Before you pay a dime to a debt collector, confirm that the debt belongs to you. Debt collectors are legally required to send you a debt validation letter, which outlines what the debt is, how much you owe and other information.
If you’re still uncertain about the debt you’re being asked to pay, you can send the debt collector a debt verification letter requesting more information. This option is best if you plan to pay the debt in collections.
These two letters are important because errors in debt collection are common. You don’t want to pay a sum you don’t owe or accidentally revive an old debt that might be past the statute of limitations. And you don’t want to fall victim to a debt collection scam.
Here’s how to understand your debt validation letter and what to do if you need a debt verification letter, including where to find sample letters.
Review the debt validation letter
Collectors are required by Fair Debt Collection Practices Act to send you a written debt validation notice with information about the debt they’re trying to collect. It must be sent within five days of the first contact.
The debt validation letter includes:
The amount owed.
The name of the creditor seeking payment.
A statement that the debt is assumed valid by the collector unless you dispute it within 30 days of the first contact.
A statement that if you write to dispute the debt or request more information within 30 days, the debt collector will verify the debt by mail.
A statement that if you request information about the original creditor within 30 days, the collector must provide it.
If you don’t receive a validation notice within 10 days of the first contact, request one from the debt collector the next time you’re contacted. Ask for the debt collector’s mailing address at this time as well, in case you decide to request a debt verification letter.
Write a debt verification letter
The validation letter might leave you with more questions than answers.
In that case — or if you never received a validation notice — you can request a verification letter proving this debt is in fact yours.
Verification letters are best used in two circumstances:
If you’re facing an aggressive debt collector: A debt verification letter can pause collection efforts and may deter debt collectors who don't have sufficient information.
If you intend to pay the debt: To resolve the account, you might want more information to verify you’re paying the right collector for the right debt.
If the debt is nearing its statute of limitations, for example, you may be better off ignoring debt collection notices than drawing more attention to yourself with a verification letter.
The CFPB has sample letters you can use. The key is to be thorough in your request for debt verification.
In your letter, ask for details on:
Why the collector thinks you owe the debt: Ask who the original creditor is and request documentation that verifies you owe the debt, such as a copy of the original contract.
The amount and age of the debt: Ask for a copy of the last billing statement sent by the original creditor, the amount owed when the collector purchased the debt, the date of last payment and whether the debt is past the statute of limitations.
Authority to collect the debt: Ask whether this agency is licensed to collect debt in your state.
You may want to send this letter by certified mail and request return receipt so you can document the correspondence between you and the debt collector.
Although you can ask for many details, debt collectors are only required to provide information on the original creditor, the balanced owed and the name of the person who owes the debt before resuming collection efforts.
Getting even that amount of information, however, can help you determine if you actually owe this debt, if it’s past the statute of limitations, or if there’s an error such as overstatement of the amount owed.
If you send the letter within 30 days of the first contact, the debt collector must stop trying to collect payment until it verifies that the debt is yours. You can still send a verification letter after the 30-day mark, but the debt will be assumed valid and the collector can continue to seek payment while it responds to your letter.
It’s a violation of the collection practices act for a debt collector to refuse to send a validation notice or fail to respond to your verification letter. If you encounter such behavior, you can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.