Debt Verification

When a debt collector first contacts you, you have the right to request information about the debt, called "debt verification."

If a debt collector contacts you about a debt, the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) gives you the right to request verification of that debt. Debt verification, sometimes also called "debt validation," is a consumer's legal right to get information from a debt collector about the debt that's being collected.

What Is a Debt Verification Notice?

Under the FDCPA, a collector must provide you with information about the debt in its initial communication or within five days after the initial communication, including:

  • the amount of the debt
  • the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed
  • a statement that unless you, within 30 days after receipt of the notice, dispute the validity of the debt, or any portion thereof, the debt will be assumed to be valid by the debt collector
  • a statement that if you notify the debt collector in writing within the 30-day period that the debt, or any portion thereof, is disputed, the debt collector will obtain verification of the debt or a copy of a judgment against you and a copy of such verification or judgment will be mailed to you by the debt collector, and
  • a statement that, upon your written request within the 30-day period, the debt collector will provide you with the name and address of the original creditor, if different from the current creditor.

As of November 30, 2021, the debt verification notice must contain additional information as well. And, while collectors usually send this information in a letter, collectors may provide these disclosures orally in an initial communication.

Why Should I Verify a Debt?

Some instances when you might want to request verification of a particular debt include:

  • You don't recognize or remember incurring the debt that's being collected
  • You think that the amount of the debt could be incorrect. For example, you believe you've previously paid all or part of the debt or that incorrect charges were added to the debt.
  • The debt might be uncollectable because it is old. (That is, the statute of limitations has expired.)
  • The debt might not be yours. Perhaps a spouse or an adult child signed the paperwork instead of you.
  • You want to verify that the collector actually owns the debt it's trying to collect.

Even if you have no reason to contest the validity of the debt, the FDCPA still allows you to request verification. So, even if the debt is legitimately yours and is owed, you still have the right to request verification. A debt collector can't make you prove or demonstrate the invalidity of the debt, or make you provide reasons why you want verification of the debt.

Debt Collectors, Not Creditors, Must Verify Debts

Unless your state law provides otherwise, the FDCPA only requires debt collectors, not original creditors, to verify debts in certain circumstances. This requirement includes law firms that are routinely engaged in collecting debts. In other words, you have the right to request verification of your debt from companies or law firms collecting debts on behalf of creditors or for debts that have been purchased from original creditors.

And a collector's duty to verify a debt only kicks in if you send a specific, written request for verification.

How Long Do You Get to Request Verification?

Again, you have the right to request verification of your debt within 30 days. This period is sometimes called the "verification period." Note that you have 30 days to request verification from your receipt of the notice—not 30 days from the date of the letter. Additionally, the verification period runs from the first contact. For example, if a collector sends you a letter on January 1 and another one on January 20, your right to verify will still expire 30 days from your receipt of the January 1 letter.

How to Request Debt Verification

You must make your verification request to the collector in writing. No specific legal language is required. You can find a sample debt validation letter on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) website. (Click on the "I need more information about this debt" letter on the CFPB website.) Send the letter to the collector's mailing address that is listed on the verification notice. Keep a copy of the letter for your records and send the letter by some method you can track, like certified mail, return receipt requested.

After You Request Verification

Within the verification period, but before you actually request verification, collectors may continue with collection actions. But during this time, collectors may not conduct any collection activity that overshadows or is inconsistent with your right to dispute the debt or request the name and address of the original creditor. Once you request verification, assuming you did so within the verification period, the debt collector can take no action at all to collect until it provides you with verification of the debt.

What Information Must the Debt Collector Provide?

The law doesn't say exactly what information the debt collector must provide after you request verification of the debt. Sometimes, a collector will provide meaningful information, such as a loan or credit agreement, or a loan history, in response to a verification request, but not always.

A collector may, but doesn't have to, send information you specifically request in your verification letter. If you have a particular reason why you want the debt validated—say you disagree with certain charges or you don't remember incurring the debt—you may ask for specific information in your letter, and the collector might provide this information.

If the Verification Period Has Expired

If the 30-day verification period has passed, you can still send a request for verification, and collectors will sometimes comply. But they aren't obligated to do so, nor are they obligated to cease collection activities while sending you verification.

In rare cases, collectors will disappear after your request for verification if they're unable to provide verifying information. Or sometimes the information provided in response to a verification request can be helpful in defending a debt collection lawsuit. So, it's always a good idea to request verification within the verification period, and it can't hurt you to do it even after the verification period has expired.

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