Massachusetts Consumers Need to Know Fair Debt Collection Laws
Our personal bankruptcy clients often point out that they are being “harassed” by the collection agencies and lawyers, in Boston and throughout Massachusetts. One Boston area law firm uses the brother of the attorney as their attack dog – he implies he is the lawyer and his words are vicious.
Thus, it is important for consumers to know their rights. The Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act protects consumers from abuse by collection agencies and collection lawyers. Note, the federal law does not apply to the actual creditor, only to “third parties” such as the collection agencies and collection attorneys. The Massachusetts law, Chapter 93A, Section 49, Debt Collection in an Unfair, Deceptive or Unreasonable Manner gives Massachusetts consumers additional protections.
What to do? First, get the information. You are entitled to the written details of the creditor, the amount due, all penalties, interest, and an explanation of your rights. Ask for the name, company and address of the person you are talking to.
Second, if there is a mistake in the amount, or the penalties, send a detailed letter explaining your position. Remember, often collection agencies, and their associated law firms, have “purchased” your debt and have no idea of the real terms of the original debt.
Third, do not accept harassment. Collection agencies are prohibited from calling between 9 pm and 8 am. They are prohibited from using abusive or threatening language. You may also write a letter to the agency stating that you do not want to be called or contacted in writing, and they must abide by this written request; although they are allowed one more letter stating their plan. If they do not adhere to the law, contact the Federal Trade Commission and contact the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office.
Fourth, if the debt is in fact yours, and the amount is correct, work it out. They are often willing to take a percentage on the dollar, and to accept a monthly payment plan. If you propose a plan you can truly do, and it is acceptable, the case is closed. They would love to close the file and accept the agreed upon payments. If you fail to make an agreed upon payment, contact them and work it out; otherwise, their automatic collection system will restart.
Finally, there is always litigation. The law provides for damages and attorney fees. This can be expensive and time consuming, however, it is sometimes necessary with the worst offenders.