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Debtor Rights


In addition to your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, you also have important rights under state law.


The Massachusetts Division of Banks has issued regulations for debt collectors similar to the requirements under the FDCPA, although a violation of these regulations results in a violation of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, called Chapter 93A. The main differences between the FDCPA and Chapter 93A is that there is a one-year statute of limitations under the FDCPA, while there is a four-year statute of limitations under Chapter 93A. Also, to file a suit under Chapter 93A, you must first send a mandatory pre-suit demand letter 30 days before filing in court.


The Massachusetts Attorney General has also issued regulations that apply to both creditors and debt collectors, some of the strictest regulations in the country. The difference between a creditor is the entity who originally lends money or issues credit, while a debt collector acquires the debt after it has gone into default.


“Exemptions” provide you with protection against garnishment of your pay or seizure of assets. These are assets that cannot be taken from you even by someone with a judgment against you. Some of the main exemptions include $7,500 in value for a car (or $15,000 in value if you are elderly or disabled), $2,500 per month for rent, and a wild card exemption for some cash. For wages, you are allowed to exempt the greater of either 85% of your gross wages or 50 times the minimum wage per week ($450 per week in 2015, $500 per week in 2016, and $550 per week in $2017).


A memorandum on the Massachusetts exemptions law is available for free through the National Consumer Law Center, if you would like further reading on the subject.


Some income is completely exempt from being garnished, including:

  • Social Security Benefits
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Benefits
  • Veterans’ Benefits
  • Civil Service and Federal Retirement and Disability Benefits
  • Military Annuities and Survivors’ Benefits
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency Federal Disaster Assistance

Federal benefits, however, may be garnished under certain circumstances, including to pay delinquent taxes, alimony, child support, or student loans.