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Your Rights Under Federal Law

Dunning Letters: Your Rights (and Responsibilities)

We covered dunning letters briefly in the Debt Relief section, but they warrant their own section. Within 5 days of the first communication with you, debt collectors must provide you with a written (or verbal) notice that contains:

  1. The amount of the debt
  2. The name of the creditor
  3. A statement noting the debt will be considered valid unless disputed within 30 days
  4. Notice that the debt collector will send a verification and validation of the debt if the request is made within 30 days

Keep in mind there are no formal guidelines for how the dunning letter should be written, other than that the information listed above must be provided in some fashion.

If the debt collector reaches you by phone, the "dunning letter" can be delivered verbally as long as the above items are covered. When that happens, the collector is not required to send a written notice (though most will anyway).

The FDCPA requires that debt collectors verify disputed debts. The reasoning behind this is to make sure the debt collector has matched the right account to the right person. Usually, debt verification and validation will come in the form of photocopies of all of your billing statements. Though the FDCPA is fairly vague on what actually constitutes verification and validation, our verification and validation letter in the Resource Library goes one step further. We ask for proof that the debt collector is licensed to collect debts in your state and a copy of any agreement between the original creditor and the debt collector showing their legal right to collect on the alleged debt. After all, anyone can say you owe them money. Without providing all of the information requested in our verification and validation letters, there should remain reasonable doubt in your mind as to whether you owe any debt collector anything.

Make sure you send all of your correspondence certified mail with return receipt so that you can prove the debt collector received your debt verification and validationon activities must cease immediately and nothing new can be reported to the credit bureaus until the collections company verifies and validates the debt. There is no time limit for them to respond, but unless and until they do, they must cease all collection activities. If they don't, and/or they continue to report negatives to the credit bureaus, they have just violated your federal rights.

FDCPA violations can help you back down a debt collector by either threatening to sue, or by actually suing them, in federal court. Alternatively, it can serve as an affirmative defense if they try to sue you. You will learn about both of these strategies in later sections. Suffice it to say, it is very important that you preserve your rights under the FDCPA by requesting verification and validation of any debt within 30 days of receiving a dunning letter (or verbal equivalent) from a debt collector. Document their response—or lack thereof—and file it away.

That, in a nutshell, is the basics of a dunning letter and your federal rights. So what happens if your rights are violated under the FCBA or FDCPA? It all starts with documentation.

> Documenting Violations

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