- A debt verification letter is a letter from a debt collector that verifies a debt they claim you owe.
- You can request a debt verification letter after you receive a validation of debt letter in the mail.
- Be careful with your communication with debt collectors, and know your rights throughout the process.
- In some cases, it may make sense to enlist the help of an attorney.
If you've had a debt sent to collections, you can expect a call from a collection agency. Collectors often use aggressive tactics to get you to agree to pay the debt, even if it doesn't belong to you or the numbers aren't right.
Fortunately, there are consumer laws in place to protect you and your rights. Collection agencies are required to send you a letter detailing the debt, after which you can request a debt verification letter, essentially forcing them to prove that the information is accurate.
If you've been contacted by a debt collector, here's what you should know.
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What happens when a debt collector contacts you
It'll typically start with a phone call. If you've left a debt unpaid for too long, your creditor may sell it for pennies on the dollar to a collection agency, which will turn around and try to collect the full original amount from you.[1,2]
But just because you've received the phone call, it doesn't mean you have to pay. For example:
The debt may not even belong to you
The numbers they provided may not be accurate
The debt may be past the statute of limitations in your state, at which point it's legally uncollectible, even if you feel a moral obligation to repay it
It's important to avoid confirming that you owe the debt or agreeing to make a payment.
"Acknowledgment of the debt might revive the statute of limitations, so it’s best to say as little as possible to debt collectors," says Leslie Tayne, a debt attorney and founder of Tayne Law Group in New York.
Within five days of their first contact with you, debt collectors are required by law to send you a validation of debt letter. Debt validation letters must include the amount owed and the name of the creditor.
Additionally, there should be a statement that if you request information about the original creditor on the debt within 30 days, the collection agency is required to provide it for you. If you don't dispute the debt within that time frame, the agency can assume it to be valid.[1,3]
Finally, there should be information about how to get debt verification, a response which they furnish if you dispute the debt or request more information.
Because they’re similar debt-related letters, let’s quickly review their differences.
|Debt validation letter||Debt verification letter|
|Sender||The collection agency||You|
|Contents||Provides information about the debt and how to dispute it||Requests evidence of who owns the debt and the details provided in the validation letter|
|When to send||Collectors must send it within five days of your first contact||Consumers must send it within 30 days of receiving the validation letter|
What to ask for in the debt verification letter
If you've received a debt validation letter from a collection agency, it's important to be specific about what you want from them. If the agency doesn't have enough information to prove that you owe it, you may be able to avoid paying. If the debt does belong to you, but the numbers are inaccurate, you'll want to make sure that you're not paying more than you have to.
So, when you receive a debt validation letter, there are a few different ways you can send them a letter saying that you don't owe the debt or that you want more information about it. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) offers sample letters that you can use in either case.
Here are some things you'll want to make sure you include in your request for a debt verification letter:
Why the collection agency believes you owe the debt
Documentation from the original creditor showing their name and possibly a loan agreement showing the debt belongs to you
A copy of the last billing statement from the original creditor
The date of your last payment
The date the collection agency bought the debt
Confirmation that the collection agency is licensed to collect the debt in your state
These details can help you obtain the information you need to verify that the debt belongs to you, the numbers are accurate, whether the debt is past the statute of limitations in your state— that can vary from state to state, so check with your attorney general’s office—and whether the debt collector is legally allowed to collect from you.
"Consumers can dispute the debt if they do not believe they owe the money, or negotiate the debt and agree to a payment plan with the collector if the debt is valid," says Tayne.
Whatever you do, don't ignore a debt collector or wait until the last minute to send a debt verification letter. If you wait too long, the collection agency may have the right to collect even if you didn't originally owe anything.
What to do if the debt is valid
If you receive a follow-up to your debt verification letter and everything is accurate, it's important to work with the collection agency. If you ignore their calls, they may sue you and try to get a court to force you to pay.
That doesn't mean you have to pay the full amount, though. Because collection agencies bought your debt for a fraction of the original loan amount, it's often possible to negotiate a settlement for less than what you owe. You'll need to pay the full amount in a lump sum, but in some cases, you could save hundreds or even thousands of dollars.[8,9]
You can negotiate a settlement on your own, or you can enlist the help of an attorney who specializes in debt reduction. It's also a good idea to consult an attorney if a collection agency decides to sue you in court.
"Working with an attorney can be useful as they’ll act as a liaison between you and the debt collector, which could help you avoid self-incrimination and extending the statute of limitations," says Tayne. "Debt collectors will sometimes pursue legal action, so having an attorney by your side to help you navigate a lawsuit can help you through the situation."
Tip: Throughout this process, it's important to keep an eye on the collection agency's tactics. There are very strict rules on how they can communicate with you, and if you find that they're harassing you, threatening arrest, contacting other people about your debt or contacting you after you've asked them to stop, you could potentially have a legal case to dismiss the debt.[2, 5] Review your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
The most important thing is that you don't ignore a collector. Even if you've asked them to stop contacting you, the debt won't go away, and you may end up facing a lawsuit.
What to do if the debt is invalid
If the collection agency doesn't respond to your debt verification letter because it knows the debt is invalid or it can't furnish the evidence that you owe the balance, you're off the hook.
That said, there's no deadline for a response to a debt verification letter. The agency just needs to stop all collection efforts until it's provided you with answers to your questions. So, keep an eye on your mailbox.