Debt Validation Letters for Debt Collectors
Debt collection was a $13.7 billion industry in the U.S. as of 2016. Because of the huge amounts of debt Americans owe, around one in three consumers received a call from a debt collector in 2016.
However, not all debt collection efforts are valid or even accurate. Debt collectors have been forced to refund hundreds of millions of dollars back to consumers because they used improper collection methods. This just goes to show that while debt collection may be a crucial step for businesses trying to get repaid by consumers who owe them, it’s a business rife with problems.
As CFPB data shows, most complaints from consumers stem from debt collectors trying to collect a debt from the wrong person or a debt that had already been discharged in bankruptcy.
Part of the problem is the fact that debt collectors often have very little information to go on when they prepare to collect. When an unpaid debt is transferred to a collector, they may have little more than basic data like a name, address and an amount owed.
Obviously, this lack of information can open the door for them to pursue debts riddled with inaccuracies.
In this post, we’ll show you to how to validate your debt and make sure collectors aren’t skirting the law to collect debts they say you owe.
What is debt validation?
If you’re being pursued over an old debt, the first thing to do is to verify (or validate) that the debt is actually yours and that the amount is correct. Florida consumer protection attorney Donald E. Petersen says that debt validation may add an extra step to the process if you’re being pursued by a debt collector, but that the extra work is worth it.
“Debt validation is the borrower verifying with the original creditor the details of the debt, such as the amount of the debt, the date of the debt and the name of the creditor,” said Petersen.
This definition underscores why debt validation is so important. You should never assume a debt is correct just because a debt collector contacts you, says Petersen. And, even if you suspect the debt is correct and yours, debt validation can still be a smart move because it helps you create a paper trail for your communication with debt collectors.
Why request validation instead of paying?
If you believe you owe a debt that a debt collector is trying to retrieve, there are several reasons you should send a debt validation letter before you pay up.
- The debt may not even be yours. Even if you think a debt is probably yours, you should verify to check. Petersen says debt collectors frequently try to collect from the wrong person. “Names can be wrong, and they might think you’re someone you’re not,” he said.
- You can confirm you haven’t paid already. It can be tricky to keep track of every debt you’ve paid off over the years, but debt validation can help you confirm you have never paid this debt off in the past.
- It forces debt collectors to prove the debt is legitimate. When a debt collector replies to your debt validation request, they’ll have to prove the debt is legitimate and that they have the right to collect, says Petersen. Many times, they may not even have the details to back up their claim that the debt is yours.
- Debt validation can buy you time or make the debt disappear. Once you ask a debt collector to verify your debt, they have 30 days to reply in writing. During this time, they have to back off all debt collection activity. “This means they can’t file a lawsuit and they can’t call the borrower,” said Petersen. “They have to cease all attempts to collect a debt until they verify.” If you’re struggling with debt, this can buy you some time to figure out how to repay what you owe. However, in the event the debt collector cannot validate your debt within 30 days for any reason, you may also get off the hook for your debt altogether.
Submitting a debt validation letter
If you’re receiving phone calls from a debt collector, ask them for a mailing address so you can send a validation of debt letter. Petersen says this will help start a paper trail of proof you can use against the debt collector if they continue trying to collect a debt that is invalid.
Once you have a mailing address, send a debt validation letter via certified mail so you have proof it was delivered. Here’s a template you can use to draft a letter that fits your situation:
[Your return address] [Date]
[Debt collector name] [Debt collector Address]
Re: [Account number for the debt if you have it]
Dear Debt Collector,
I am writing to speak with you about the debt you are trying to collect from me. You contacted me on [date] by [phone or mail] about a debt you say I owe in the amount of [debt amount].
I am requesting you validate this debt by supplying me with the following information:
- Why you think I owe this money and to whom I originally owed it
- The name and address of the original creditor whom I owed
- An itemized statement showing the amount I owe, including added fees or interest
- The name and address of all creditors who have held this debt I supposedly owe
- Documentation that I am actually required to repay this debt to the current creditor
- A copy of the written agreement I signed that shows I agreed to repay this debt
- A copy of the last billing statement sent to me from the original creditor
- Documentation that shows when you obtained this debt and the original amount you agreed to collect
- Documentation of any payments or reductions made to the debt since the last billing statement from the original creditor
- A summary that shows when the original creditor said the debt became due and when it became delinquent, as well as the last payment on this account
- Proof this debt is still collectible within the statute of limitations, along with when you think the statute of limitations expires for this debt
- Proof your firm has a debt collection license in my state, including the date of the license, license number and other applicable details
I appreciate your response to this request for debt validation. I will use your response to make an informed decision about the amounts you say I owe.
Thank you for your cooperation.
Signed, [your name]
Are debt validation letters a good idea?
Debt validations are always a good idea — even if you believe a debt is owed by you. Here are some of the reasons why:
- You need to get your debt validation in writing. According to Sullivan, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) requires you to get debt validation in writing. “If you merely call, you’re waiving your rights,” he said.
- You can start an official paper trail. You haven’t really started the legal process until you’ve sent a debt validation letter. “That’s why you should send it certified mail — so you can prove the letter was received to start the 30-day timeline,” said Sullivan.
- Buy some time. Once you send a debt validation letter, the debt collector cannot contact you until they validate the debt. This may be enough time for you to research the debt on your own and figure out if you really owe it before you proceed.
- You may find you don’t have to repay the debt after all. If a debt collector cannot validate your debt, they have to stop trying to collect and reporting the debt to your credit report.
- Figure out what you owe so you can negotiate. If you do owe a debt, figuring out exactly how much you owe can make it easier to negotiate. You’ll want to negotiate your debts down in writing anyway, so a debt validation letter is the obvious first step.
What happens if I don’t receive a validation of debt?
Mike Sullivan, a personal finance consultant with Take Charge America, a national nonprofit credit counseling and debt management agency, says that the timeline following a debt validation request is especially important. The collection agency only has 30 days to reply to your debt validation letter, which may not be enough time for them to collect and reply with all the information you ask for.
Sometimes debt collectors won’t even bother to reply, he says. And if they don’t reply for any reason within the 30-day timeline, “the consumer is off the hook.”
At that point, the debt is no longer legitimate and they are supposed to quit reporting it to your credit report as well.
What to do if the debt is not yours
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that, while debt collection agencies may try to collect from the wrong person on accident, there are times when debt collectors are actually part of a debt collection scam — trying to trick unwitting consumers into paying for debts they don’t owe. For that reason, you should ask for the company name, address, and phone number of the debt collector without giving them more of your personal information than they already have. From there, you should take the steps above to send a debt validation letter and wait for a debt validation response.
If you receive a response and believe the debt they are trying to claim is not yours, you should dispute the debt in writing.
“If you think you don’t owe some – or all – of the debt, or you just don’t recognize it, send the collector a letter disputing it,” writes the FTC. “Be as specific as possible about why you think the debt is wrong – but give as little personal information as possible. Once you get the validation notice, you have 30 days to send this letter.”
Sullivan says the debt collector will need to take extra steps to prove you are the person they’re going after.
“They have to prove you’re the same John Smith that resided on Pine Street in 2013,” he says. “If you can show that you never lived there or that wasn’t you and they can’t prove otherwise, once again they can’t collect from you.”
What to do if the debt collector does validate/verify the debt
Once you have sent a letter stating the debt isn’t yours, the debt collector has to quit contacting you by law. But, if they are able to prove you’re the person who owes the debt, they can start contacting you again, notes the FTC.
Sullivan says the first step you should take then is making sure the debt is collectible within the statute of limitations in your state. Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule here since every state has their own rules that dictate how long someone can try to collect different types of consumer debt.
But, once you find out the statute of limitations in your state, this part can still be tricky. Even if a debt is no longer collectible because too much time has passed in your state, you still owe the amount and the debt collector can still try to collect it. “The statute of limitations only prohibits debt collectors from using the legal system,” says Sullivan. “So, all this means is that you don’t have to fear a judgment through the court system.”
Sullivan also says that, if they can prove it’s your debt and that they own it, then you should really take steps to pay it. However, you may not have to pay the total amount you owe. Maybe you owe $5,000 on your debt and offer $2,500 to make it disappear. Depending on the debt collector and how much they paid for the debt when they took it over, this could be a good deal for them.
“Debt collectors like to get paid, so they may be willing to let you settle for less than you owe,” says Sullivan. “They are usually more anxious to collect something than everything.”
If you are able to negotiate a lower payoff than what you actually owe, make sure to get the agreement in writing. Just remember that you may owe income taxes on debt amounts forgiven by collectors. Sullivan says that any forgiven debt is taxable income and that you’ll receive a 1099 form in the mail for forgiven debts over $600.
The bottom line
Whether or not you think a debt is yours, it’s smart to send a debt validation letter that makes the debt collector prove their case. Once you do, the onus to prove your debt is real falls squarely on the debt collector. If they can’t prove what you owe within 30 days, then you may not have to repay a single cent.
If you find out the debt is actually yours, on the other hand, the debt validation process can be your first step to negotiating with the debt collector. It’s possible to pay less than you owe and clear up old debts from the past, but communication is key. Debt validation is the inevitable first step in the process, and it’s one everyone should take.