Debt collection laws in Massachusetts

Here are your rights in Massachusetts if debt collectors come knocking

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If you live in Massachusetts and are facing a collection lawsuit for unpaid debts, you should know what rights are afforded to you under state and federal law. A range of protections limits what debt collectors can do, including threats, harassment and deceptive practices. You even have the right to sue debt collectors for violating state and federal laws.

The first law to know about is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which applies on a national level. From there, we'll go over the state laws and regulations that protect consumers from unlawful and harmful debt collection activities in Massachusetts.

Key insights

  • On a federal level, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) limits debt collection activities and protects consumers from round-the-clock phone calls and deceptive debt collection practices.
  • Massachusetts debt collection laws add another layer of protection and limit how and when debt collectors can contact you.
  • You can sue bad bill collectors on a federal level and under Massachusetts state law if they violate your rights.

Federal debt collection laws

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is a federal debt collection law that affords all Americans certain rights when unpaid debts are being pursued by bill collectors.

This act prohibits debt collectors from using deceptive or abusive debt collection practices, such as contacting you at odd hours, calling you repeatedly or making false threats regarding legal actions they plan to take. Debt collectors are also barred from revealing the existence of unpaid debts to other parties, both on social media and through direct forms of communication.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the FDCPA requires debt collectors to contact your attorney instead of reaching out to you personally if you have legal representation already in place.

Also, note that the FDCPA lets you stop all contact from debt collectors by informing them in writing that you do not want to receive communications any longer. If the debt collector continues its communications, you can sue them under the FDCPA and receive coverage of your legal fees as well as damages.

» MORE: How to handle bill collectors

Massachusetts debt collection laws

The state of Massachusetts has several laws and regulations in place to regulate debt collectors. You can find the text for these protections within Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 93 § 49, and within the Massachusetts debt collection regulations at 940 CMR 7.00.

According to the official website of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, state debt collection laws apply to original creditors and their attorneys, third-party debt collection agencies and "buyers of delinquent debt who hire third parties, including attorneys, to collect debt on their behalf."

Debt collection practices

State law says that debt collectors are legally allowed to contact people other than the debtor to try to get their contact information, but that they cannot disclose information about the debts owed to third parties.

Debt collection activities prohibited under Massachusetts state law include:

  • Calling you at home more than twice for each debt over a seven-day period, or more than twice for each debt in a 30-day period anywhere other than at home
  • Calling you at work after you requested them to stop in writing
  • Calling you at work for 10 days after you orally requested they stop
  • Calling you without identifying themselves as debt collectors
  • Contacting you directly when they know you are being represented by an attorney
  • Calling you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. without permission
  • Making false, deceptive or misleading statements when attempting to collect a debt
  • Trying to collect amounts that are different from the legal amount of debt owed
  • Threatening imprisonment or arrest for nonpayment
  • Attempting to collect on a time-barred debt without disclosing that it is time-barred
  • Using profane or obscene language to collect on a debt
  • Using debt collection activities that cost you money (e.g., collect phone calls)
  • Telling third parties about your debt without written consent
  • Asking debtors for a post-dated check
  • Visiting your home outside of your normal waking hours without consent
  • Visiting your home more than twice in any 30-day period without consent

Statute of limitations

In the state of Massachusetts, the statute of limitations on consumer debt is six years. This timeline represents how long a debtor can be taken to court for the amounts they owe, and it applies to written and oral contracts as well as credit card debt.

Licensing and registration

Original creditors trying to collect on a debt in the state do not need to be licensed to do so. However, they still must follow FDCPA and state debt collection laws.

Debt collection agencies and debt buyers do require licensure from the Massachusetts Division of Banks (DOB).

Required notices to debtors

Within five days of initial contact with a consumer, debt collectors in Massachusetts are legally required to supply written communication with the following information:

  • The amount of debt owed
  • Name and contact information of the collection agency trying to collect
  • Name of the original creditor
  • Information on how you can dispute the debt if you believe it's not yours

From there, Massachusetts residents have the right to dispute debts in writing within 30 days if they believe it is not theirs or do not recognize it. You can demand proof of the debt and a copy of the original bill or statement that shows the amount owed.

If a debt collector supplies proof of the debt or "validation," such as a copy of the bill, they can continue trying to collect the debt. If they cannot provide proof, they can’t call or contact to collect the debt until proof is obtained.

If you do not dispute a debt within 30 days after receiving this notice, it will be considered valid, and the bill collector can move forward with legal collection activity.

Enforcement and penalties

U.S. residents can take bill collectors to court if they violate their laws under the FDCPA. If the debtor ultimately wins their case, they can get the debt collector to pay their attorney's fees as well as damages.

If you're having trouble with debt collection and believe your rights have been violated on a federal level, you can submit a complaint with the CFPB.

Massachusetts residents can also sue bill collectors for violating state law.

Examples of debt collection violations in Massachusetts

A variety of debt collection violations are uncovered nationwide every year, and the state of Massachusetts is no exception. However, not all cases are won by the plaintiff, and some are found in favor of debt collectors instead.

For example, in the 2023 legal case of Bertolino v. Sequium Asset Solutions, LLC, a judge found that the plaintiff's rights had not been violated under the FDCPA when the bill collector didn't disclose whether interest was accruing on an unpaid debt in their communications.

In another case from 2018, Armata v. Target, a court found that a bill collector hadn't violated a debtor's rights by calling more than twice over a seven-day period but hanging up instead of leaving a message.

» MORE: How to get out of debt

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    Can Massachusetts bill collectors call me at work?

    Bill collectors in the state can call you at work up to two times for each debt in a 30-day period. However, oral requests for them to stop calling mean they cannot call your work again for 10 days. Written requests to not call you at work must be followed until you change your mind

    What should I do if I can't afford a debt?

    If you're being sued for a debt and can’t afford to pay it back, state resources say you should tell the court. Also, you cannot be ordered to repay a debt using certain types of income that may be available to you, such as Social Security benefits or unemployment benefits.

    Can I make a payment plan with a debt collector?

    You can agree to a payment plan to get debt collectors off your back. However, you should get the agreement in writing and make sure you can afford the monthly payments ahead of time.

    Bottom line

    Having unpaid bills can make life considerably more stressful, and the problems only compound once debt collectors start knocking on your door. Fortunately, both state and federal laws protect your rights in Massachusetts, and you even have the right to tell debt collectors to leave you alone.

    If you do that, however, you should know that you still owe the money and you can still be sued for unpaid debts in court. That's why your best bet is dealing with debt head-on, even if that means getting on a payment plan or reaching out to an attorney or credit counseling agency for help.

    Article sources

    ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:

    1. Federal Trade Commission, "Fair Debt Collection Practices Act." Accessed Dec. 9, 2023.
    2. Federal Trade Commission, "Fair Debt Collection Practices Act." Accessed Dec. 9, 2023.
    3. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, "What laws limit what debt collectors can say or do?" Accessed Dec. 9, 2023.
    4., "Fair Debt Collection." Accessed Dec. 10, 2023.
    5., "Debt collection information for consumers." Accessed Dec. 10, 2023.
    6. BX Bond Exchange, "Massachusetts Debt Collector Bond: A Comprehensive Guide." Accessed Dec. 10, 2023.
    7., "Have you gotten a collection call about a debt you don’t recognize?" Accessed Dec. 10, 2023.
    8. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, "What can I do if a debt collector contacts me about a debt I already paid or don't think I owe?" Accessed Dec. 10, 2023.
    9. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, "How do I get a debt collector to stop calling or contacting me?" Accessed Dec. 10, 2023.
    10. Casetext, "Bertolino v. Sequium Asset Sols." Accessed Dec. 10, 2023.
    11. Masscases, "Armata v. Target." Accessed Dec. 10, 2023.
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