What is a debt validation letter?

Take this important step if a debt collector comes knocking. (iStock)

Uh oh. A debt collector is making attempts to collect after notifying you that you owe money. What’s your next move?

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Your first step should be to verify the debt. Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), the debt collector must send you proof of the debt through a process called debt validation.

Here’s what you need to know about debt validation letters, including what information they contain, how to request one, and what to do if you do, in fact, owe the debt in question.

How do I write a debt validation letter?

Within the five days of first contacting you, a debt collector is required to send you a written debt validation letter incorporating the following information:

  • The amount of debt owed.
  • The name and address of the creditor to whom the debt is owed.
  • Notice that the debt will be considered valid by the collector unless you dispute it within 30 days of notice.
  • Notice that if you dispute the debt within the allotted time frame, no further action can be taken until the collector obtains and mails you verification of the debt.

Don’t believe the debt is truthful? You have the right to send a letter to the debt collector asking for additional verification that the debt belongs to you, such as a copy of a bill for the debt or a copy of a court judgment.

Exercising this right is vital, since mistakes happen. For example, a debt might be listed as yours, because you’re a victim of identity theft, or a credit bureau made an error in record keeping. Also, you don’t want to fall victim to a debt collection scam. By requesting debt verification, you’ll confirm that the collection agency is authorized to make collection efforts.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU HAVE DEBT IN COLLECTIONS?

What does a debt validation letter look like?

The specific structure of the debt validation letter varies, but it should include:

  • Current date.
  • Your full name.
  • Your address.
  • Debt collector’s name.
  • Debt collector’s address.
  • Relative account number.

When to send a debt validation letter

You have 30 days after you receive a debt validation notice to send a letter disputing it, according to the FDCPA’s requirements. The validation notice should state the debt collector’s mailing address. If it doesn’t, contact the collection agency directly to find out where to send your verification letter.

HOW TO CHECK YOUR CREDIT SCORE FOR FREE WITHOUT PENALTY

Do debt validation letters work?

Yes. If a debt collection agency makes phone calls to you about a late payment or outstanding debt, it’s prudent to verify that you actually owe the debt in question. After all, there are a lot of bad apples in the debt collection industry—including fraudsters that use fear tactics to dupe unsuspecting consumers. If you feel like you are a victim of fraud, you may want to contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or seek legal advice.

If the debt in question is yours and it’s within your state’s statute of limitations, there are a few smart ways to settle the amount owed. Most debt collection agencies will work with you to create a repayment plan, which may be a good idea if you’re currently strapped for cash. Another approach is to reach out to the creditor directly — the credit card company may be willing to negotiate how much money you have to pay back.

CAN YOU NEGOTIATE YOUR CREDIT CARD DEBT?

It may be in your best interest to consult a professional debt counselor who can help you devise a plan to pay off your debt. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) is a good resource for finding a certified credit card counselor.