What to Do When You Receive a Collection Letter?

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If you have unsettled debt, or a collection agency thinks you do, you might get a collection letter. Third-party collection agencies sometimes purchase your debt from the company you originally owe the money to, so your debt is owed to whichever company sends you the letter. Before taking action, you should thoroughly understand why you received the collection letter and your rights as a consumer.

Letter Information

The Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) dictates that collection letters must include the amount of money you need to pay, to whom you owe the debt, the address of the debt collector, the fact that you are legally allowed to dispute any part of the debt and the fact that you have the right to request any contact information of the original creditor. If the collection letter you received doesn't contain all of this information, the collector who sent it to you is in violation of the FDCPA.


When you receive a collection letter create a file for your record keeping. Your file should include pertinent information, such as the date you received the letter, the name of the agency and the employee who signed the letter, and copies of the letter and the envelope it came in. If and when you choose to respond to the collection agency, you should do so in writing and send your letters via certified mail with a return receipt requested. This will help you have a solid record of your correspondence with the agency.

Contacting the Collector

You should never ignore a collection letter, even if the debt isn't yours (reference 1). If you ignore the letter, the collector will certainly continue to contact you and may even file a lawsuit against you (reference 1).

If you need to dispute some or all of the debt, write a letter to the collection agency within 30 days of receiving the collection letter. You should never pay a debt that isn't yours just to make the collection agency go away. According to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, paying a debt acknowledges your responsibility for that debt.

Additional Help

If you need help paying the debt or deciding what to do about your debt, you should contact the National Foundation for Consumer Credit because it can help you find a credit counselor in your area and answer some of your questions (reference 1).

If you think the collection agency that sent you the letter may have violated the FDCPA, report the problem to your state's Attorney General's office and the Federal Trade Commission. Each state's laws on what constitutes unlawful behavior on the collector's part vary, but your Attorney General's office can help you determine what your rights are in your state.

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