What is a Debt Validation Letter?
When a debt goes to collections, collectors are legally required to send a debt validation letter to provide you with information about the debt — including your name, delinquent account information, the debt amount and your debt collection rights.
Debt validation letters are an important part of the collections process, and you’re entitled to receive one. If you don’t get one in the mail, or if a creditor refuses to send you one, it’s a big red flag that you may be dealing with a debt collection scam.
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What’s in a debt validation letter?
Consumers have legal protections under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). This federal law sets numerous rules for debt collection: These include prohibiting harassment, banning misleading representations and specifying guidelines for the collections process.
Debt validation letters are mandatory under the FDCPA, which states that “within five days after the initial communication with a consumer in connection with the collection of any debt, a debt collector … shall send the consumer a written notice including” several items:
- The amount of debt
- The name of the creditor
- Confirmation that the debt will be assumed valid if not disputed within 30 days
- The consumer’s right to dispute the debt and the debt collector’s verification obligations
- The consumer’s right to the original creditor’s name and information upon request
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), debt collectors must also disclose their name, mailing address and the creditor’s information in the letter.
You’re entitled to receive information about your legal rights through the collections process. You can dispute the debt in writing within 30 days, but if you don’t, the collector will assume the debt is valid and can continue collection efforts. Validation letters must also include instructions for disputing the debt.
Why are debt validation letters required?
Debt validation letters help ensure that you’re given accurate information about your debt. You’ll want to make sure that the debt is legitimate and that the debt validation letter doesn’t contain any inaccuracies or mistakes — those could lead to you paying off debt you don’t actually owe. Debt validation letters also help protect you against scams and give you legal rights to dispute the debt.
Zombie debt is another concern: You might think that you’ve fully paid off an account, but that debt could come back to life if you didn’t. Debt collectors often buy and sell debt, so you may not even be aware that a new creditor owns it. And if you do pay toward a debt that’s already passed the statute of limitations, you can resurrect the dead debt and debt collectors can legally attempt to collect again.
How to request a debt validation letter
If a debt collector doesn’t send a debt validation letter, you should request one — especially if you plan to dispute the debt and avoid the collections process. Collectors who don’t send these letters could get in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) if you file a complaint against them.
To formally request debt validation, start by sending a letter via certified mail to the debt collector — LendingTree’s debt validation letter template can help you get started. Be sure to include each specific detail you’d like the collector to clarify: Ask for your creditor’s information, details about the debt, proof that the debt is legally collectible and any other questions you may have.
Debt validation letter vs. debt verification letter
To dispute a debt, you must send a debt verification letter to the debt collector. These terms can be confusing, but think of a debt verification letter as your way of saying that you intend to dispute the debt. Debt collectors send debt validation letters; debt verification letters are sent in response to one.
If you don’t think you owe the debt, you believe the creditor is mistaken about some details or the debt is outside the statute of limitations for collections, you must send a dispute letter within 30 days. The collection agency can’t collect the debt until it’s verified — they must get a copy of the original bill or other documentation to corroborate what was sent in the debt validation letter.
Avoiding debt collection scams
Unfortunately, bad actors try to take advantage of people by falsely claiming to collect on a debt. Sometimes those are fairly transparent phone calls or text message scams, but scammers can be sophisticated.
Not receiving a debt validation letter is one sign of a scam, but there are plenty of others. If a debt collector isn’t honest about who they are or what debt they’re trying to collect, they may not be legitimate. Likewise, if the collector threatens you or engages in other abusive practices (like constantly calling you or contacting you at work after you’ve requested that they stop), they may be scammers trying to rip you off.
Debt collectors must abide by the rules set forth in the FDCPA. Just because you receive a debt validation letter doesn’t necessarily mean that the debt collection isn’t a scam. Still, legitimate debt collection agencies send one — and they follow the other legal guidelines for debt collections. Always check to see if a debt collector has proper licensing in your state before engaging with them.