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Can You Go to Jail for Not Paying Credit Cards?

No matter what those debt collectors threatened you with, the police won’t be beating down your door.

Some debt collectors will say anything if it will just get you to pay. But the threat of jailtime because you didn’t pay is about as real as them threatening you with cement shoes. This just doesn’t happen in the U.S. today… and it hasn’t since about 1800’s when Debtors’ Prison stopped being a thing.

A man stands behind dollar sign bars of a debtors’ prison, but can you go to jail for not paying credit cards?


These days, you can’t go to jail for a debt. There are a few exceptions to that, but they have nothing to do with credit cards or loans. For instance, you can go to jail for not paying child support, but you can’t go to jail for not paying credit cards.

Is there any fact at all behind this lie?

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 Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

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What can a collector do if I don’t pay a credit card?

They can take you to court – not criminal court, but civil. Criminal court is where jail sentences come from. The worst thing you typically face in civil court are fines and fees; it’s all monetary.

  1. First, the collector must sue you in civil court.
  2. Then they must get the judge to rule in their favor (they have to prove you legitimately owe the debt in the amount they say).
  3. If the judge rules against you, you can face wage garnishment or they can intercept your tax refund.
  4. A judge will never order jailtime or even put you on probation for not paying a credit card

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.

Article last modified on August 13, 2018. Published by, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: Can You Go to Jail for Not Paying Credit Cards? - AMP.