One topic that gets intermittent discussion with regard to debt collections is debt validation. And lesser discussed still is how to exercise this statutory right. Well it comes down to the letter you send. When you receive first contact through the mail of an alleged debt, you have 30 days to fire off a letter disputing the debt and requesting they validate it. To aid you in this, here is the template I have used previously for this:
[Name and address of collection agency]
Dear [Name of collection agency],
Re: [Debt account information provided in the letter]
NOTICE OF DISPUTED DEBT
On [date letter received], I received the first communication regarding this alleged debt. In accordance with 15 USC § 1692g(b), part of the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, you are hereby notified that this debt is disputed in its entirety.
Thus in accordance with Federal law, you are required to cease any collection attempts or efforts with regard to this alleged debt until you can obtain and forward to me documentation that shows that I have any legal obligation to pay you the amount you have alleged as quoted above. In accordance with the above-quoted Federal statute, I also request that you provide to me the name and address of the original creditor.
Further, in accordance with 15 USC § 1692c(a), you may not contact me at my place of employment as my employer does not permit such communications to take place, and you may not contact me at any other time or any other place, except in writing, as no time or place can be considered convenient.
Any attempt to collect on this debt without first satisfying this validation request is a violation of Federal law that may subject you to civil penalties in accordance with 15 USC § 1692k. Your cooperation on this matter is anticipated and appreciated.
And when you send the letter, use a service that provides tracking and/or delivery confirmation — return receipts are recommended as well. If you are currently unemployed, remove the statements regarding an employer.
I highly recommend against using the letter template provided by the United States Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. For one, it says “Please supply the information below so that I can be fully informed” instead of outright stating that you dispute the debt, which the statute requires [15 § USC 1692g(b)]: “If the consumer notifies the debt collector in writing … that the debt, or any portion thereof, is disputed…” Requesting information about the debt is not the same as disputing it, in whole nor in part, and unless you say you are disputing the debt, they may presume you are not disputing the debt and do not intend to dispute the debt.
Whenever you are invoking statutory rights, you need to stick with the statutory language so there is no doubt what you are doing.
The CFPB template also demands a lot more information than creditors are required to provide. The creditor is required to provide you evidence that the debt is valid, the amount claimed is accurate (itemized details are not required to fulfill this), they have the authority to collect it, and the name and address of the originating creditor if you request it. That’s it!
The disclosure with the CFPB template even says this:
A debt collector may not have a legal obligation to provide some or all of the information you seek, even if you request it within the 30-day period. If the collector doesn’t give you what you request, that doesn’t necessarily mean the debt collector has broken any laws or has given up a legal right to collect from you.
Amazing how many people think that one misstep by a debt collector and the debt is no longer collectable. In the case of the CFPB’s template, though, the letter requests information that should be readily available with the first contact, such as:
- whether they are contacting you from out of state (check the addresses on the letter you receive)
- name of the original creditor — virtually every initial contact I’ve received from a collector included at least the name, with the address provided through a validation request
- name of the current creditor — again, typically given in the initial letter if different from original creditor
along with details that they are not required to provide you, such as the details regarding their license. If the matter goes to Court, that’s a different scenario, and an attorney should be able to provide the specifics.
And one question that is asked in the CFPB template that should never be asked directly to a debt collector is with regard to the statute of limitations.
If you are certain the debt is beyond the statutory time limit, wait for them to return with validation materials, and write back stating you refuse to pay the debt and leave it at that. Do not mention the statute of limitations. When you do that, under 15 USC § 1692c(c), the collector is barred from contacting you except to say they are ceasing collection attempts, to advise you that a specific “remedy” will be sought, or that they are seeking a specific “remedy” — i.e. they may or will sue.
Only if they sue do you counter with the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations applies only to legal actions through the Court — i.e. it is grounds to immediately dismiss with prejudice any lawsuit they do file against you. It doesn’t stop them from continuing collection attempts unless you tell them in writing to not contact you — again, see 15 USC § 1692c(c) — and it doesn’t stop them from assigning the debt to someone else.
So again, keep the letter short and sweet, like the template I have above, and you should be golden on exercising your statutory right of validation. If you have any reason to believe the information they provided you is inaccurate, you can dispute it further, but never bring up the statute of limitations in any communication with a debt collector. The only time to mention the statute of limitations, if applicable, is with regard to Court actions.
Bear in mind, however, once they satisfy validation, they can file a lawsuit against you.