Debt Collection Laws in Massachusetts

Massachusetts laws restrict debt collectors’ actions and govern collection lawsuits.

By , Attorney

If you live in Massachusetts and you're dealing with a debt collector or facing a collection lawsuit, it's important to know what debt collectors can—and what they can't—do. Similar to the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, Massachusetts has a debt collection statute. Under Massachusetts law, some collection tactics are illegal.

And, if you do get sued, the creditor often has to provide you with specific information about the debt before it can get a money judgment against you. If the collector doesn't comply with the law, you can raise this noncompliance as a defense to the suit.

Illegal Debt Collection Practices in Massachusetts

Under Massachusetts law, collectors are prohibited from communicating with debtors in such a manner as to harass or embarrass the alleged debtor. Prohibited actions include, but are not limited to, communicating with the debtor at an unreasonable hour or unreasonable frequency, and using threats of violence, offensive language, or making threats to take some action which the creditor doesn't take in the usual course of business. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93 § 49).

Also, the Massachusetts Attorney General has issued debt collection regulations that establish standards defining unfair and deceptive acts and practices in debt collections. These regulations prohibit unfair, deceptive, and unreasonable debt collection practices such as:

  • Calling you at home more than twice for each debt in any seven-day period, or more than twice for each debt in any 30-day period somewhere other than your home, like your workplace. (See Armata v. Target Corporation, 480 Mass. 14 (2018)).
  • Calling you at work if you've requested that they don't call you there. An oral request is valid for only ten days, while a written request is valid until you remove the restriction.
  • Calling you without identifying themselves.
  • Contacting you directly if you're represented by a lawyer.
  • Calling you at times other than your regular waking hours. (Waking hours are presumed to be between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. Though if your waking hours are different than these hours and you tell the debt collector that, then they can't contact you outside of your actual normal waking hours.)
  • Going to your home at times other than your normal waking hours, and visiting you more than once in any 30-day period for each debt—unless you give permission for additional visits.
  • Threatening that nonpayment will result in arrest or imprisonment, or any action that it can't legally take or that the collector doesn't intend to take.
  • Using profane or obscene language. (940 Code Mass. Regs. 7.04).

Failing to comply with these regulations constitutes a violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93.

How Debt Collection Lawsuits Work in Massachusetts

When collection tactics don't work—meaning, you don't pay up—the creditor might file a collection lawsuit against you. If you don't file an answer to the suit within the response period, the plaintiff (the creditor) can get a default judgment (an automatic win) against you. Once the plaintiff gets its judgment, it can use all sorts of collection methods against you, like wage garnishment or a bank levy, to get paid.

Creditors typically find it easy to get default judgments because debtors often don't respond to collection lawsuits. But in these kinds of suits, the plaintiff's evidence is frequently flawed. Credit card companies and other creditors sell bad debts to debt purchasers, and paperwork tends to get lost along the way. The new owner of the debt might have trouble proving it owns the debt, calculating exactly how much you owe, or proving some other important aspect of its case.

Massachusetts, unlike some other states, requires the plaintiff to provide specific evidence in collection suits.

Special Requirements In Collection Lawsuits in Massachusetts

Massachusetts Rule of Civil Procedure 8.1 requires a creditor that's filing a collection lawsuit to:

  • file a detailed affidavit providing specific information about the debt, like the name of the original creditor, the name of the current debt owner, the date of the last payment, and the chain of ownership from the creditor to the current owner of the debt
  • file an affidavit providing documentation of the debt, including legible copies of documents establishing the existence, amount, terms and conditions applicable to the debt, as well as other documentation about the debt
  • verify the defendant's address before starting the suit (to ensure you get all of this information about the debt and notice about the legal action), and
  • certify that the statute of limitations has not expired.

By requiring the plaintiff to include this information along with the complaint, Massachusetts law ensures that consumers get critical information when facing a collection lawsuit. If any of this information is inaccurate or missing, you likely have grounds to fight the lawsuit.

Arguably the most arduous requirement for the plaintiff is showing the chain of ownership, especially when the debt has been transferred multiple times. Under the rule, the plaintiff must show each bill of sale, assignment, or other document evidencing the transfer of ownership of the debt, beginning with the original creditor, and including a specific reference to your account number. If you're getting sued, you should review the complaint and accompanying documentation carefully to ensure the plaintiff has included proof of every transfer and that each transfer refers specifically to your account. If a complete chain of ownership leading up to the plaintiff who's suing you isn't present, then the plaintiff doesn't have the right (called "standing") to sue you.

Protections Against Default Judgments

Under Massachusetts Rule of Civil Procedure 55.1, the plaintiff can't get a default judgment unless its lawyer files an affidavit stating:

  • the lawyer has personally reviewed the documentation required under Rule 8.1
  • the documentation meets all of the requirements of Rule 8.1, and
  • the plaintiff is entitled to judgment in the amount the plaintiff claims.

The plaintiff must serve its request for a default judgment to you. If the plaintiff serves you the information by mailing it to your residential address, it must re-verify your address within three months before asking for the default judgment.

Talk to a Lawyer

If you're having trouble with an abusive debt collector or facing a collection lawsuit in Massachusetts and you think the plaintiff has failed to meet the requirements discussed in this article, consider talking to a lawyer. A lawyer can advise you what to do in your specific circumstances.

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