Debt Collection Laws in Massachusetts

Massachusetts debt collection laws restrict collectors' actions and also govern collection lawsuits.

By , Attorney · University of Denver Sturm College of Law

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 can't legally do. Similar to the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, Massachusetts has various debt collection laws and regulations. Under Massachusetts debt collection laws, some collection tactics are illegal.

Also, 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.

What Are Massachusetts' Fair Debt Collection Laws?

You can find Massachusetts' fair debt collection laws in the Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 93 § 49, and the Massachusetts debt collection regulations at 940 CMR 7.00.

Who Is Regulated by Massachusetts' Fair Debt Collection Laws?

Creditors, attorneys for creditors, and assignees of creditors must comply with the Massachusetts fair debt collection law. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93 § 49).

What Are the Prohibited Debt Collection Practices Under Massachusetts Law?

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 aren't 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 that 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. However, 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 Do Massachusetts' Fair Debt Collection Laws Compare to the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)?

Unlike the federal FDCPA, Massachusetts' restrictions on debt collection activity apply to all of the following: original creditors (including their lawyers), third-party debt collection agencies, and buyers of delinquent debt who hire a third party or an attorney to collect debt on their behalf. (940 Code Mass. Regs. 7.03).

What Are Your Rights If a Debt Collector Is Harassing You?

If you think a debt collector is harassing you in violation of Massachusetts law, you complain to the state Attorney General's office. Although the Attorney General won't intervene on your behalf, it uses complaints to learn about misconduct.

How Can You Get Help With Massachusetts' Fair Debt Collection Laws?

You can also file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) if you have an issue with a debt collector. After you submit a complaint, the CFPB will work to get you a response, typically within 15 days.

How Do You Enforce Massachusetts' Fair Debt Collection Laws?

You can sue a debt collector for breaking state law. Also, because the federal FDCPA applies in Massachusetts, you may sue for money damages under that federal statute.

However, be aware that fair debt collection violations don't eliminate the debt, nor do they restrict the creditor's options for taking legal action. Talk to a debt relief lawyer if you need help initiating a lawsuit.

What Are the Penalties for Violating Massachusetts' Fair Debt Collection Laws?

A violation of the Massachusetts fair debt collection laws is a violation of the state law against unfair and deceptive acts, and private remedies are available, meaning you can sue the violator for damages. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93 § 49, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93 § 9).

What Are Your Rights If You're Being Sued by a Debt Collector in Massachusetts?

When collection tactics don't work (meaning, you don't pay up), the creditor might file a collection lawsuit against you. If a debt collector sues you, you have the right to respond in court. You also have the right to hire an attorney to represent you in the case.

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, 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. When a complete chain of ownership leading up to the plaintiff suing you isn't present, 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.

Applicability of Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure 8.1 and 55.1

These rules apply to any action in which the plaintiff seeks to collect a debt relative to a transaction primarily for personal, family, or household purposes pursuant to a revolving credit agreement, like credit card debt, that's not secured by real property. If you have any questions or doubts about whether the rules apply to your case, talk to a local lawyer.

Settling a Debt

Even though you're being sued, you can still try to settle the debt. If the collector violated federal or state laws when trying to collect from you, you could have leverage in debt settlement negotiations.

Read More Articles

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Get tips on how to tell the difference between a debt collector and a scammer.

Talk to a Lawyer

If you need help dealing with an aggressive debt collector, figuring out what option is best for handling your debts, negotiating a settlement, or responding to a lawsuit for nonpayment of a debt, consider consulting with a debt relief lawyer.

If you have a lot of debts, you might want to consider filing for bankruptcy. In that situation, you'll want to talk to a bankruptcy lawyer.

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