What is a debt validation letter and when should you get one?

You have options if you have questions regarding a debt

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Before a debt collector can pursue you for a debt, they are generally required to first send you a debt validation letter. This letter should include your name, the debt amount, the delinquent account and your consumer rights regarding debt collection.

It’s essential you pay close attention to the validation letter and respond to it within 30 days. You have rights as a consumer, and understanding these rights before you respond can help you navigate a potential debt collection.

Key insights

Debt collectors have a legal obligation to inform you of a debt through a validation letter within five days of initially contacting you.

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The validation letter must contain specific information regarding what you owe and steps you should follow if there’s an error.

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You can also request debt collection information yourself by sending a debt verification request.

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What is a debt validation letter?

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), debt collectors must provide you with specific information regarding your debt. This is known as a debt validation letter. This letter gives you the details of the debt and provides you with steps for disputing it if the debt doesn’t belong to you.

This letter may come to you through the mail or electronically and you should receive it within five days of the debt collector’s initial contact (if there was one). You may also request a debt validation letter from the collection agency if you’ve been contacted about a debt and you want further documentation.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) outlines the key pieces of information a debt validation letter should contain, including:

  • A notice that the letter is from a debt collector
  • Your name and address, plus the name and address of the debt collector
  • Name of the creditor you owe the debt to
  • The account number and total current amount due
  • Itemized detailing of the debt, including any fees or additional charges
  • How to reply if you feel the debt isn’t accurate or if you need to make the payment
  • How many days you have to reply to the debt (should be 30 days)

The importance of debt validation and debt verification

A debt validation letter is a critical component of the collections process because it helps you identify whether it’s a legitimate collection. Errors in collections are not uncommon, so you first need to know if it’s truly your debt. It can also help you avoid a debt collection scam.

“Given the amount of scam debt collection that takes place, it's smart to start by looking up the debt collector to make sure they are a legitimate company,” said Daniel Cohen, a founding partner with Consumer Attorneys and practitioner of consumer protection law. “If you don’t recognize the debt or any of the information is inaccurate, misleading or false, you should immediately contact a consumer protection lawyer, as this is likely a violation of the FDCPA.”

Consumers can also send their own letters requesting information about a debt, which is called a debt verification or validation request. While you may see these used interchangeably, they’re actually two different letters. They are part of your rights as a consumer and help you verify if a debt is legitimate or not.

» MORE: How to handle bill collectors

What to do after receiving a debt validation letter

A debt validation letter from a collection agency might not provide sufficient details regarding a debt, or it may raise questions regarding the validity of the debt. You can send your own debt verification request if this happens or if you never received a validation letter from the collection agency.

What to include in a debt verification letter

Your debt verification letter should ask for the following details:

  • Why the debt collector claims you’re responsible for a specific debt
  • The age of the debt
  • Whether or not the agency is licensed to collect the debt in your state
  • If you’re disputing the debt

Provide instructions to the debt collector on how they should communicate with you and which contact methods you permit (such as via phone, mail or email), or if you only permit contact through your lawyer. Limit your own personal information as much as possible and send the letter via certified mail.

“When you’re sending a debt validation request, do not put any personally identifiable information in your letter beyond your name and the address where you received the collection attempt,” Cohen advised.

“By law, the debt collection agency must respond within five days of receiving your letter. All communications with debt collectors should be sent via certified mail with a return receipt requested, and you should keep copies of everything for your records.”

» MORE: Does medical debt affect your credit score?

Sample letter of a debt verification request

If you’re unsure what information you should include to a collection agency, the CFPB provides multiple free debt validation letter templates you can use, depending on your type of request.

Here is an example of a letter you would send if you have further questions regarding the validity of the debt collection:

[Your name]
[Your return address]

[Debt collector name]
[Debt collector address]
Re: [Include the account number here, if you have it]

Dear [Debt collector name]:

I was contacted by [phone/mail] on [date] and identified the debt as [any information they gave you about the debt]. However, I need the following information from you so I can be fully informed:

  • The name and address of the creditor to whom the debt is currently owed
  • The account number used by that creditor
  • The amount of the claim

Additionally, I’m requesting verification and documentation for the basis of this claim, such as a copy of the written agreement creating my original requirement to pay, verification of why I’m required to pay this debt, and a copy of the last billing statement sent to me by the original creditor.

I would also like more information about your firm before any further debt discussions take place. Does your firm have a debt collection license from my state? If not, say why not and if you do, provide the date of the license, the name on the license, the license number and the name, address and telephone number of the state agency issuing the license.

I am open to communicating with you for this purpose and request you send all information to me via mail to the address provided above. In the meantime, please treat this debt as being in dispute and under discussion between us.

Thank you for your cooperation.

[Your name]

Next steps after you send a debt verification request

Once you send the debt verification request, the collection agency should respond with the requested documentation.

Under the FDCPA, the collection agency can’t contact you regarding the debt until they’ve provided the verification of the debt. They may stop the collection efforts from there if there’s not enough information available. If you do receive documentation, make sure you review it carefully and compare it to your own records.

If the debt is valid, it’s possible you can negotiate for a partial amount or request to set up a payment plan.

» MORE: Debt relief programs: pros and cons

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    What’s the difference between a debt verification letter versus debt validation letter?

    A debt verification letter is sent by a consumer to a collection agency requesting information about a debt. A debt validation letter is a letter from a collection agency outlining why you’re responsible for a debt. This letter should be sent within five days if they’ve made an initial contact with you about a debt or in response to a debt verification letter you’ve sent.

    Should I pay a collection letter?

    If you do owe a debt, then the best course of action is to pay it as soon as possible so you can avoid any negative marks against your credit report. However, if you believe there may be an error regarding this debt, you should use the steps outlined above and begin the process of disputing the debt. No matter whether you decide you should pay the debt or dispute it, it’s essential you take action as soon as possible.

    What happens if a debt collection agency doesn’t respond to a validation letter?

    It’s possible a collection agency won’t respond to a debt validation request because they do not have the information you requested for verification of the debt. Keep in mind the debt collector must stop pursuing collection efforts against you until they have provided the verification you requested.

    Can I send a debt verification letter online?

    You shouldn’t send a debt verification letter online. It’s better to send the verification letter via certified mail and request a receipt. By doing so, you not only have proof you sent the letter, but you also have proof the collection agency received it.

    Bottom line

    A debt validation letter should come from the collection agency within five days of them initially contacting you about a debt owed. You can also request verification on your own by sending your own debt verification letter.

    These two letters can help you determine whether or not the debt is legitimate or if there’s an error or potential collection scam. If you do receive a debt validation letter, responding to it in a timely manner is essential, as well as keeping complete records of all your correspondence.

    Article sources

    ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:

    1. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “What information does a debt collector have to give me about a debt they’re trying to collect from me?” Accessed May 2, 2024.
    2. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “What can I do if a debt collector contacts me about a debt I already paid or don't think I owe?” Accessed May 2, 2024.
    3. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “What should I do when a debt collector contacts me?” Accessed May 2, 2024.
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