including phone calls, with debt collectors.
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 toward paying off your debt as your debt collectors have been about chasing you. Side hustle, extra hours at work, selling all the stuff that’s collecting dust in your basement—this is your time to throw all that you have at your debt. But if you get your debt validation letter, and something still seems off, you need to write a debt verification letter.
How to Write a Debt Verification Letter
After a debt collector receives your debt verification request, they must stop communication with you until they have responded to your request. No phone calls, no letters and no reporting your debt to the credit bureaus. But there’s more you can do during this time.
So there’s the debt validation letter—the document you request from the debt collector outlining what you owe, to who and important information about next steps. And then there’s a debt verification letter. That’s the letter you write and send to the debt collector, via certified mail with a return receipt request, disputing the debt. Similar names, different goals. Use this free sample letter to write your own debt verification letter.
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?
You have within 30 days from first contact to request a debt validation letter.
You have within 30 days from receiving a debt validation letter to send a debt verification letter.
This is important: You have just 30 days to respond to a debt validation 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 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.
Your debt verification letter should request the debt collector provide you with the following:
- Proof that this debt belongs to you, like a signed contract
- Proof of how much you owe based on a last statement or bill
- 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
The Collector’s Response
If a debt collector can’t verify your debt, then they can’t continue to go after you for it. They must also notify credit bureaus to have the debts removed from your credit report. Be sure to follow up and make sure this is done. If it isn’t, 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.