Can Non-Payment of Debt Send You To Prison?
Published December 2nd, 2019
People who are in debt often ask questions like “am I going to jail because of my debts?”. Well, the answer to that is, it depends.
There are actually different types of debts. Some of it can send you to jail while others can’t.
Generally, it’s better to always pay your debts to avoid any hassle and stress. However, there are times where we can’t really avoid having a crisis that leads to non-payment of debts.
Debts That Can Send You To Jail
There two types of debt could send you to jail if payment hasn’t made:
Everyone should pay taxes. Tax avoidance is a federal crime and can result in jail time. The same is true for neglecting child support. If you fail to pay child support, you can be sued and imprisoned. (Related: How to Reduce a Prison Sentence)
Debts That Can’t Send You to Jail
There are several types of debt that can’t send you to prison if you’re not able to pay the debt collectors. These types of debt are called “Civil Debts”. These include:
- Credit Card Loan
- Mortgage or Rent debts
- Utility debts
Non-payment of these civil debts will not send you to prison. Several years ago, the non-payment of any kind of debt can send you to prison. However, many states eliminated imprisonment for non-payment of debts.
Today, you can even sue debt collectors that are harassing you to pay your debts. There’s a law that prohibits debt collectors from threatening or forcing you to pay.
Debt Collector Can Sue You
Yes, you can’t go to jail for non-payment of debts, but debt collectors also have their own recourse. They can take legal action against you for unpaid debts.
Usually, debt collectors file a case against you, then the court will summon you for a debtor’s examination. Failure to attend the hearing might send you to prison. Non-payment for a debt cannot send you to prison but ignoring the summons of the court can.
This just means that you could be arrested for contempt of law but not for failing to pay the debt. (Related: How to Survive Prison: Survival Tips From Former Inmates)
A time-barred debt is a debt that is already expired or too old for debt collectors to sue you for. A statute of limitations or the period of how long a debt collector can sue you for unpaid debts varies by state.
If your debt is already time-barred, then the debt collectors can’t sue you anymore. Although they may still try to ask you for the payment, they shouldn’t harass or threaten you to pay.
You have three options on what you can do if the debt is already time-barred. Those are:
Do not pay the debt
This is possible since your debt records are only visible up to 7 years. However, debt collectors could take further actions for you to pay.
Pay a little of the debt
You can negotiate with the debt collector and ask if you can pay your debts by installment.
Pay off the debt
This is the best option if you want to avoid any potential legal actions from your debt collector.
Threats from debt collectors are illegal. In fact, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act does not allow creditors or debt collectors to harass or threaten the debtors. Debt collectors can face charges if they try to make some threatening arrests.
What Can You Do?
To avoid jail time, you need to take seriously orders of the court. Do not ignore their summons so you won’t be charged with contempt of the law.
Appear at the debtor’s exams even if you know you won’t get imprisoned for unpaid debts. Debt collectors often give up if they realize that they really can’t collect money from you.
Talk to a lawyer. It’s always best to seek legal advice if you’re being sued.
See if you’re eligible to file for bankruptcy. Sometimes it’s the quickest and most effective way to stop the debt collectors from collecting money from you.
Don’t be pressured in handling debts. You can take your time figuring out how to pay it off.
Fight for your rights. Again, debt collectors are not allowed to harass and make threats to you.
These are the major things you need to know to avoid imprisonment for unpaid debts. While the law is mainly on your favor, it’s still best to keep your records clean to avoid getting involved in any kind of mess. (Related: Can Hoax 911 Calls Send You to Prison?)
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About The Author
Judy Ponio is a professional writer for the GlobalTel blog. She works hard to ensure her work contains accurate facts by cross checking reputable sources and doesn’t settle for less. Her passion for telling stories about true crime and criminal justice has allowed her to create hundreds of articles that have benefited millions of people.