Know Your Rights

FDCPA Dispute Letter

You just found out for the first time that a debt collection agency is trying to collect a debt from you.  Perhaps you found out by phone, or perhaps you found out by letter.  You want to dispute this debt for whatever reason you have (not your debt, incorrect amount, etc).  What should go in the dispute letter? 

When you write a dispute letter and what you put in that letter have implications under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).  Sometimes, it depends on whether you are responding to a collection letter, and sometimes it depends on what you want to accomplish.  There are some different scenarios:

I just found out about the collection from a letter sent to me…
The FDCPA requires that the first communication from a collector contain certain important disclosures.  For one, it must identify that the communication is an attempt to collect a debt, and any information obtained will be used for that purpose.  Also, the letter must advise you that you have the right to dispute the debt and seek validation within 30 days of the receipt of that letter.   In this instance, timing is key.  If you do want to dispute the debt, you can do that by calling or writing. - and simply explain why you dispute it.  That could be valuable if the debt collector decides to report this debt to the credit bureaus.  If the collector fails to note at that time that you did, in fact, dispute the debt, then they are violating the FDCPA.  

If you are seeking validation of the debt, that request must be in writing, and must be sent within 30 days of receiving that letter.  If you do not send a demand for validation of the debt in writing or within the 30 day period, then the collector has no responsibility to respond to you.  However, the issue now is what would you be requesting in your letter.  The case law on the issue of what is proper validation is not completely decided.  It has been held to be a question of fact that depends on the circumstances in each case.  Thus, if you seek to dispute and validate that the debt even belongs to you, then the validation demand should be clear that you do not believe you own the account and that proof should be given to show it is yours.  However, if you dispute the amount of the debt, then your demand should be for information tending to show how they got to the balance they were demanding. 

Simplicity is key.  Just because you found a long, fancy letter on-line that cites all kinds of laws, that does not mean that you are sending an effective letter.  Rather, your letter should be clear and concise, getting right to the point, so that there can be no mistake about what you were looking for.  Our website provides a great example of a proper and concise validation demand

I just found out about the collection from a phone call…
Again, the FDCPA requires that the  first communication from a collector contain those important disclosures mentioned above.   If the collector gives you those warnings over the phone, then as stated above, you need to send your demand for validation in writing within 30 days of that call.  However, if they do not give you that information over the phone, then the FDCPA requires that they send it to you in writing within the next five (5) days after that call.  If you do not get that letter, perhaps the collection has violated the FDCPA for not sending it, but this does not give you the right to seek validation. 

Many people believe that simply writing the collector a letter seeking validation at any time requires a response.  This is untrue.  Unless you have a writing from the collector offering to provide validation, a debt collector can ignore your request.  However, just because they can ignore some requests for validation, there are still other dispute letters they cannot ignore. 

Any letter advising a collector that you dispute the debt must be given some credence.  A debt collector receiving notice that the debtor disputes the debt must be mindful of that dispute when communicating about that debt to the credit bureaus or when they pass off the debt to other collectors.  Also, a letter that advises the collector to either cease and desist all communication or that you refuse to pay the debt must be heeded and all communications must cease.  The collector can only contact you one time after that for the purpose of advising you either that they are no longer collecting, or that there is a specific remedy they plan on invoking.  For a good example of a cease and desist  letter,  click here.

When you're being pursued by debt collectors, you have rights,  and we're here to help. SmithMarco, P.C., has over 30 years of combined experience practicing law protecting the rights of consumers around the country. If you feel that you're rights have been violated, please contact us for a free case review.


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