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Collectors may threaten to send you to jail, but debtors’ prison hasn’t been a thing since the 1800s. We explain when you can and can’t go to jail for debt.
Nobody wants to go to jail, and certainly people who’ve never committed a serious offense don’t want to be locked up with harden criminals because they skipped out on paying a credit card debt. That’s what makes this such a tempting threat for collectors to use because it puts the fear of prison in people and gets them to pay.
That’s illegal by the way, according to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Collectors can’t threaten you with jail time because failure to pay a credit card debt. And if they do, they’re the ones breaking the law. They probably won’t go to jail either, but they’ll get fined and you can actually be compensated.
Still, just because collectors can’t use it as a threat, is there any situation where not paying a credit card debt can actually end up in jail time?
Not really. Creditors cannot call the police to ask that they arrest you because you didn’t make your payment on time. Even if you run up thousands in debt and don’t pay for six months, they still can’t arrest you.
In fact, the only way you could really go to jail for racking up credit card debt is if you used someone else’s identity to do it. That’s called credit fraud. So, that’s not exactly going to jail for debt either because your actual crime is fraud.
So, where do debt collectors get this lie? From people’s fear and lack of knowledge about credit law. It sounds like it’s something that might be true. What’s more, people who owe a debt are already scared of the consequences. Debt collectors can threaten you with anything when you’re in this state and you may believe it.
But they can’t have you arrested, throw you in jail or even issue a warrant because you didn’t pay a bill. They also can’t permanently blacklist you, take your home or other property or physically assault you. Those are also lies debt collectors may try. However, all of that behavior is banned by the FDCPA.
Credit card debt is known as a “civil” debt. This is a debt incurred between two private entities (in this case, you and your credit card issuer). You both entered into a contract and your failure to pay the debt back breaks that contract. But civil cases don’t include jail time in their verdicts.
Fact: Debtors prison was abolished federally by a Supreme Court decision made in 1833.
The worst thing you typically face in civil court are fines and fees; it’s all monetary.
So, the absolute worst that can happen is that the judge forces you to pay the debt back. This may not be good, depending on your financial situation, but it’s a far cry from being thrown in the slammer. You may be ordered to pay, you may even face penalties, they can garnish your wages or tax returns to pay off debt that the court has ruled you owe, you could be forced to sell assets to settle up with your creditor. Still, no matter how big the debt is or how irreverent you may be about paying it back, the creditor can’t throw you into any jail, jail system or prison. It just can’t happen.
And as stated above, if any collector tries to argue otherwise and even so much as hints that you can be throw in jail if you don’t pay them, that’s illegal.
There are actually only two types of debt that Americans can go to jail for – taxes and child support.
Tax evasion (quite notoriously) is a federal crime that can end in jail time. Not surprisingly, Uncle Sam considers it a much more egregious to dodge paying him to dodge your private debtors. So if the broad scheme of things, this is generally one of the reasons why tax debt may cause higher stress that credit card debt.
The other debt you can go to jail over is child support. If you’re supposed to give money to support your children and you’re found to be using underhanded tactics to dodge that responsibility or aren’t making a reasonable effort to meet it, then you can go to jail.
Article last modified on August 7, 2019. Published by Debt.com, LLC