Can I Go to Jail for Credit Card Debt?

Another reason why it’s better to be alive now instead of in the 1800s.

Locked up for credit card 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?

Let’s be civil…

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.

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.

Can you go to jail for any debt?

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.