What happens if I lose my debt collection case?

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Greater Boston Legal Services

In this article, learn what happens if a creditor wins a debt collection case against you in court, what a judgment is, and what protections you may have.

How will I know if I lost the case?

After your hearing, you get the court’s decision about who won your case within a few weeks. The decision comes in the mail. Open all mail from the court right away!

The court’s decision about the outcome of a lawsuit is called a judgment. In a debt collection lawsuit, the court decides if you owe the debt and, if so, how much you must pay.

If the decision is Judgment for Defendant, you won the case. That means you don’t owe the debt and don’t have to pay.

If the decision is Judgment for Plaintiff, you lost and have to pay the debt. That means the Plaintiff (usually a debt collector, bank, or credit card company) may be able to take some of your income or “assets” to pay back the money you owe. Assets are things you own, like a bank account, car, or jewelry. 

What is a default judgment?

If you don't show up to court on your hearing date, the court issues a “default judgment.” This means you automatically lose the case and may have to make payments. See a sample Judgment by Default.

Do not ignore any paperwork from the court, even if you do not have the money to pay the debt now.  

You do not want to have a default judgment entered against you, especially if you do not owe the money. If you go to court, you may be able to negotiate a payment plan or lower the amount you owe.

If the court entered a default against you, you can ask the judge to "remove the default." You need to put your request in writing in a motion to the court. Always give the Plaintiff a copy of anything you file with the court.  

In your motion to the court, give reasons why the court should remove the default. Your reasons may include:

  • You did not have notice of the case, or
  • You did not have notice of a deadline, or
  • Something happened that made you unable to do what you were supposed to do in the case.


It can be very difficult or impossible to set aside a default judgment. Do not assume you will be able to get the court to set aside a default judgment. Respond to all deadlines and appear at all hearings.

What must I do if I lose my case?

If you lose, you have the right to appeal the decision within 10 days.   

When the Clerk-Magistrate rules in favor of the Plaintiff, the court often schedules a Payment Review hearing. This is a hearing for the court to determine if you can pay the judgment amount based on your income and expenses. 

What do I owe the plaintiff, and when do I have to pay the debt?

You owe the plaintiff:

  • the amount of the debt the judgment says you owe, 
  • court filing fees, and 
  • interest. 

You don’t need to pay the full amount all at once. The court probably scheduled another day to talk about payment options. This is called a Payment Review hearing. You can create a payment plan based on your budget or explain why you can’t afford to pay. If there is no Payment Review hearing, you can contact the Plaintiff directly and ask to set up a payment plan.

In Massachusetts, debt collection judgments last for 20 years. This means if you lose, the creditor can attempt to collect payments from you for 20 years. If you are not collection-proof, the creditor may take your wages, assets, or money to pay the debt. This is also called “attachment” or “garnishment.” 

Interest grows on the judgment amount. The interest rate for judgments is 12% per year. For example, if you owe $1,000 now, you will owe $1,120 next year. The amount of money you owe increases for 20 years until you pay it off.


When you go to court for your hearing, ask the clerk-magistrate and plaintiff to “waive” (cancel) interest on any judgment against you. If they agree, you will not have to pay interest.

What does the creditor have to do to collect the money I owe?

The creditor may have asked for an “execution” at the end of your case. If they get an execution from the judge, they can “levy on the execution.” This means it is legal for them to take your property. They must hire a sheriff or a constable. The sheriff or constable brings you a copy of the execution and takes your car or puts a lien on your house.

If the creditor wants you to pay them money, they can take you back to court on a Supplemental Process case to “garnish” your wages. Garnishment means the creditor can take money directly out of your paycheck before you get paid.

How can I stop a creditor from taking my money and things?

Even if you owe the debt, some or all of your income may be protected from collection under the law.

These protections are called exemptions. No matter how much you owe, most creditors can’t collect income and property that is “protected.” To learn more, see Money and Property Protected from Collection.

You also have the right to appeal the court's decision within 10 days.   


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