What Does Opt Mean in Texting? TCPA Text Message Compliance
What Does Opt Mean in Texting? TCPA Text Message Compliance

Learn What Opt Means in Texting + SMS Opt-in Examples & TCPA Compliance Checklist

Text messages are a highly effective way to communicate. In fact, 67% of people would rather text than talk or email.

But many businesses and organizations don’t know how TCPA compliance applies to SMS text messaging. This is especially true for text message marketing campaigns and bulk texting.

So in this article, I cover:

  1. What the TCPA is and what it stands for
  2. What opt-in and opt-out mean in texting
  3. Why FCC, TCPA, and CTIA regulations apply to texting
  4. How to send TCPA-compliant text messages
  5. TCPA compliance checklist
  6. TCPA consent policies
  7. TCPA violations and CTIA SHAFT guidelines
  8. Frequently asked TCPA text message questions

By the end, you’ll know all about consent, opt-in, and TCPA-compliant text messaging.

Read on for more.

Add SMS Superpowers to Any Business Phone
No switching carriers. Just add texting. Talk to Sales to get started.
inbox team conversation

SMS opt-in example:


Recieved 01/06/23, 07:01 am

Hi {{ FirstName }}! Thanks for joining our text subscriber list. You can expect a text from us every month with the best deals. Text STOP to opt out at any time or text HELP for help. Messaging and data rates may apply.

Delivered 01/06/23, 07:01 am

SMS opt-out example:


Recieved 01/06/23, 07:01 am

Hi {{ FirstName }}, sorry to see you go. You’ve opted out of all text messaging from {{ OrganizaitonName }}. You can opt back into text messages from us at any time by texting SUBSCRIBE. You can also text HELP for help.

Delivered 01/06/23, 07:01 am

SMS help example:


Recieved 01/06/23, 07:01 am

{{ OrganizationName }}: For help, email {{ Help_Email }}. To opt-out, reply STOP.

Delivered 01/06/23, 07:01 am

Why FCC, TCPA, and CTIA Regulations Apply to Texting

For businesses and organizations, FCC text message guidelines, CTIA guidelines, and TCPA regulations all apply to texting.

These are the regulating entities you need to know:

Each regulator works to protect the consumer messaging experience. They do this through policies designed to reduce unsolicited advertisements and promotional messages.

FCC, CTIA, and TCPA regulations are all about consent, opt-in, and opt-out. They give people control over messaging preferences, frequency, and more.

What does this mean for businesses and organizations?

It means you can’t send unsolicited text messages to people - especially promotional texts. In most cases, you need to have implied, express, or express written consent to text.

You also need to set the right expectations when someone opts in and consents to receive messages from you. You need to be clear about what someone is opting into and how often they can expect to receive messages.

Generally, you need four things for FCC, CTIA, and TCPA compliance texting:

  1. Implied, express, or express written consent:
    Conversational, informational, and transactional messages require at least implied consent. Automated promotional messages and opt-in text message marketing require express consent.
  2. Clear language around terms and conditions:
    You need to make clear to people what they’re opting in to and what your messaging terms are.
  3. Opt-in and opt-out controls:
    Your contacts need to be able to revoke their consent and stop receiving text messages at any time.
  4. An up-to-date do-not-contact list (DNC):
    Do-not-contact lists protect you from sending text messages to people who have opted out of messaging.
how familiar are businesses and organizations with tcpa

How to Send TCPA-Compliant Text Messages

How do you send TCPA-compliant text messages as a business or organization? For starters, business text messaging isn’t like texting from your personal phone.

Some businesses and organizations allow employees and staff to use their personal mobile phones to text contacts, customers, and clients.

But consumer platforms like iMessage and Messages by Google don’t have built-in TCPA compliance tools. They don’t work when you need to send a promotional message to hundreds or thousands of people.

So here’s what you need to know to send TCPA-compliant text messages.

1. Choose a business texting service that supports TCPA compliance

You have many business texting services to choose from. But consider what opt-in, opt-out, and TCPA compliance features you need before you buy.

Do you want to send promotional text messages to hundreds or thousands of people?

You’ll need business texting software that comes with features like:

Without these tools, you can’t send TCPA-compliant texts at scale. Carriers will flag your messages as spam and your texts won’t get delivered.

Do you need to text a few people one-on-one or in a small group? Then you’ll want a text service with a shared team SMS inbox.

An SMS inbox allows you to organize contacts and subscribers into text lists and manage opt-in compliance individually.

MessageDesk comes with all of the above texting features and more.


2. Create a free account

Regardless of the business texting service you choose, create a free account first. This gives you a chance to test-drive and understand how their opt-in and consent tools work.

You’re always free to meet with a messaging expert for answers to TCPA compliance questions. They can help you get started.


3. Text from a TCPA-compliant SMS phone number

Next, you’ll need to get a text number that supports TCPA compliance.

Five and six-digit short codes used to be the only way to send TCPA-compliant SMS text blasts.

But you now have a range of SMS phone number options that come with the same compliance mechanisms. These numbers can also support high-volume text messaging.

Your top two phone number options include:

  • 10-digit local phone numbers
  • Toll-free 800 phone numbers
Note: You can also text-enable an existing business landline or another number with number hosting using MessageDesk.


4. Get consent and build text message subscriber lists using chatbots and forms

Many business texting services come with consent and text message subscriber management tools. Consent is a big topic and I’ve got a lot more on it below.

But the short story is…

With platforms like MessageDesk, you can use click-to-text and website contact forms to start text conversations.

These tools can help you get consent from contacts and set messaging expectations. They also make it clear to people that they’re opting into your messaging terms and conditions.


Once you’ve gotten consent, you can also manage active and inactive subscribers with an SMS subscriber list.

MessageDesk’s subscriber list management features even include smart groups and custom fields.

These features are essential for promotional SMS marketing. They help you manage consent and stay compliant by:

  • Automatically filtering contacts into groups and lists
  • Actively recording which phone numbers opt in and out of receiving text messages
  • Maintaining an active do-not-contact list (DNC)


5. Set up your opt-in, opt-out, and HELP keywords

The first message you send to new contacts should be an opt-in message. It should clearly state how to opt in and opt out of future communication.

Many business text messaging services help you send these messages using text message autoresponders.

Autoresponders are a versatile texting feature that can help you stay TCPA compliant. They send an automated text when someone texts STOP or HELP.

MessageDesk supports both STOP and HELP keywords out of the box. There’s no setup required to maintain TCPA compliance.

Some other business text messaging services require you set up your opt-out keywords manually.

Regardless, having the right opt-in procedures limits your liability. It reduces the chance that a contact who’s already opted out receives an unwanted message and reports it as abuse.


6. Include clear opt-out language in calls to action (CTAs)

Contacts also need to be able to opt out of communications with your business or organization at any time.

The first text message a new contact receives from you should include a call to action (CTA). This should state how to opt-out of communication.

Specifically, opt-in and opt-out CTAs ensure that contacts agree to receive text messages. It also establishes that they understand the terms and conditions associated with your text message policy.

Compliant CTAs always include:

  1. A description of your service, program, or product
  2. The telephone number(s) you’ll send messages from
  3. You or your organization’s identity
  4. Clear and conspicuous language about opt-in
  5. Disclaimers regarding any associated fees, charges, or messaging rates
  6. Other applicable terms and conditions (e.g., how to opt-out, customer care contact information, and any applicable privacy policy)


7. Maintain a do-not-contact list

It’s important that your business or organization knows who they can and can’t text. You need a business texting service with a DNC or “do-not-contact” list to keep your records straight.

Many business text messaging services like MessageDesk come with systems to automatically keep track of this.

Documenting and saving opt-in and opt-out records also helps if you’re ever faced with an abuse complaint.

You want to protect yourself from liability and fines. So use a texting platform that automatically keeps track of who has and hasn’t opted into communication with your organization.

Add SMS Superpowers to Any Business Phone
No switching carriers. Just add texting. Talk to Sales to get started.
inbox team conversation

TCPA Consent Policies

I’ve covered how to send TCPA-compliant text messages and shared my TCPA compliance checklist.

But what are TCPA consent best practices? What level of TCPA text message consent do you need?

For starters, be mindful of professional texting etiquette.

Additionally, you need consent for your business or organization to send text messages. This isn’t negotiable.

Consent varies based on the types of conversations you have with your customers. These break down into three levels of consent across several messaging categories.

What happens if you don’t get the right level of consent? You could incur fines due to TCPA violations and get into legal trouble.

Note: Technology and automation also play an important role in establishing consent. Getting the right kind of consent depends on the content of your message and who or what sends it first.

TCPA consent requirements for text messages

Message type Required consent level First message sender Conversation type Text message content
Conversational text messages Implied consent Business contact Two-way conversation Responses to a specific, inbound customer request
Informational and transactional text messages Express consent (oral or written) Contact or organization One-way automated text alert or two-way conversation Inbound and outbound messages containing relevant contact or customer information
Promotional text messages Express written consent Organization One-way scheduled or automated message campaign with promotional offer Out-bound messages that promote your organization, product, or service
Political text messages Express consent (oral or written) Political group One-way scheduled or automated text alert or two-way conversation Inbound content related expressly to political action
Tax-exempt nonprofit text messages Express consent (oral or written) Nonprofit or group acting on their behalf One-way scheduled or automated text alert or two-way conversation Inbound content expressly related to the organization
Healthcare text messages Express consent (oral or written) Healthcare organization One-way scheduled or automated text alert or two-way conversation Messages sent on behalf of someone covered under a healthcare plan
Emergency text messages n/a Police, fire, and government entities One-way scheduled or automated text alert Messages for emergency purposes

Implied consent for conversational text messages

What determines implied consent? Here are some questions to consider:

  • Did a contact text you or your organization first and ask for information?
  • Did you meet someone in person and get their contact info with a phone number?
  • Are you texting conversationally and sending non-automated, two-way SMS messages?
  • Did a contact ask for information regarding your business or organization within the past 3 months?
  • Did a contact make a purchase or complete a transaction with you or your organization in the past 18 months?

If you answered yes to any of these then you most likely have that contact’s implied consent to text them. This is because implied consent is based on an established business relationship (EBR).

But implied consent based on an EBR only applies to non-automated, two-way, conversational text message exchanges.

And it’s only applicable if you respond with directly relevant, non-promotional information.

You can’t send promotional SMS messages regarding your product, good, or service. Not unless a contact specifically asks for it.

Express consent for informational and transactional messages

Express consent is a written agreement that clearly indicates consent to receive texts at a particular phone number.

Express consent applies most directly to informational and transactional text messages.

Informational and transactional text messages are non-promotional. They include two-way and one-way automated text messages like:

To send these messages, you have to get a contact’s express consent in a recorded form. The caveat is that you need to make clear that your messaging will only pertain to transactional and informational content.

Just keep in mind that express consent still doesn’t give you enough permission to send promotional messages.

Contacts can give you express consent by:

  • Texting opt-in keywords like SUBSCRIBE, JOIN, or SCHEDULE
  • Submitting a form on a website
  • Verbally agreeing to receive text messages
  • Clicking to accept terms and conditions

Here’s an example SMS opt-in message with terms and conditions for getting express consent:

{{ OrganizationName }} may send texts to you at the phone number on file for important information regarding your account. {{ OrganizationName }} will not send you promotional text messages. In the event that your phone number changes, we may send you texts to your updated phone number. If you have questions contact us at {{ Number }} or text HELP. Reply STOP at any time to opt out of future messaging.
Check to give consent [ ✅ ]

Exceptions to these rules may include nonprofits, political campaigns, and healthcare providers.

opt-in and opt-out consent

Express written consent for promotional text messages

Your business or organization needs prior express written consent to send promotional text messages.

Promotional text messages are messages that directly promote, market, and sell your organization, product, service, or goods.

Express written consent is recorded permission that contacts give you either on paper or electronically.

Do you already ask people to sign forms, submit contact information, or accept terms and conditions? Then consider including specific language around promotional text messaging to establish express written consent.

You can establish express written consent by:

  • Texting opt-in keywords like SUBSCRIBE, JOIN, or SCHEDULE
  • Submitting a form on a website
  • Clicking to accept terms and conditions

As a best practice, don’t bury your terms and conditions in a long web form. The recipient should clearly understand the terms of opting in.

Here’s an example of text message opt-in language for getting express written consent to send promotional messages.

By signing up via text, you agree to receive recurring automated text messages at the phone number provided. Consent is not a condition to purchase. Messages and data rates may apply. Message frequency varies. Reply STOP to unsubscribe. Reply HELP for help. View our terms and conditions and privacy policy for details.
opt-in language

TCPA Violations and CTIA SHAFT Guidelines

Sending unwanted telemarketing messages or telemarketing calls is a TCPA violation.

If your organization doesn't have the right level of consent, then you’re violating the TCPA and text message opt-in laws.

Damages associated with TCPA violations range from $500 to $1,500 per violation. Since 2015, it’s not uncommon to see federal courts award tens of millions of dollars through class action settlements for TCPA violations.

Below is a list of specific TCPA violations.

1. Sending unsolicited text messages or making unsolicited calls to residential phone numbers

For your business to call residential numbers, you need an “established business relationship” (EBR).

Have you done business with a contact in the last 3-18 months? If not, then you don’t have an established business relationship.

This makes texting and calling via automated message campaigns a TCPA violation.

2. Not gaining the proper consent

You need implied, express, or express written consent before texting a contact. If a contact hasn’t opted in and consented to text messaging, then you are in violation of the TCPA.

3. Not allowing contacts to opt out

Have you already received consent to message a contact? You still need a means for them to opt-out of all future messaging from your organization. Most business messaging providers make this easy with “STOP” keywords.

4. Texting or calling numbers listed on the National Do Not Call Registry

It’s illegal for your business to text or calls anyone who has opted out of communications. This is especially true for numbers registered on the federal Do Not Call Registry.

5. CTIA SHAFT guidelines:

The FCC, CTIA, and TCPA all aim to keep messaging experiences positive for everyone across all carrier networks.

To clarify what this means, the CTIA (an association of mobile carriers and industry advocates) put forth messaging guidelines. CTIA guidelines cover sex, hate, alcohol, firearms, and tobacco (SHAFT) and state that:

  1. Content regarding controlled substances and adult content must be age-gated.
  2. You can’t disperse content with depictions or endorsements of violence or hate.
  3. Don’t send messages containing profanity or hate speech.
  4. Endorsements of illegal drugs are forbidden.

The alcohol and legal cannabis/marijuana industries are of particular concern with SHAFT.

If your organization provides either of these goods or services you still need to comply with SHAFT standards.

In most cases, this means having robust age gates and normal opt-in and opt-out capabilities.

Frequently Asked TCPA Text Message Questions

Below is a list of frequently asked questions related to text messages and TCPA compliance.

What does opt stand for in texting?

Opt stands for opt-in or opt-out. In texting, "opt" means that you’re opting in and giving consent for a business, organization, or brand to text you.

Does TCPA apply to text messages?

The TCPA does apply to text messages. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 2015 Omnibus Declaratory Ruling and Order set these boundaries. Regardless, text messages are subject to the same Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) restrictions as phone calls.

What does DNC mean in texting?

In texting, DNC means “do not contact”. A DNC list is a do-not-contact or do-not-call list. It maintains a current record of contacts who have opted out of communication.

Can you text DNC numbers?

No, you can’t text DNC numbers. Texting numbers listed on the National Do Not Call Registry can incur penalties and fines.

Is mass texting illegal?

No, mass texting isn’t illegal. Mass texting is heavily restricted. The U.S. government has a long history of regulation. Historically, they’ve protected consumer privacy concerning telemarketing and robocalls, and this also extends to texting.

What are the penalties for text messages that violate the TCPA?

The FCC and courts judge calls in the same ways as texts. The penalties for violating the TCPA are the same for both. TCPA fines are also levied on a per-violation basis. Standard penalties are up to $500 per violation and up to $1,500 per willful violation.

Who makes TCPA texting compliance rules in the US?

Congress passes laws regulating SMS text messaging. The courts interpret those laws. Regulatory agencies such as the FCC and FTC enforce those laws. They create rules in order to do so.

However, the TCPA doesn’t explicitly mention SMS or text messaging. This is because the law was passed in 1991. That was a year before texting started to become mainstream.

Subsequent court decisions and FCC rulemaking have since extended the TCPA’s initial regulations to SMS text messaging.

Add SMS Superpowers to Any Business Phone
No switching carriers. Just add texting. Talk to Sales to get started.
inbox team conversation

Ready for a smarter, simpler TCPA-compliant texting service?

I’ve covered TCPA compliance and how it applies to text messages. It’s more than possible to maintain compliance with text messages. This is especially true if you text using a business texting service like MessageDesk.

If you're ready, check out our paid plans - pricing starts at just $14 per month. You’re also free to meet with a messaging expert for a demo.

MessageDesk Newsletter
Join the 20,000+ people who get business communications tips in their inbox every two weeks.