How to Respond to a Debt Collection Letter and What to Include in a Debt Validation Letter
Due to unforeseen circumstances, many consumers default on their debts. As a result, they will be contacted by debt collectors.
Thankfully, there are consumer protection laws that aid those consumers. One of those laws is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Anyone who has received a debt collection letter should read the Act.
I am not an attorney, but I am a consumer. Due to my past experiences, I have been researching the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and other consumer protection statutes for 10 years. The following article is based upon my experiences and research.
What's Required in a Debt Collection Letter, and How Long You Have to Reply to It
You defaulted on a debt and have received a debt collection letter from a collection agency.
This letter is important. Do not ignore it.
The first collection letter you receive from a collection agency should include a validation notice. United States Code of Law, 15 U.S.C. § 1692g governs validation notices and requirements.
§11692g(a) states that within 5 days of an intial communication, a debt collector must provide a consumer a written notice containing (1) the amount of the debt, (2) the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed, (3) that the debt collector can assume a debt to be valid if the consumer does not dispute the debt within 30 days after receiving the notice, (4) a statement that the debt collector must verify the debt if the consumer requests validation within 30 days of receiving the 30-day notice and (5) a statement that a consumer can request the name and address of the original creditor, if it's different from the current creditor.
In the event you receive a collection letter from a debt buyer who has purchased your debt, that debt buyer is considered the "current creditor". That is due to the fact that the creditor with whom you opened the account charged off and sold your account to the debt buyer.
The very first line references an "initial communication". That means the first communication. If the first communication is a letter, pay attention to what should be included in the letter. It should include the information referenced in (1) - (5) of the above-referenced section of the FDCPA.
And pay close attention to (3). If you choose to request validation of the debt, you MUST do so within 30 days of receiving the letter that contains that notice. That does not mean 30 days from the date the letter was written. That time limit is based upon the date you RECEIVE the letter in the mail.
Misconceptions About Debt Validation
Unfortunately, some sites that recommend consumers send a detailed letter requesting documentation and information that a debt collector is not required to provide in order to validate a debt. While a consumer can request anything he chooses, a debt collector does not have to provide anything more than what the law requires.
Things You Don't Need to Include in a Request for Validation
Here is a list of items that some sites suggest consumers include in a debt validation request.
- What the money you say I owe is for;
- Explain and show me how you calculated what you say I owe;
- Provide me with copies of any papers that show I agreed to pay what you say I owe;
- Prove the Statute of Limitations has not expired on this account;
- Show me that you are licensed to collect in my state;
- Provide me with your license numbers and Registered Agent;
Those items are not required to validate a debt. Debt collectors do not have to provide a detailed accounting, proof that the statute of limitations has expired, or proof of license to collect a debt in your state.
Some Federal Courts of Appeals have ruled on the issue of debt validation/verification.
"Contrary to Appellants' contention, verification of a debt involves nothing more than the debt collector confirming in writing that the amount being demanded is what the creditor is claiming is owed; the debt collector is not required to keep detailed files of the alleged debt. There is no concomitant obligation to forward copies of bills or other detailed evidence of the debt." Chaudhry v. Gallerizzo, 174 F.3d 394, 406 (4th Circuit Court of Appeals, 1999).
"We agree with the district court that '[v]erification only requires a debt collector to confirm with his client that a particular amount is actually being claimed, not to vouch for the validity of the underlying debt.'" Chaudhry at 406.
"We adopt as a baseline the more reasonable standard articulated by the Fourth Circuit in Chaudhry. At the minimum, 'verification of a debt involves nothing more than the debt collector confirming in writing that the amount being demanded is what the creditor is claiming is owed.'" Clark v. Capital Credit & Collection Services Inc., 460 F.3d 1162 (9th Cir.2006).
"This provision is not intended to give a debtor a detailed accounting of debt to be collected." Maynard v. Cannon, 401 F. App’x 389, 396 (10th Cir. 2010).
Some suggested letters state that you should include references to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and Fair Credit Reporting Act in your validation request.
That is not necessary. It's the debt collector's job to know the law. If he doesn't know the law, that's his problem. Nothing in the FDCPA suggests that a consumer must do anything other than dispute the debt and request validation within the required 30 days.
There are those that will tell you that sending a detailed letter containing various requests informs a debt collector that you know your rights.
That is incorrect. Requesting information that is not required informs a debt collector that you DO NOT know your rights.
If you know your rights, would you request information that is not required by law? No. Anyone who advises you that a debt collector must provide certain information when that information is not required by law proves that the person has not researched the law.
Is the Debt Collector Required to Respond?
Some misinformed individuals will tell you that the debt collector must respond to you within 30 days of receiving your letter. THAT IS FALSE!
Review (1) - (5) of 1692g. The statute states that a debt collector must cease collection efforts until the debt is verified. However, it does not state that the debt collector must respond to your request within 30 days. The only 30-day requirement is on the consumer to dispute the debt and request validation. Neither 1692g(a) or (b) states that a debt collector must respond to you within 30 days of your request for validation. The debt collector can take as long as it chooses to send validation of the debt, but it cannot continue collection efforts until the debt is validated.
A Summons and Complaint From the Court is Not an "Initial Communication"
Some ill-advised persons will tell you to send a validation request after receiving a summons and complaint for a lawsuit.
The FDCPA specifies that a request for validation must be sent within 30 days of an initial communication. A summons and complaint is NOT an initial communication that triggers your right to request validation of a debt. Note 1692g(d) of the FDCPA:
(d) Legal pleadings
"A communication in the form of a formal pleading in a civil action shall not be treated as an initial communication for purposes of subsection (a)."
Congress amended the FDCPA in 2006 to clarify that "[a] communication in the form of a formal pleading in a civil action shall not be treated as an initial communication for purposes of subsection (a) of this section." 15 U.S.C. § 1692g(d). Carlin v. Davidson Fink LLP, 852 F.3d 207, 213 (2d Cir. 2017).
You can send a validation request after receiving a summons and complaint from a collection agency, but the plaintiff is not required to respond.
A Sample Request for Validation
The best validation letter is one that is simple and to the point.
Here is a sample letter letter to send to a debt collector within 30 days of receiving the initial communication.
Debt Collector's Name
RE: Account Number ________________
To Whom It May Concern:
I dispute the above-referenced debt and request validation.
That's it. Nothing else. That's all you have to do. You've disputed the debt and requested validation. That letter is all that is required on your part by the FDCPA.
Once a debt collection agency receives a timely validation request, it cannot continue its collection efforts until it responds to your request.
I would recommend that you send your letter via certified mail, return receipt requested. You do this so you have proof that you sent your letter within 30 days of receiving the intial communication. The return receipt proves that the debt collector received your letter.