- Pull your credit report regularly to identify any errors.
- Dispute an inaccurate debt amount with a debt dispute letter.
- Stop collection calls with a cease and desist letter.
Tools & Knowledge to Get Debt-Free on Your Own
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Disputing a Debt with a Collector
Under Federal law, you have the right to request documentation proving that you actually owe the debt being claimed by a collector. If you have any doubts as to the validity of a debt being asked to pay, you can dispute the debt in writing (this process is also called “requesting validation”). Once you have notified the collection agency of your dispute, it is required to cease all collection activity until it has responded to your request by providing documentary evidence, such as a signed credit agreement, demonstrating that you are the person who is responsible for the debt. Below are three letters which you can use to help you in disputing your debt with a collection agency.
Debt Dispute Letter
If you receive a call or letter from a collection agency for a debt that you don’t think you owe, you can send the agency this letter to put it on notice that you dispute the validity of the debt and that you are demanding that the agency provide proof that you are responsible for paying it.
Notice of Insufficient Validation
Frequently, collectors will respond to a request for validation with nothing more than a computer printout of the balance owed. Generally speaking, this is not sufficient proof of the debt. If you receive a response to the first letter which you think is insufficient, you can use this letter to put the creditor on notice that it has not satisfied its obligations to provide proof of the debt.
Failure to Validate Debt
If you do not receive a response to your debt dispute letter within a reasonable time (usually 30-60 days), or if the creditor continues its collection efforts without validating the debt, you can use this letter to notify the collector that it is legally required to stop its collection activity against you. Having sent the debt dispute, and following up with this letter, may put you in a better position if the creditor refuses to stop its collection efforts and you are forced to file a complaint with the FTC, your state Attorney General’s office, or even to file a lawsuit against the collector for violation of the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA).
Cease and Desist (C&D) Letters
These are letters which you can use if you wish to stop a debt collector from calling you. The first thing to remember is that the federal law (FDCPA) which requires debt collectors to stop calling you if you make such a request in writing, only applies to third-party debt collectors. (Some states have their own version of the FDCPA, which could extend stronger protections than the federal version.) If you owe money to CitiBank, and CitiBank is calling you directly, this letter may not be able to stop those calls. However, some states have passed laws that extend these federal protections to creditors. Also, many creditors will abide by such requests, not because they are legally required to do so in all states, but because they do not want to violate the law in error and want to maintain a positive public image.
Cease Communication Notice
The Cease Communication Demand letter is a more general letter, designed to stop all collection calls.
Work Harassment Letter
This letter is specifically targeted to collectors who are calling you at work, which are a particular problem, as some collectors will make multiple calls to a consumer’s workplace in an effort to shame or irritate the consumer into paying the debt. I recommend that you use these letters sparingly and only when needed; there is no need to send a cease communication demand to every collector who calls, but you should know that you have this option if a collector’s calls become harassing or abusive.
Credit Repair – Dispute Listing
We strongly encourage consumers to pull a copy of their credit reports from all three major U.S. credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — at least once each year. It is important that you review your credit reports on a regular basis, as credit reports are notoriously inaccurate and often contain derogatory information about accounts that you never opened. This erroneous information can cost you thousands of dollars in the form of higher interest rates and reduced access to lower cost forms of credit. Reviewing your reports will also help you find out if you have been the victim of identity theft, as you will be able to see if any large credit transactions have taken place about which you were unaware. If you find any erroneous information on your credit reports, you have the right under federal law (the Fair Credit Reporting Act) to dispute the debt. You may order copies of your credit reports, free of charge, through AnnualCreditReport.com.