Debt Validation and Dispute Letters under the FDCPA
The below is general information only. The information is not legal advice, and should not be treated as such and is subject to the legal disclaimer.
Debt validation is a specific right you have under the FDCPA. 15 U.S.C. § 1692g(b). Within 30 days of a debt collector’s “initial communication” with a consumer, you the consumer have the right to send a letter to the debt collector disputing the debt or requesting the name and address of the original creditor. If you send a timely validation letter, the debt collector must cease all collection activity against you until the debt collector sends you verification of the debt or the name and address of the original creditor.
What is Verification of the Debt?
“Verification of the debt” is not defined in the FDCPA except in the case where the debt collector is attempting to collect on judgment. In that case, verification requires the debt collector to obtain a copy of the judgment and send a copy to the consumer. As to other debts, it appears that verification requires a debt collector to obtain some sort of documentation from the original creditor and to send copies of the documentation to the consumer.
Why is it Called a Debt-Validation Letter?
The letter is called a “debt-validation letter” because the applicable statute is titled “Validation of Debts.” But the actual text of the statute never uses the word “validation.” Rather, the statute speaks of disputing debts and the debt collector’s duty of “verification of the debt.”
What if you don’t Send a Debt-Validation Letter within 30 Days of the Initial Communication?
The case law is clear that if a consumer does not send the debt collector a validation-letter within 30 days from the date of the debt collector’s initial communication. (To be safe, the validation letter she be mailed within the 30 days of the date on the debt collector’s dunning letter when the initial communication is in writing.). But if you’ve missed the 30-day window, there are still good reasons to send a dispute letter to a debt collector.
A debt collector violates the FDCPA if it reports credit information that it knows is false. This includes failure to report that a debt is disputed. 15 U.S.C. § 1692e(8). Sending a dispute letter to a debt collector may be very helpful in proving that a debt collector knows or should have known that negative information it sends to a credit reporting agency is false. Also, actively disputed debts will not negatively affect your credit score.
What to Put in a Validation or Dispute Letter
If you don’t believe you owe the debt, if you believe that the amount of the debt is wrong, or the dates are wrong, expressly say so in the letter. Use the word “dispute.” Dispute that you owe the debt, the amount of the debt, the date the debt went delinquent, etc. in the letter. If you don’t want a debt collector to contact you, put that in the letter. See 15 U.S.C. § 1692(c). Request that the debt collector cease all communications with you. If you want a debt collector to only communicate with you in writing, put that in the letter. If your employer does not allow you to receive phone calls at work, put that in the letter. 15 U.S.C. § 1692c(a)(3). You can request that a debt collector supply you certain documents or types of documents as part of its duty of verification. The debt collector might not comply, but it’s good practice in terms of notice. If you don’t want a debt collector contacting your friend and family, expressly state in your letter that the debt collector does not have your consent to communicate with anyone else but you in connection with the debt. See 15 U.S.C. § 1692(c)(b).