If you have an account in collections, a debt collector may call and say that you owe a certain amount of money. You may have questions about your options, including these:
- Can you request proof of debt?
- Is the debt collector required to produce proof of debt upon request?
- What if he can’t?
- Do you still owe the money if you request proof of debt and he cannot provide it?
Here’s how to request proof of debt and why you should always do so.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires the collector to send you a written validation of the debt, and he must do so within five days of contacting you for the first time (or include it with the first contact, if it’s a letter).
You then have 30 days to dispute the debt, but you must do so in writing. If you fail to dispute the debt, the collector gets the benefit of the doubt, and the law gives him the right to assume the debt is valid.
That’s one great reason why you need proof. If the debt isn’t valid, you don’t want to give the collector any reason to believe it is.
The letter simply needs to be addressed to the collector (send it certified mail with return receipt), formally requesting that they “provide validation of the debt referred to in your phone call/letter of …” and provide the date.
You’ve also asserted a key right under the FDCPA, which is that the collector cannot contact you again until they provide the debt validation.
Now it’s on the collector to produce verifiable information on the debt, which includes some form of documentation from the original creditor that you owe the debt. If he produces it, you should check your own records to see if it matches. Even if it does, call the original creditor and verify it all one more time.
You may not have to pay
You still may not have to pay the debt. Every state sets a statute of limitations on the amount of time a collector has to sue you to recover. If you are beyond that time limit, you do not have to pay on the debt.
If he doesn’t have verifiable information, then the collector is absolutely prohibited from pursuing the debt. He can’t send any negative information to the credit bureaus. If he has, you can dispute the report – and that’s why you’ve gone to all the trouble to request proof of debt in the first place. By the way, even a valid debt cannot be reported after seven years from the date of the original delinquency.
Why it matters
Why is all this necessary? Although the debt collection industry is undergoing reform, with the shadier players being forced out as state and federal regulators tighten up the rules and enforcement, many debts can be sold and resold multiple times before you get the collector’s call.
There are so many rules that collector’s must comply by that you give yourself the upper hand by having as much information as possible on who they are and what you owe. Of course, if you truly owe on the debt, it’s only right to pay it off if you are able to, even through a payment plan.
Debt collection image via Shutterstock