What is a debt validation letter, and why is it so important?

By Gina Freeman

Reviewed by Betsalel Cohen

Jun 11, 2023

Read time: 5 min

Close up puzzled focused couple reading letter together,

Key takeaways:

  • Debt collectors can't pursue you without providing specific information about a debt.

  • A debt validation letter is a request from you to the collector to provide this information. 

  • Sending a debt validation letter can (at least temporarily) stop a collection.

Getting contacted by a debt collector can make anyone freak out, especially when it’s out of the blue. But before whipping out your checkbook (or going into witness protection!), take the reins. You have the right to make the collector prove that you owe the money. The law is on your side, and that’s where a debt validation letter comes in. 

Here’s how to validate a debt.

What is a debt validation letter?

A debt validation letter is a written request from you to a debt collector for more information about a debt that the collector says you owe. 

When bill collectors or debt buyers contact you, they should (but don’t always) send a letter or form with enough information for you to identify the debt, determine if you owe the money, and decide what to do about it. Always get this verification before admitting (acknowledging) a debt, negotiating a debt, or paying anything to anyone.

Some people use the term “debt validation letter” to also mean the notice from the collector. However, legal researchers at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) say that the request from you to the collector is the debt validation letter. 

Why it matters

A debt validation letter temporarily stops the collection process and makes debt collectors verify that you owe what they say you owe.

What is a debt validation notice?

The information that a debt collector sends you is called the debt validation notice. It’s easy to get confused. A debt validation letter and debt validation notice are two sides of the same coin. 

It’s against the law for debt collectors to report you to credit bureaus before contacting you. And when they contact you, they have to supply certain details or they can’t legally collect anything. These details are called validation information and usually come on a form or in a letter called a debt validation notice. This notice must tell you:

  • That the communication is from a debt collector

  • Your name and mailing information, along with the name and mailing information of the debt collector

  • The name of the original creditor you owe (more than one creditor may be be listed)

  • The account number associated with the debt, if applicable

  • A breakdown of the debt balance, including interest, fees, payments, and credits since a specific date

  • The current amount of the debt 

  • Information you can use to reply to the debt collector, including procedures to exercise your legal rights and a tear-off dispute form with pre-written prompts for disputing a debt 

  • An end date for a 30-day period for disputing the debt (if you don't dispute the debt within 30 days, the collector will assume that it’s valid)

Why it matters

You need these details because you shouldn't pay a debt unless you know that it’s yours, that the amount is correct, and that the collector has the right to pursue you for the money.

How does a debt validation letter work?

If you get a debt validation notice but think the details are wrong, you can make the collectors prove they have the right to come after you for the money. Don’t acknowledge that the debt is yours.

It’s not uncommon for debt buyers to try to collect the wrong amount, to collect debt that’s too old to legally collect, or to collect from people who don't owe the debt. Validation can help you avoid paying a debt that’s not yours or that’s uncollectible.

You don’t have to go to law school to learn how to create a debt validation letter. The CFPB provides a sample debt validation letter you can download and personalize. If you send the letter within 30 days of being contacted, the debt collector must stop trying to collect the debt until it sends you the required information listed above.

Why it matters

Sending a debt validation letter helps you decide what to do: ignore the debt, dispute the debt, pay the debt, or negotiate the debt.

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How to send a debt validation letter

Sending a debt validation letter puts you in the driver’s seat and puts the bill collector on notice that you’re not a pushover and that you’re ready to stand up for yourself.

Send a debt validation letter as soon as possible when contacted by a bill collector or debt buyer. 

The CFPB’s sample letter covers a lot more information than you might receive in a debt validation notice. This includes the nature of the original debt—when you incurred it, who loaned you the money, and when you stopped making payments. Collectors and debt buyers also have to prove that they have the right to collect from you—that they purchased that right, or that they were hired by the original creditor to collect the debt. They also must be licensed to collect debt in your state.

Use these details to determine if the debt is yours and if the balance shown is correct. A debt is too old to be collected—time-barred— if the statute of limitations has passed. That’s the deadline for suing you, and it ranges from 2 to 10 years depending on the type of debt and where you live. If you acknowledge the debt, you might restart the clock.

Tailor the sample letter to your situation, sign it, and keep a copy for your records. Send it to the address provided by the collector in your initial debt notice. You may want to send it with proof of delivery. 

Why it matters

Collectors can take action against you immediately, including filing a lawsuit—unless they receive a debt validation letter from you. 

What if you don’t get the information you asked for?

You can ask for many details in your debt validation letter, but you might not get them all. 

Why would a collector not give you all the details you asked for? It might not have easy access to the data. Debt buyers often purchase old debts and may not have all the information you want. And some shadier collectors may know the debt is too old or possibly not even yours. 

You can dispute a debt even if more than 30 days have passed after the initial notice. Or you may ignore it if you believe the debt is time-barred. You can make a written request for the collector to stop contacting you. And you can dispute the collection with the major credit bureaus. 

Why it matters

If you believe that a debt collector isn’t following the law, you can file a complaint online with the CFPB or contact an attorney. You might be able to sue the collector or raise a defense if the debt collector sues you.

Gina Freeman - Author

Gina Freeman has been covering personal finance topics for over 20 years. She loves helping consumers understand tough topics and make confident decisions. Her professional history includes mortgage lending, credit scoring, taxes, and bankruptcy. Gina has a BS in financial management from the University of Nevada.

Betsalel Cohen - Author

Betsalel is a contributing writer for Achieve. Passionate about helping people improve their finances. He worked in mortgage banking, private banking, and personal financial coaching. When he is not working, he loves running and spending time with his family.

Frequently asked questions

The law says that collection agencies have to stop contacting you if you ask them to in writing. However, you might not want to do that, because they may take you to court if they can’t negotiate with you or make arrangements for payment.

It depends. Medical collections come off your credit report after you pay them. For other kinds of collections, you may be able to negotiate a “pay for delete” with the collector, which means they delete the collection from your credit report if you pay some or all of the balance. Or you may have to wait the seven years it takes for a collection to fall off naturally. Fortunately, the collection becomes less damaging to your credit profile over time.

Yes, a debt collector can sue you and doesn't have to wait until you’ve missed a certain number of payments before doing so. Lawsuits are more likely if the amount owed is high and you aren't in contact with them about payment plans or other negotiations.

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