The correct way to respond to a collection letter is with a written request for debt validation. This is your right under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), and if done in a timely and correct manner can produce fantastic results. Let’s start with the law: FDCPA § 809. Validation of debts [15 USC 1692g (b) “If the consumer notifies the debt collector in writing within the thirty-day period described in subsection (a) that the debt, or any portion thereof, is disputed, or that the consumer requests the name and address of the original creditor, the debt collector shall cease collection of the debt, or any disputed portion thereof, until the debt collector obtains verification of the debt or any copy of a judgment, or the name and address of the original creditor, and a copy of such verification or judgment, or name and address of the original creditor, is mailed to the consumer by the debt collector.”
Timing is Everything
Please note that there is only a 30 day window of opportunity to request your debt validation. Collectors must abide by the laws spelled out in the FDCPA, but these laws only mandate a response for the 30 days following the date of the initial collection letter. Beyond the 30 day window collectors have no obligation to provide the documents that you request and you have lost the opportunity to force compliance. Don’t procrastinate. Your credit is too important.
Why Validate the Debt?
Why request validation of a debt? There are two good reasons that you should request debt validation on every collection letter you receive, even if it looks legitimate. First, how do you know that the collector has the legal right to collect? You don’t! Debt is regularly sold, and just as often re-sold. You may have incurred an obligation with the original creditor, but you don’t know anything about the party that is currently demanding payment. So exercise your rights and ask them to prove that they own the debt. Secondly, how do you know that the amount of the debt is correct? Is the interest calculated properly? Are there other fees added? You deserve to know. As with any other credit repair tool, it’s about exercising your rights!
The Debt Validation Letter
Let’s get to work. Write a letter to the collector. Make it neat. Reference the debt using the identification they provided in the collection letter, such as collector account number, creditor account number, creditor name, etc. Clearly state that you dispute the collection and that according to the FDCPA you demand that the collector provide proof that they own the debt and have the right to collect, as well as proof of the amount owed by providing a copy of your signed credit agreement with the original creditor and a complete accounting of amount in question. Attach a copy of the collection letter, and send it certified mail. If you are not comfortable doing this yourself contact a reputable credit repair company. Most legitimate credit repair businesses offer debt validation as part of their arsenal and will be happy to do this for you.
What happens next? Once you have sent a debt validation letter to a collector they must satisfy your request with adequate documentation. Ownership of debt may be proven with a contract or purchase agreement transferring the debt to them. The amount owed may be documented with account statements from the original creditor, or a copy of the original signed loan agreement and an accounting of the total. It is never sufficient for the collector to provide their own internal itemization of the debt. In all cases, the documentation should be clear and provide definitive proof of the collectors claim.
Say Goodbye to the Collector
What happens if the collector cannot (or does not wish to) provide the documentation that you request? If they can’t comply …they can’t collect, they can’t contact you, and they can’t report the collection to the credit bureaus. It’s that simple. And it is likely that you will never hear from them again.
An Important Note
Our credit repair clients occasionally express concern that if the collector is pushed too hard they will send a summons and attempt to get a judgment. It is not legal for a collector to take any additional steps to collect, including getting a judgment, until they have satisfied their obligation under the FDCPA. If you receive a summons after challenging a collector with a debt validation letter you will need to appear in court with proof that you requested validation. Going to court is not an attractive option, but if you kept proper records and appear with your certified mail receipt you will prevail.