Have you received a call from a debt collector informing you that you owe them money? Did you discover an unpaid debt on your credit report for an account that you don’t know? If you find yourself in any of these situations, you have to dispute that debt with the credit bureaus right away.
If you received a notification from a debt collector, ask for debt verification or a proof that you owe the debt. You can download a sample letter online. You have to file a request within 30 days after the collection agency first made contact with you, so you need to do this as soon as you can.
Why Should You Dispute a Debt?
Under the Fair Debts Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), you have rights that allow you to dispute a debt.
Here are the reasons to file a dispute:
- If you don’t remember owing money from anybody.
- If you believe that the amount being collected is incorrect.
- If you want to confirm that you haven’t paid the debt yet.
- If you believe that the debt is past the statute of limitations, which may run between 4 and 6 years from the time you made your last payment.
- If you believe that the debt is not yours.
- If you don’t want the unpaid debt to appear as a negative mark on your credit report.
- If you want to stop collectors from contacting you.
Send the debt verification letter to the collector’s mailing address via certified mail and request a return receipt so you’ll have proof of delivery.
How Do You Dispute a Debt From Your Credit Report?
According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), consumers have the right to dispute information they believe to be incorrect or incomplete. Credit bureaus will investigate to determine the validity of your dispute. The investigation usually runs for 30 days. If the consumer reporting agency proves that your claim is valid, it will correct or remove the information in question. Otherwise, the negative mark will remain on your credit report for up to 7 years.
You can dispute a debt on your credit report by mail or online.
File A Dispute Via Mail:
Send the dispute letter to credit reporting companies through certified mail and ask for a return receipt so that you have proof of delivery.
File A Dispute Online:
How to Dispute a Debt With Collectors?
The FDCPA says you have the right to request debt verification. You have 30 days after the collector made the first contact to request verification by submitting a debt verification letter. You can dispute the entire amount or a portion of the debt they claim you owe. You can also ask for the name and address of the original creditor.
You can use the “I do not owe this debt” sample letter from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) if you believe the debt is not yours. If you need more information, you can use the “I need more information about this debt” form. Keep a copy of the debt validation letter. It’s also recommended to send it via certified mail with a return receipt requested for documentation purposes.
How to Check if the Debt is Yours?
Collection agencies have one main goal and that’s to collect unpaid debt. But before you make any payment, you need to make sure that the debt is yours.
The debt validation letter must include specific information, such as:
- How much you owe
- The creditor’s name
- Your right to file a dispute within 30 days; otherwise, the debt will be considered valid
- The debt collector will provide debt verification if requested
What details can you ask for?
- Request information about the original creditor.
- Request documents that prove you owe the debt.
- Ask about the age and amount of the debt. Request a copy of the last billing statement they sent you and more information about any payments made, interest rate, and other related fees.
- Request for a copy of a signed contract if you’re disputing the debt due to identity theft.
- Request for proof that the collector is authorized and licensed to collect debt payments.
Can you dispute the debt by calling the collector? Yes, you can call the creditor and dispute the debt. However, they will continue their collection efforts and take negative actions against you. You have to send a dispute letter to verify the debt and to stop them from collecting payments or suing you for a debt you don’t owe.
What Happens if You Dispute a Debt?
During the 30-day verification period, debt collectors can’t try to collect payments from you until it verifies that the debt in question is yours. Additionally, they can’t take any negative course of action against you such as filing a lawsuit. They also can’t report your debt to the major credit bureaus. However, if they already sent a report to the credit reporting agencies before receiving your debt dispute letter, they need to notify the credit bureaus about the dispute.
If the debt collector didn’t send you a debt validation notice, the 30-day verification period doesn’t apply. You can request a debt validation notice. Once you receive that and you’ve determined that it’s not your debt, you can proceed and file a dispute by requesting a debt verification.
Can Debt Collectors Contact You After Disputing a Debt?
No, debt collectors shouldn’t contact you until they can verify in writing that the debt is yours. Even so, you must not ignore calls or letters from debt collectors whether you owe them or not. If you ignore them, you might miss the chance to file a dispute, and you’ll end up with a negative mark on your credit report, or worse, a lawsuit.
What Happens if You Failed to Request a Validation Letter Within the 30-day Verification Period?
You can still submit a written dispute even if it’s past the 30-day verification period. Don’t forget to include supporting documents in case the amount you owe is incorrect or if the unpaid debt was incurred due to identity theft. Debt collectors must not collect payment if they know you don’t owe them anything. If they do, they will violate the FDCPA.
Be reminded that collectors will assume that the debt is valid if you file a dispute beyond the 30 days. They can also continue their efforts to collect payment while responding to your letter.
The FDCPA requires debt collectors to provide a validation notice and to respond to requests for debt verification. Report debt collectors who refuse to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
What to Do if Debt Collectors Can’t Verify the Debt?
Debt collectors aren’t allowed to collect payments if they fail to respond to your dispute. They can’t collect payments for a debt that doesn’t exist. If they try to, you can report them to the CFPB, the Better Business Bureau, or your state’s Attorney General.
Don’t forget to check your credit report for any negative marks related to the debt in question. You’re entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the national credit reporting bureaus. File a dispute with the credit bureaus so that they can investigate and remove the negative item if they prove that your claim is true. Send a copy of the debt verification letter you sent to the collector along with the return receipt as proof that it was delivered.
What to Do if the Collector Verifies the Debt?
You need to decide what you have to do next once the collector validates the debt sufficiently.
- Check if the debt falls within the statute of limitation or the period when creditors and collectors can file a lawsuit to collect a debt. A time-barred debt or debt that falls beyond the statute of limitation is no longer legally collectible and doesn’t pose a threat to you or your credit standing.
- Unpaid debt stays on your credit report for 7 years from the first date of delinquency. If the debt is no longer within the credit reporting time limit, your credit won’t be adversely impacted if you don’t pay the debt.
- Let the debt fall off your credit report if it’s near the end of the credit reporting time limit and you don’t have plans to apply for a new loan anytime soon.
- If the debt is still within the credit reporting time limit and statute of limitations, talk to the collector and negotiate a favorable repayment plan. If you have enough cash, you may settle the account in full.
Dealing with the consequences of unpaid debt can be a worrisome, frustrating, and stressful experience. The situation becomes worse when the debt in question is incorrect or not yours at all. Fortunately, there are laws in place to protect your rights. Under the FDCPA, you must receive a notice about the debt. You also have the right to dispute and verify the debt. You have 30 days to file a dispute with the collectors by submitting a debt verification letter. As collectors verify your debt, they cannot collect payments, sue, or report you to the credit bureaus.