Your Rights Under the FDCPA: Disputing the Debt
Why dispute the debt?
Your FDCPA dispute rights are a powerful tool. Once you dispute the debt, the debt collector must stop all debt collection activities until it provides you with proof that you actually owe the debt. If the debt collector can't provide you with that proof, it will never bother you again. If the debt collector does provide proof of the debt, you will be in a better position to decide what to do about it.
What are the most important things to know about my right to dispute the debt?
Under the FDCPA, your right to dispute the debt has three separate components:
- Right to notice of the debt
- Right to contest the debt
- Right to verify the debt
There are time limits on some of these rights, so it is important to stay alert.
Know Your Rights!
RIGHT TO NOTICE OF DEBT: Within 5 DAYS of first contacting you, the debt collector must send you a letter telling you:
- the amount of the debt
- the name of the creditor
- information about what you can do if you think there has been a mistake or you don't actually owe the money
You have thirty days from receipt of this letter to dispute the debt.
How do I dispute the debt?
Within thirty days of receiving the written notice of debt, send a written dispute to the debt collection agency. You can use this sample dispute letter (PDF) as a model. Once you dispute the debt, the debt collector must stop all debt collection activities until it sends you verification of the debt. You can also use the sample dispute letter to discover the name and address of the original creditor.
As with all dispute letters, you should keep a copy of the letter for your records. Also it is a good idea to send the letter certified mail, return receipt requested, so you have proof that the debt collector received it. (If certified mail is too expensive, you should at least get proof of mailing. Consult your local post office for your options.)
Know Your Rights!
RIGHT TO DISPUTE THE DEBT: Within 30 DAYS of receiving notice of the debt from the debt collector, you can send a letter to the debt collector disputing the debt and requesting the name and contact information of the original creditor. The debt collector must stop all debt collection activities until it can "verify" the debt.
RIGHT TO VERIFY THE DEBT: A debt collector verifies the debt by giving you enough information about the debt so that you can tell whether you actually owe it. The type of information that must be provided changes depending on your specific circumstances.
In most cases, verification should include, at minimum: the amount of the debt, the date of the debt, and the name and contact information of the original creditor.
If you contest the debt on grounds of identity theft or mistaken identity, verification should include a copy of the original signed contract or note.
If you contest the amount of the debt, verification should include information about payments made, and interest and fees charged and/or waived.
Can I dispute the debt over the telephone?
You can, but the debt collector will be allowed to continue debt collection activities and will not have to verify the debt. If you want to assert your right to verify the debt, you must send a letter.
Can I dispute the debt if more than 30 days have passed since I received notice of the debt from the debt collector?
Yes, but again the debt collector will be allowed to continue debt collection activities and will not have to verify the debt. If you want to assert your right to verify the debt, you must send your dispute letter within 30 days of receiving notice of the debt from the debt collector.
Still, if you have a good defense to the debt, you might want to dispute the debt even though more than 30 days have passed. Dispute in writing, and include any evidence that supports your claims (such as copies of cancelled checks showing you paid the debt or a police report in the case of identity theft). If the debt collector knows that you don't owe the money, it should not try to collect the debt. The FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from making false statements about the character, amount, or legal status of your debt.
What if the debt collector never sent me written notice of the debt?
You can still assert your dispute and verification rights. The 30 day time limit will not apply.
Can a debt collector report a disputed debt to a credit reporting agency?
If you dispute the debt, the debt collector cannot report it to a credit reporting agency unless and until it verifies the debt. If the debt collector has already reported the debt (before it received your dispute letter), it must notify the credit reporting agencies that the debt is disputed. After verifying the debt, the debt collector can report it, but only as a disputed debt.
A debt collector violates the FDCPA and the Fair Credit Reporting Act if it reports a debt that it knows, or should know, to be false.
Should I dispute the debt even if I think I probably owe the money?
Probably. When it comes to the amount that you owe, and the creditor to whom you owe it, why trust the word of the debt collector? The debt collector could be lying, or it could have bad information. The dispute and verification process is designed to provide you with accurate information about your debt, so that you have the information you need to decide what to do about it. There is no reason to give money to a debt collector who cannot or will not provide you with this information.
What happens if I don't dispute the debt?
Don't worry. Although you will lose your right to verify the debt, you can still stop the debt collector from contacting you by sending the debt collector a letter, called a "cease letter." A sample cease letter is available here.
Know Your Rights!
If you are sued by a creditor or debt collector, failure to dispute the debt cannot be used against you in court.
Debt Collection Basics
Your Rights Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
Recognizing Debt Collection Abuse
Negotiating with Debt Collectors
What is Exempt from Debt Collection?
Disclaimer: This site provides general information for consumers and links to other sources of information. This site does not provide legal advice, which you can only get from an attorney. NEDAP has no control over the information on linked sites.
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