How to dispute debt collections (with sample letters)

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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 proof that you owe the debt. You can download a sample letter online. You have to file a request within 30 days after the debt collection agency first made contact with you, so you need to do this as soon as you can.

When Can You Dispute A Collection?

Under the Fair Debts Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), you have valuable 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 the debt collector from contacting you

Send the debt verification letter to the debt collector’s mailing address via certified mail and request a return receipt so you’ll have proof of delivery.

Ways to Dispute Collections

1. 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.  

Check the Debt Validation Notice. Under the FDCPA, debt collectors need to send you a debt validation notice about the money that you owe within 5 days after their initial contact.

The debt validation letter (which we will talk about more in the next section) 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 them to provide proof that the debt collector is authorized and licensed to collect debt payments.

2. Send a Dispute Letter to the Debt Collector

You can call the creditor or debt collector 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.

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.

3. Dispute A Debt on Your Credit Report With the Credit Bureaus

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 collection dispute.

The investigation usually runs for 30 days. If the consumer reporting agencies prove that your claim is valid, they 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:

4. Report the Debt Collector to Authorities

What if the debt collector can’t verify the debt?

The debt collector isn’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 debt collector along with the return receipt as proof that it was delivered.

What Happens After You Dispute A Collection?

After you filed a dispute, the creditor or the credit bureau (whichever you filed the dispute with) shall run their investigation. Under the FCRA, they’re required to respond to your dispute within 30 to 45 days. Then, they should let you know the results of their investigation within 5 days after they acknowledged your dispute filing.

During the 30-day verification of the debt, 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. Even so, you must not ignore calls or letters from debt collectors whether you owe them or not.

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. 

Can You Dispute A Collection After Paying?

Yes. If you’ve already settled the debt, it shouldn’t reflect on your credit report as a collection account. You can send a dispute to the credit reporting agencies, as discussed above, to correct or remove the collection account from your credit report.

It’s important to note, however, that if the collection is legitimate, it might not be removed from your credit reports until it’s past the statute of limitations. It could only be corrected and reflected as paid.

In some cases, you may be able to negotiate with the debt collectors or creditors to remove the record by goodwill.

If you accidentally paid a debt that isn’t legitimate, it’s like admitting that it’s yours. You can still file a dispute and try to prove that the debt is yours. However, there’s no guarantee that you can get your money back.

Will a collection dispute reset the clock on the statute of limitations on your debt?

No, disputing collections doesn’t reset the clock on your debt unless you admit that it’s yours. Debt collectors can restart the clock if you also make a partial payment or agree to a settlement. Old debts will be removed from your report when they reach the statute of limitations even when you didn’t pay them.

What To Do If The Debt Collector Verifies The Debt?

You need to decide what you have to do next once the debt collector validates the debt sufficiently.

1. Check the statute of limitation

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 reports for seven 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.

2. Wait for the time limit to pass

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.

3. Negotiate with the debt collector

If the debt is still within the credit reporting time limit and statute of limitations, talk to the debt collector and negotiate a favorable repay

FAQs on Disputing Collections

1. How Long Do Collection Accounts Stay On Your Report?

A collection account stays on your credit reports for seven years.

2. How Do Collection Reports Impact Your Credit Score?

A collection added on your credit reports can slash up to 110 points off your credit score. Your credit rating will be reduced to fair or poor.

3. Will Your Credit Score Increase If a Collection Account Is Removed?

Yes, your credit score will increase if you manage to have it removed from your credit reports. You can gain as much as 150 points.

4. How Long Can A Debt Collector Come After You?

A debt collector can come after you as long as the debt is within the statute of limitations. It varies depending on the state law where you live, but it’s typically between 4 and 6 years since the last payment was recorded.

Conclusion

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 against malicious debt collectors. Under the FDCPA, you must receive a written 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 debt collector by submitting a debt verification letter. As the debt collector verifies your debt, they cannot collect payments, sue, or report you to the credit bureaus.

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