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Writing Your Debt Collection Dispute Letter

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DebtThis is the second guest post in a special How to Fight Debt Collectors series on Bargaineering.com.

Writing a debt collection dispute letter is the first line of defense against a debt collector. Make them prove that the debt is legitimate before you do anything. Just because they have your name doesn’t mean the debt is legitimate. If you don’t remember it or you remember paying it off, a dispute letter can help you resolve it quickly.

Once you know who is calling you and what they are likely to do, it’s time to push back with a properly worded dispute letter.

Why? First, it’s fully within your rights to have the debt validated.

Second, many collectors try to add on fees, inflate the amount owed through interest, or otherwise get a little extra for their trouble. For folks terrified of your credit score, immediately paying a collector can earn you a big fat “paid collection” on your credit reports, which will tank your credit score just like an “unpaid collection” will.

If collectors can allege that you owe money, they should be able to prove it. Most people would laugh at the concept of paying a random stranger who asks for money, but somehow paying a random voice on the phone demanding money or letter makes sense. Instead of buying into such insanity, demand to see a bill or documentation of the debt.

Under Federal law, a dispute and validation request requires the collector to cease calling and obtain and send validation from the original creditor to you the consumer. Ceasing collection efforts properly would require putting all efforts on hold: phone calls, letters, credit reporting, etc. This doesn’t always happen, and when the collector fails to do so, they owe you money for each violation.

There are a lot of bad debt validation letters floating around on the internet. They are bad because ask for things a debt collector isn’t required to provide. They usually start with “This is not a refusal to pay but notice that your claim is disputed.” I can’t go into go into the many, many things that are wrong with these letters in this article and keep this article under 30 pages, but just remember the KISS principle and apply it here.

What does a debt validation letter need? No need to get fancy:

  • Name
  • Date
  • I dispute, please Validate
  • Do not sign the letter
  • Send it via certified mail

Pretty simple, right? Some may wonder why you don’t sign the letter. Some debt collectors might be tempted to do some Xerox magic and transfer your signature onto some other documentation where it previously was not. Furthermore, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) doesn’t require a signature, so why bother?

If you don’t want the collectors to call your place of employment add: “My employer does not permit calls at work or just tell them not to call you at work.”

Alternatively, if you don’t want them to call your house or at all, just add that “all phone calls are inconvenient.” Why inconvenient? The FDCPA prohibits calls to places or times that the consumer deems inconvenient. Just state that calls to your cell phone or house or all calls are inconvenient, unless you like getting debt collection calls. :)

Once you write the letter and send it out, you just wait. Most collectors will respond in a week or two. I will pick up what to do next if the collectors just won’t leave you alone in the next article.

(Photo: jaytamboli)

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30 Responses to “Writing Your Debt Collection Dispute Letter”

  1. Damon Day says:

    Great article Craig,

    It is also important to note whether or not the entity that you are dealing with is the original creditor or a third party debt collector. Since original creditors do not fall under the definition of a debt collector under the FDCPA they are not required to do certain things that third party debt collectors are required to do.

    They of course must provide documentation that you owe what they say you do though. You should refrain from sending an original creditor a letter asking them to cease communication. You may find that they will simply fast track an account to their legal department.

  2. zapeta says:

    Great tip about not including your signature…I never thought about that!

  3. Mr. Cunningham, you’re doing a real service with this series. Knowing how to handle debt collectors is one of the hardest things for people in debt to learn. The debtor is at such a disadvantage – he or she is a novice and the collector does this all day. The more information available for people in debt, the better.

  4. LaToya Irby says:

    Great article! It might be important to note that consumers only have 30 days to dispute the debt. The clock starts ticking the first day the agency contacts them about the debt.

    The part about excluding your signature makes me wonder how difficult is it to pursue forgery charges. I’m guessing it’s more timely and expensive than most people are willing to deal with when it can be avoided. “An ounce of prevention…”

  5. codename47 says:

    That is true as far as requiring a collector to cease collection activity (disputing within 30 days), but you are still entitled to validation.

    In Texas, however, consumers can dispute at any time, thanks to state law. Your state law may carve out other more strict requirements as well.

    • meaisaculpa says:

      @codename47, is that true? It would be really great if it is! I live in Texas and have a CA from Texas contacting me regarding an account that I should’ve validated long ago, but never did. I’ve tried finding information about Texas maybe not being limited to 30 days, but this is the first I’ve seen it. Do you have a URL or good source? Thanks for posting!

    • barbcinque says:

      I followed the advice on this site and put the debt in dispute and asked for validation within the 30 day window. Then they froze my acct. I thought they had to stop all actions until they validate the debt. The debt is from 1992 and was filed in court in 2006. THE DEBT IS 30 YEARS OLD!
      I now have a fair debt attorney and Im suing.
      I learned two things thus far:
      1) Income deposited into the acct and used for paying bills over the last two months is 90% exempt from the hold. That was nearly all the money in my acct.
      2) you are allowed a one time withdrawal on that acct of 1740.
      3) if a collector misrepresents themselves as attorneys…which mine did…it is illegal.

      Reading the fine print in the paper work of everything the bank gives you is really important.
      At this point their hold is only affecting several hundred dollars AND my attorneys will compensate me for all the fees and penalties resulting from this collection agency.

  6. Great tip about not signing the letter. I have not ever heard about unethical debt collectors falsifying documents with signatures like that but I would not doubt that there are some out there that would stoop to those kind of tactics.

  7. daemondust says:

    Of course, some of the less-than-scrupulous debit collectors will ‘lose’ letters you can’t prove they got (standard first class, anything not registered/certified) and will turn away registered/certified mail.

  8. codename47 says:

    I would love for someone to refuse a certified letter. They’d have the imputed knowledge of the turned away letter. That is something you just hold on to and let the judge open.

    • daemondust says:

      I would think it would work along the same lines as refusing a certified letter containing a summons, where in most jurisdictions you’re considered served even if you refused the service.

      • meaisaculpa says:

        That would be great…but then what? Do you report them to the FDCPA to have the collection removed?

  9. Actually to my knowledge, Debt collectors have no legal right to collect anything from a consumer unless that consumer agreed to do business DIRECTLY with THEM.

    So even if they had proof that you owed somebody else… that is what you owe somebody else!

    If you never agreed to do business with THEM then they have no power to collect.

    I have blasted a couple of debt “collectors” with this and gotten zero balances in return.

    • meaisaculpa says:

      Blasted them with what? A letter indicating that they have no power to collect? I think that does effectively the same thing as a dispute and validate letter, no? I’d love to see a template of one of those letters you wrote for me to use with the CA’s I’m dealing with.

  10. Steven says:

    Excellent article. Here’s what we recommend to our clients:

    1. Debt validation be sent certified and also first-class regular under USPS Form 3817. Mailing under 3817 carries with it the three day presumption of receipt. So this process ensures delivery and proofs.

    2. If you are beyond the 30 day response window, mail a debt validation letter anyway and request Validation Accommodation. 90% of the time they honor this and this can mitigate not responding within 30 days.

    3. Remember to send a copy of the debt validation letter (dispute) to the credit agencies.

    4. Demand or request that the collector’s response be “with particularity” or in detail. This enables you to see all charges, real, fraudulent, and how accumulating interest is calculated by the debt collector’s computer systems. Many problems here.

    5. In the letter state you expect validation response in 30 days.

    6. If the collector has also been engaging in harassment demand they stop all contact with your right reserved and expectation that validation will be acted upon and sent to you.

    Three things will happen:

    a. you will receive an interim letter stating they are working on it; or –
    b. you will receive no reply, or –
    c. you will receive debt validation.

    If they choose to ignore you they will return the case to the lender marked as disputed; or sell the debt and NOT mark the file as disputed; hence the PROCESS WILL RE-START.

    It’s up to you to demand a specific level of validation, normally consistent with the precedent within your federal district.

    There is a complete and deep strategy to this process which I cannot list here.

    We do this everyday and you can call 888-466-2009 for some help. On Twitter: @DebtResponse or helpme@cpinstituteonline.org

    Steven

  11. Travis says:

    While I consider myself lucky in that I’ve never had to go head to head with a debt collector like that, I know far too many people who HAVE had to go head to head like that. A lot of the get too scared and just pay, often giving away free money in the process! Like you mentioned, so many collection agencies tack on a ton of unneeded funds just for their sole gain.

  12. Dennis says:

    First, I have a “debt” in collection that I dispute because on my first office visit I specifically asked “what if the insurance company does not cover all of the bill?”. I was told not to worry about it, that they would not come after me for it. The girl now deny’s she said that after I got a bill. Second, the collection agency does not have my name spelled correctly, it is 2 characters off. Does anyone has any legal advice for an ohio resident? I feel I was mislead by the girls statement of not “worrying about it”. The amount is under $180 and I quit going there when I discovered that they were billing me.

  13. Ron says:

    A strange thing happened to me today. First of all, I have no outstanding debts.
    I bought some music CDs at a record store today.
    Later this evening I get a call from a “recovery agency” (800) 814-6580. I spoke someone who identified himself as “Manny”. He told me I owe $33.00 to Columbia House Records for a music CD I bought sometime back in 2005. I never bought or ordered anything from Columbia house ever. I knew it was some sort of con, so I hung up the phone.
    Strange conscience or what? !.

    • Jim says:

      A coincidence but those guys are just fishing for someone who will just send them $33… fortunately you’re smarter than that!

  14. Lori says:

    My son went to jail in 2003 owing a loan and credit card debt. The company was notified after sending a couple of charge off notices, and threatening to garnish, that he was incarcerated and unable to receive or respond to their notices. They stopped writing. In 2004 they took his state tax refund. Nothing more was heard (even though his address has not changed) until this year when they took his 2009 state tax refund. How does the statute of limitations apply here. We live in Michigan.

  15. Anonymous says:

    This information is outdated – Try Again!

  16. Mike Sierra says:

    My Parents have a situation … my father retired 7 years ago. He paid off all his credit cards. One card he sent in $.47 short. He never got any balance due statements or letters. 7 years later a collection agency is now harassing them and saying they owe $234 because of interest. When asked of proof they would not provide it and have harassing with phone calls everyday so far for a week asking for their credit card for payment. Can a collection agency do this? And how can they fight back?

    Thanks

  17. Bill says:

    This is my first time at this site. What is intersting people are airing their troubles about their credit card and how to dispute them. And what do I see on this website? An “AD” for Citi MasterCard. (Conflict of Interest-almost a play on words.)

  18. Anonymous says:

    I followed the advice on this site and I sent the letter putting the debt in dispute and requesting the validation of the debt. Which is what I had requested all along since the first contact. My debt is from 1992 and was filed in court in 2006. How is that possible? One week after recieving my letter, within the 30 day window, they froze my acct with a substantial amount of cash in it. I hired a fair debt lawyer and we are now in the process of suing.
    Two points to add:
    1) if the acct money is money that comes in as direct deposit from your employment and it is used to pay bills: 90% IS EXEMPT FROM THE HOLD.
    2) You are allowed a one time withdrawal from that acct of 1740$
    The bank gives you a list of exemptions in addition to the these above.
    Question: I thought disputing the debt and asking for validations stopped any further action from the collectors. How is it that they were able to put a legal hold on my acct without ever providing me validation?

  19. gabe says:

    I already sent in a debt validation letter. The debt they claim I owe is from 1999, way past the statute of limitations.

    Unfortunately I signed my letter.

    I will update you on my situation.

  20. me2012 says:

    my dad recieve a debt collection letter today and was given 30 days to dispute. he’s on his 70′s now and no source of income. I know this would be about accident related bill that would be on it’s sixth years end of this month. What do you think should i do.

  21. Frank says:

    What if the collector has bypassed any contact and the first acknowledgment you get is a summs at the door by some one. It is a 10 day summons, but states I must reply within 20 days? Unsigned, no case number or Judge name?


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