Monday, September 5, 2011

Deleting Collections From Credit Reports With the "One-Two Punch"

If you've hung around debt collection forums for any length of time, you've probably heard of the "one-two" punch. The "one-two" punch essentially consists of sending a validation letter to the collection agency and immediately following that validation up with a credit bureau dispute. This is supposed to result in the credit bureaus deleting collections from your credit report. Here's how it works:

How the One-Two Punch Deletes Collection Accounts

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act notes that, once a debtor sends a debt validation request, the collection agency cannot legally validate the debt to any entity other than the consumer that requested the validation until after it has sent proper validation to the consumer. Thus, the collection agency cannot legally validate the debt to the credit bureaus until after it sends proper validation to the debtor.

The one-two punch rests heavily on time constraints. The hope here is that the collection agency won't be able to validate the debt to the credit bureaus within the 30 day time limit required by law. After the 30 days, the credit bureaus stop waiting for a response to the request and simply delete the collection tradeline from the debtor's credit report.

Yet another potential help is if the collection agency validates the debt to the credit bureaus without responding to the consumer's validation request. This gives the consumer the right to sue the collection agency. Upon notification that a lawsuit is pending, most collection agencies would rather delete the entry than duke it out in court.

Problems With This Deletion Tactic: Debt Validation Time Limit

There seems to be some serious misunderstanding regarding when you can send a debt validation letter to a collection agency. The FDCPA gives you 30 days to dispute the debt with the collector. Those 30 days start on the day you first became aware of the existence of the debt. Sure, you can claim you didn't receive the boatloads of letters the company sent to you asking for payment, but if the company can prove via recorded phone calls or evidence of certified mail that you were aware of the debt for more than 30 days prior to sending your validation request, it isn't legally bound to respond to that request.

So if you're going to try the one-two punch, do it within the first 30 days of being contacted by the collection agency, just to be safe.

Confusion Over "Proper" Debt Validation

Another aspect of the "one-two punch" hinges on the collection agency not providing the consumer with validation of the debt. Hunt around on the web for "proper" debt validation. What do you find? Probably a bunch of this:

"Proper validation constitutes the amount of the debt, the name of the account holder and his Social Security number, the name and address of the original creditor, proof that the collection agency has a contract with the original creditor giving it permisison to collect the debt..."

Blah, blah, blah. While we'd all love for this to be true, the FDCPA gives collection agencies a loophole by not stipulating what constitutes proper validation. Nothing. Nada. It's not there. Sure, there are FTC opinion statements, but those aren't fact or law. They're opinions. The truth is, the collection agency can send you a piece of paper with "IT'S YOURS DIRTBAG" scrawled across the front of it in red crayon and call it validation. While you may be able to nail them for harassment for that, they can still claim they considered it proper validation – leaving them free to legally validate your debt to the credit bureaus.

When the One-Two Punch Works, Watch Out for Reinsertion 

I've met people for whom the "one-two" punch has worked beautifully, so I'm not saying don't give it an honest effort. Be wary, however. If the collection agency isn't able to respond to the credit bureaus' validation request due to the fact that its actually adhering to federal law (many don't bother to follow the law) don't be surprised if the same collection account pops right back up on your credit report a couple of months after being deleted.

This is because the FDCPA give creditors the right to have previously deleted information reinserted if the creditor can prove to the credit bureaus that the information is correct and was deleted in error. Sadly, with collection agencies, this often happens as a result of the company sending the credit bureaus a certified letter stating something along the lines of, "That information you deleted was correct. Look, we have the guy's name and the amount he owes. It must be right. Reinsert this please."

And the demon reappears.

So, by all means, give the one-two punch a try. I'd love to know how it works out for you, but make sure to watch your credit report like a hawk for a few months afterward to ensure that the same old collection account doesn't pop up on your credit report after you thought you'd had it deleted.

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