Debt Verification

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

If debt collectors are contacting you about your debts, you have a legal right to obtain verification of the debt. Debt verification is a consumer’s legal right to request information from a debt collector about the debt that is being collected. Debt collectors must abide by federal laws in responding to your request for verification. But your rights only exist in certain situations, and the collectors’ duties to verify are more limited than you may think.

What Is Debt Verification?

The right to request verification of the debt is provided by the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The law was enacted to allow consumers to obtain more information about the debt that is being collected and to act as an informal dispute resolution system between consumers and their collectors.

There are many instances when you may want to request verification of the debt. Some may include:

  • You do not recognize or remember incurring the debt being collected
  • You feel that the amount of the debt may not be correct. For example, you feel you have previously paid all or part of the debt or that there are incorrect charges added to the debt.
  • There is a possibility the debt may be uncollectable because it is old.
  • The debt may not be yours at all. For example, a spouse or an adult child signed the paperwork instead of you.
  • You want to verify that the collector actually owns the debt it is trying to collect.

A debt collector only has to provide basic information about your debt in verifying it. It is not required to specifically address any particular reason you may have for wanting verification of the debt.

Even if you have no reason to contest the validity of the debt, the FDCPA still allows you to request verification. This means that even if the debt is legitimately yours and is owed, you still have a right to request verification. A debt collector may not ask you to cite reasons why you want verification of the debt.

Who 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 includes law firms that are routinely engaged in collecting debts. In other words, you only have the right to request verification of your debt from companies or law firms collecting the debt or which have purchased the debt from the original creditor.

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

When Must You Request Verification?

You have the right to request verification of your debt within a specific period of time. This period is sometimes called the “verification period.” The collector is required to inform you of your right to verify the debt, with a standard notice, when the verification period starts. The verification period allows you to request verification:

  • within thirty days of your first phone conversation with a debt collector, or
  • within thirty days of your receipt of the first written correspondence from a debt collector.

Note that you have thirty days to request verification from your receipt of the letter—not thirty days from the day the letter is dated. Additionally, the verification period runs from 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 thirty days from your receipt of the January 1 letter.

How to Request Debt Verification

You must make your verification request in writing. No specific legal language is required. A simple sentence saying “I request verification of my debt” will suffice. Send it to the collector’s mailing address that is listed on the collection letters or your bills. You don’t have to send it by certified mail. Remember to keep a copy of the letter for your records.

Note that you do not have to provide any reason why you want verification. You can request verification even if you believe the debt is accurate and valid. A debt collector cannot make you prove or demonstrate the invalidity of the debt, or make you provide reasons why you want verification of the debt.

After You Request Verification

Within the verification period, but before you actually request verification, collectors may continue with collection actions. However, during this time period collectors may not make any immediate threats or take any negative action against you, such as suing you (or threatening to) or reporting the debt to credit reporting agencies (or threatening to). A collector could not say, for example, “pay immediately” or “if payment is not made in five days your credit will be affected.” The collector can only make general attempts to collect, such as sending you collection notices that list the debt and asking you to contact them, without making immediate threats of collection.

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?

If you request verification within the verification period, the collector must provide you with “verification of the debt.” The law does not state exactly what information the debt collector must provide. Unfortunately, many courts have determined that the collector can provide very little to you in response to your request for verification. Even a simple letter to you saying it has researched the debt and confirmed that it’s correct, will meet the legal requirements for responding to your request for verifying 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.

A collector may, but does not have to, send information you specifically request in your verification letter. You may have a particular reason why you want the debt validated. Perhaps you disagree with certain charges, or you don’t remember incurring the debt, or you think the time period in which you are legally obligated to pay, has expired. In those cases, you may ask for specific information in your letter, and the collector may provide more responsive information than they would otherwise legally have to.

If the Verification Period Has Expired

If you are out of the thirty day verification period, you can still send a request for verification, and often collectors will 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 are unable to provide verification information. Sometimes information provided in response to verification can be helpful in defending a debt collection lawsuit. It is therefore always a good idea to request verification within the verification period, and it cannot hurt you to do it even after the verification period has expired.

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