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Debt validation lets you question the validity of a debt

Couple lying down with bills

You can request that a debt collector verify the amount and validity of a debt they claim is owed by you.

A debt collector contacts you regarding a debt. How do you know the debt is yours and that you actually owe them?

Make debt collectors and junk debt buyers provide proof you owe them. What if the debt has already been paid or perhaps the Statute of Limitations has expired on the debt and you cannot be legally sued for the debt?

Debt validation forces a collection agency, debt collector and even a law firm in the business of debt collection prove you owe a debt. It is a powerful weapon against debt collectors that protects consumers from unfair and deceptive debt collection practices.

Requesting debt validation is particularly helpful if the debt has been sold. Often junk debt buyers have little information about the debts they own. They purchase a portfolio of debts often with little more than basic information about you and the alleged debt. They may try to collect the wrong amount or from people with similar names who don’t owe the debt.

In some instances, consumers who simply request debt validation discover a junk debt buyer will cease collection of the debt. Debt buyers have one goal in mind – get the money as quick as possible. They want to collect without putting too much time and effort into the collection process

How Debt Validation Works

According to Section 809 of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act you have the right to request a collection agency validate the debt they are trying to collect. Essentially, the collection agency must show that you owe the “original creditor” the debt and not the debt collector.

Typically verification of the debt occurs in the debt collector’s initial contact with you. If the debt collector fails to verify the debt, by law they have 5 days from the initial contact to tell you:

  • the amount of the debt
  • the name of the creditor to whom the debt is currently owed
  • you have 30 days to dispute the validity of the debt
  • if you don’t dispute the debt’s validity, the collector will assume it is valid
  • if you do dispute the debt’s validity within the 30 days, the agency will send you verification of it, and
  • if you send a written request within that 30 days for the name and address of the original creditor, the agency will provide it, if different from the current creditor.

If the first communication to you is a letter it may already include the notice. The letter will contain a “mini Miranda” stating: “This is an attempt to collect a debt and if we do not hear from you within 30 days of this notice, we will assume the debt to be valid.”

How to request debt validation

When requesting debt validation, you can dispute the entire debt or part of the debt, and you can request the name of the original creditor. Requesting the name of the original creditor may help you decide whether you have grounds to dispute the debt. Your debt validation letter must be sent in writing. After receiving your dispute, the collection agency must send you proof. If the debt collector cannot verify the debt, you may be able to eliminate the debt and have it removed from your credit reports. It is not enough for the collection agency to simply send you a printout of the amount owed.

The debt validation process was enacted to relieve consumers from active collection on debts until the debt collector obtains proper verification of the debt from the original creditor and they have a basis for determining the debt is in fact valid.

If you request validation, collection must stop

After receiving your dispute, the debt collector cannot contact you until it has provided you with the requested information. The collection agency must stop its collection efforts and cannot resume them before double-checking the debt information with the original creditor and mailing you the verification, including the original creditor’s name and address.

Debt collectors are not under a 30-day time limit to validate

This is where it gets confusing to consumers. Debt collectors do not have to respond to debt validation requests. This is the biggest problem with debt validation. Section 809 of the FDCPA allows consumers to request debt validation but there is no provision that requires debt collectors to respond within ANY time frame.

With the exception of the state of Texas, where debt collectors must respond within 30 days, the Federal FDCPA is lacking in this area. Texas, enacted its own debt collection laws that require a response within 30 days, unfortunately that requirement is not part of the Federal FDCPA. You may want to check your state debt collection laws to see if you have additional protections like the state of Texas.

Consumers are under a 30 day time limit to request validation

If you don’t dispute the validity of the debt (or part of it) or don’t request the original creditor’s name and address within 30 days of receiving the first collection letter, the debt collector can assume the debt is valid.

Many debt collectors will send letters with no stamped postal information that lets you know when the letter was mailed. Debt collectors never send these notices certified mail or even registered mail so you have no way of knowing when the 30-day period begins. Fortunately for the consumer, because the debt collector does not send the letter certified or return receipt, they cannot prove when the 30-day period began.

You can still request debt validation after the 30-day period has passed and question the validity of the debt. But the debt collector does not have to honor your request for debt validation if; after the initial notice has been sent, you failed to request debt validation during that time.

The good news is that if you did not request debt validation within 30 days of the first contact, the courts will not consider you having admitted to owing the debt or that the debt is valid. See FDCPA § 809 (c): “The failure of a consumer to dispute the validity of a debt under this section may not be construed by any court as an admission of liability by the consumer.”

What does a debt collector need to provide

Legally what constitutes proper debt validation is an unsettled issue and depends on the specific nature of the dispute. Debt collectors believe all that is required is verification the person they are attempting to collect from is correct and the amount being claimed is accurate.

However, the FDCPA requires verification of the validity of an alleged debt, not “verification” of your name and amount of an alleged debt. Proper validation should be in the form of documentation from the original creditor, not the debt collector. Debt collectors must provide proof you owe the debt to the original creditor, not to them.

Documentation can be account statements from the original creditor, payment history from the original creditor, a copy of the original signed loan agreement or a credit card application with terms and interest rates. Although rarely done, validation can also include an itemized accounting of the amount claimed to be owed, including all fees and charges and how those fees and charges were determined.

Consumers have received all sorts of improper documentation posing as debt validation. You may get a piece of paper entitled “Validation of Debt” or “Verification of Debt” or even a computer generated form made to look like a billing statement from the original creditor in response to a debt validation request. This is not sufficient for debt validation.

You do not have to provide proof

Some collection agencies realize they have no original documentation to prove the debt is yours and will resort to asking you to “help them” resolve the matter. After you request debt validation, you may get a letter from the debt collector requesting you send in an old statement from the original creditor or even a cancelled check of a payment you made to the original creditor. DO NOT FALL FOR THIS TACTIC! Debt validation requires the debt collector provide proof and documentation from the original creditor, not you. Do not help them! It is up to the debt collector to verify for you that you are responsible for the debt.

Do not acknowledge the debt

Never acknowledge you owe the debt. Make the collection agency or junk debt buyer prove you owe the debt. Avoid getting on the phone with any collection agency, junk debt buyer or collection agency law firm. Deal with them via U.S. Mail only. Acknowledging you owe the debt, making payment arrangements or even making a partial payment on the debt may re-start the statute of limitations on the debt.

What happens if a debt collector does not respond

A debt collector may not respond to a timely debt validation request. If this happens the debt collector must cease all collection activities until the debt is validated. In some cases, they may choose to delete the collection account from your credit reports. But keep in mind the credit bureaus are not subject to the debt validation provisions of FDCPA 809, and lack of validation is not basis for deletion from the credit bureaus.

If you do not hear from the debt collector and the account remains on your credit reports there are a few actions you can take. First, make a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for noncompliance and let them know you want the debt deleted from your credit reports as the final resolution. Second, make a complaint to the Better Business Bureau requesting a deletion of the account due to noncompliance of the Section 809 of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Third, make a complaint to your State’s Attorney General.

Even though the Fair Credit Reporting Act allows a “disputed” notation to appear on your credit reports, there is no reason to accept that notation if a debt collector cannot prove you owe the debt with proper validation documents.

Your goal is to bombard the debt collector with complaints until the account is removed from your credit reports. But be careful, if the debt is still under the Statute of Limitations, you can be sued. State laws have limited time periods when creditors or debt collectors can file a lawsuit to collect a debt. Check your State’s Statute of Limitations here.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Patti

    July 11, 2016 at 9:46 am

    I requested debt validation on a doctor’s bill for my husband. This doctor must have seen my husband when he was hospitalized out of state after an auto accident in 2012. The collection agency sent a statement which included my husband’s name, dob, date of service and charges. It indicates amounts paid by primary. The insurance and attorneys handling his lawsuit should have taken care of this. I can’t find my 2012 medical receipts for the insurance statement of payments but I’m still searching. There should be no balance, but I’m not sure I can prove it. Any thoughts?

    • Lisa Phillips

      July 14, 2016 at 3:49 pm

      Since the debt has been validated as requested I can only suggest a couple of ways you can handle this matter:

      1. Deal with the attorney. I’m concerned that the attorney handling the case may have negotiated a settlement with doctors that may not have covered the full amount. When that happens the unpaid or forgiven portion of the debt can in some instances be sold to a collection agency. On the other hand, there have been instances where attorneys “forget” to pay all medical debts involved in accident cases causing some debts to end up at collection agencies. The attorneys should have a full accounting of all the medical debts that were paid; and, you should be able to request proof of those payments.

      2. Request the doctor/hospital pull the bill from the collection agency due to the mistake of the attorney overlooking the debt. They may agree to pull the bill from the collection agency which would allow you to deal directly with the doctor for payment and the collection agency would have to delete the negative mark placed on your credit reports.

  2. Jas

    May 4, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    Hi Lisa,

    The Credit Bureaus are not subjected to the debt validation provisions, after I dispute with the debt collectors via certified mail and they have not provided proper validation or responded to my validation request at all. Can I;
    1. Then dispute with the credit bureaus showing proof that the collection agencies didn’t show proof?

    2. At that point, wouldn’t the credit bureaus be obligated to remove the items after showing proof the collection agency didn’t show proof?

    • Lisa Phillips

      May 6, 2016 at 1:12 pm

      Debt Validation/Verification is a provision under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. While the credit bureaus are not subject to the FDCPA they are subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act — the FCRA essentially means what is reported must be accurate.

      In theory you can do as you stated however, the credit bureaus would probably just note the account as “Disputed by Consumer” without removing it. To add some teeth to your strategy you may want to:

      1. Dispute the item directly with the credit bureaus first.
      2. Wait for the credit bureaus to verify the account as accurate.
      3. Then question the credit bureaus as to how they verified the account as accurate when you have documentation to prove the collection agency could not verify the debt.
      4. At this point you have set the credit bureaus up. They are reporting an unverified debt. This can give you more leverage to request the credit bureaus delete the account.
      5. To add even more leverage to your request for removal you may want to request the method of verification if the dispute comes back as accurate by the credit bureaus.

      I know it’s a few more steps than you anticipated but you want to create as much documentation as possible to get the account removed. It starts with the credit bureaus first because you may have to take legal action for removal and disputing the account with them first is the only way you can do that. Get the credit bureaus on the line for reporting an inaccurate, unverified debt.

  3. Bethany Masterson

    April 9, 2016 at 5:16 pm

    Hello,
    My husband recently received a phone call from a man saying that his company was trying to contact me to resolve a debt, and if they didn’t hear back from me, they’d pursue legal actions. He provided 2 demand letters via email , one of which was expired and the other dated for the day prior to the phone call. I reviewed the letter and the name of the creditor; I then reviewed my credit report. The debt referenced in the demand letters wasn’t listed on any of the credit reports I pulled (from 2 different sites). The time frame the demand letters referenced are similar to dates that I did pay off an account, but it’s been paid since 2012. I responded via email stating I never had a credit card from this company and that I was requesting additional info (the original date and amount of the debt, the company’s physical address, and a breakdown of the amount calculations). As of 8:15 pm EST on 4/9/16, I have not received a response via email or phone.

    My questions are:
    1- How likely is it that my credit reports wouldn’t have a debt/collections from 2012 or before listed? I genuinely don’t remember ever having more than 1 credit card. I feel it should be noted that I did find another social security number associated with my report on one site.
    2- Should the FTC be contacted as the company left a message on my husband’s phone and spoke to him about the debt/potential actions without my consent, and left a voicemail on my mom’s machine stating they were calling to collect a debt before legal actions were taken?
    3- Do you recommend any additional actions or steps to resolving this? I’m concerned that they will try to pursue legal action against me regardless.

    Thank you!
    Beth from Ohio

    • Lisa Phillips

      April 13, 2016 at 8:47 pm

      1. Not all debt collectors report to the credit bureaus. There are no laws that require a creditor or collection agency to report information to the credit bureaus. It is strictly voluntary. It is possible that the debt does not appear on your credit reports. Often times in a debt collector’s initial contact to you, they would not have reported the debt to the credit bureaus yet. If there was a credit card in your name, and it went unpaid or to charge-off status, the creditor would more than likely report the delinquent debt to the credit bureaus.

      2. You can make a complaint to the FTC but also make sure to submit a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau here.

      3. If you are using one of the sites like “Credit Karma” I suggest you obtain your credit reports directly from the 3 major credit bureaus. Annualcreditreport.com offers free credit reports from each of the bureaus once every 12 months. Or, you can order them, for a fee, directly from each credit bureau. Credit reports directly from the bureaus may give you a more thorough view of your credit history and accounts.

      You should resend your debt validation request via Certified, return receipt mail. Creating a paper trail may come in handy down the line. But keep in mind, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act does not give a time-frame in which debt collectors have to respond. However, the debt validation request may come into play if you ever have to go to court. You can at least show you requested debt validation but the debt collector could not or whether would not provide verification of the debt.

      If legal action is pursued make sure you respond to the lawsuit. Consumers who do not respond to lawsuits often lose for no reason except that they did not respond. There is no reason to allow a debt collector win a lawsuit by default. Please consider contacting a consumer law attorney. You can find one in your area at naca.net.

      Best of luck to you,
      ~Lisa

  4. nicolle E

    March 16, 2016 at 5:12 pm

    Good evening Ms. Phillips,

    I want to began by saying the your information has been quite helpful to me. I read your articles all of the time and following your advice so my credit score has increased by 50 points. Here is my question, I currently have a credit score in the upper 600s. I am aiming for 725 or better. My current mortage has been paid on time for years and is listed on my credit report in excellent standing. Before I was with bank of america. On my credit BAC is listed as transferred and closed I was with for 12 years. If I remove Bank of america closed account from my credit report will my score increase. Last week I contacted the credit bureau and filed a dispute to have it removed off my credit report. Should I allow it remain or will removing it increase my score. Thanks in advance for your help. Oh by the way I have been with the new mortgage company for over 6 years.

    • Lisa Phillips

      March 17, 2016 at 7:52 pm

      Generally closed accounts cannot be deleted from your credit reports. Closed accounts with no negative information associated with them can remain on credit reports for 10 years from the date they are reported closed. It’s likely not going to help your credit score to have it removed. In fact, your credit history is probably benefiting from the length of time the account has been on your credit reports. Length of credit history accounts for 15% of your credit scores. The accounts will continue to appear in your credit report after they are paid off. Older accounts, even if closed, tend to help credit scores, not hurt them.

  5. Tiffany

    November 11, 2015 at 10:50 pm

    Hello,

    I am not being sued, but I am trying to clean my credit. I read how it is important to send debt validation letters first, prior to settling with debt collectors.

    I recently sent a debt collector a certified and return receipt debt verification letter. I received a letter back from them along with my original signed contract with my debt creditor from 2012. However, I noticed that they failed to furnish my payment history. I was told to go to my original creditor to obtain my payment history (I know not to help them out-they should be able to prove to me). The debt collector also failed to furnish the original charge-off date, how much I already paid, and verification that my debt was assigned to them or sold to them.

    Since they failed to provide such items, does this give me grounds to notify the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and notify them that my credit collector was noncompliant and ask them to have my debt removed from my credit report?

    Also I live in Texas. I know that Texas has some different rules that may or may not be able to apply.

    Thank you.

    -Tiffany from Texas

    • Lisa Phillips

      November 13, 2015 at 10:46 pm

      Texas has a solid set of debt collection laws that provide extra protection in addition to the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. However, in order to utilize the debt collection laws in Texas, you must reference the law in your debt validation request. That way, if they are non-compliant, you have the legal grounds to request removal of the trade line from your credit reports.

      In the debt validation letter you would say something like this: “I hereby dispute this debt and request validation of the debt per Texas Finance Code Section 392.202 which requires a debt collection agency to provide the alleged debtor with specific information concerning their debt.” (You would then list the information you require.”

      “If you cannot or will not validate this account properly in 30 days, Texas Finance Code 392.202(d) requires any trade lines associated with this alleged debt must be deleted from any and all credit reporting agencies including but not limited to Experian, Equifax and Transunion.”

      If they fail to provide the required information you would then make a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Texas State Attorney General and the Better Business Bureau asking for removal of the trade line as a resolution.

      The best of luck to you!

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