If you’ve followed the recommended steps to request a debt verification letter from a debt collector and they follow through and send you a proof of debt owed to validate your debt, there are still some things you can do to make sure you’re not being taken advantage of.
Remember that many debt collection agencies have been in business for several years, even decades, and have worked with thousands of consumers in different situations.
Even when you’ve asserted our rights and requested a debt verification or debt validation letter, there are still some more steps to take to ensure the debt collector is not attempting to collect on debt that you do not actually owe.
Here’s what you need to do if you receive proof of debt owed by you from a debt collector:
Step 1: Verify that they are licensed in your state.
Ask them to prove that they are licensed in your state to legally collect that debt. Just remember that not all states require licensing. California, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont and the District of Columbia do not require collectors to be licensed as of the date this article was created.
Step 2: Determine whether you still legally owe the debt.
Under Federal law, you have the right to refer to the Statute of Limitations to determine whether your debt is or is not collectible. For example, if you have a debt that dates back for more than ten years, there’s a good chance that it is no longer collectible.
Every state has its own Statute of Limitations that apply to four different kinds of debts. These apply to both oral contracts and written contracts, as well as to promissory notes such as a mortgage. Credit cards typically fall under the “open ended contract” category, and the statute of limitations also applies to this type of debt.
You may need to do some research to find out what category your debt falls under, and can verify whether you still owe this debt according to state law.
You can get legal help in this area by contacting your state Attorney General’s Office, and also by contacting consumer advocate groups such as the National Association of Consumer Advocate. The Federal Trade Commission also has a wealth of resources available regarding debt collection.
If you find that the debt collector has been trying to collect on a debt that you no longer owe because the statute of limitations has expired on that debt, you can take them to court.
Step 3: Don’t pay anything until you get everything in writing.
The debt collector is going to continue contacting you to pay off your debt and may even suggest that doing so will improve your credit score. Don’t believe them! You do have the right to negotiate the debt and it’s a good idea to either tape your calls (inform them that you are doing so), and keep a copy of all written communications.
If and when you do settle on an agreement for paying off your debt, you must draft an agreement that states the debt collector will update your credit report to show that the debt has been paid in full, and that the account is in “current” status.
Once they sign that information, then you go ahead and give them the payment. Send everything – all checks and letters — certified, with a return‑receipt requested. You always want to make sure that you have proof that you did in fact come to an agreement and have paid off your debt obligations.