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LaToya Irby

Debt Collectors Can't Put You In Jail For Debt

By May 8, 2009

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Debt collectors will try just about anything to get you to pay them, including threatening to have you arrested if you don't pay your debt.

Being in debt is not a crime. You cannot go to jail just because you didn't pay the bank or the hospital. Any debt collector that tells you otherwise is lying to you and is violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the federal law that governs debt collectors.

What should you do if a collector makes this threat? Report them to the Federal Trade Commission and your state's attorney general. These are the people who make sure debt collectors are doing what they're supposed to do. You can also sue the collector in federal or state court for damages, plus up to $1,000, and court costs.

5 debt-related things you could go to jail for:

  1. Purposely not paying your taxes
  2. Commiting fraud, including taking out loans you never intend to repay
  3. Violating a court order, e.g. failing to pay court-ordered child support
  4. Trying to hide assets to avoid paying a judgment
  5. Failing to appear on court after a lawsuit summons

More on dealing with debt collectors

Comments
October 13, 2008 at 4:31 am
(1) My Debt Refinance says:

Debt collectors can be a very scary thing, specially when they take attributions they don’t have.

Is very good to know our options, thanks for this post.

January 28, 2009 at 1:22 pm
(2) Chris says:

I don’t know what I’m going to do!
But Thank you for the info!

June 9, 2010 at 11:21 am
(3) Yes they Can says:

Yes, you can go to jail for being in debt!

Cut and paste in your browser:

In jail for being in debt:
http://www.startribune.com/investigators/95692619.html?elr=KArksUUUycaEacyU

The New Debtor’s Prisons
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/06/opinion/06mon4.html

Debtor’s Prison- Again
http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/editorials/article991963.ece

July 10, 2010 at 3:27 pm
(4) Rich says:

Dont believe this jerk! He is probably a debt collector. You absolutely cannot be sentenced to jail for bad debt. Unless of course you are ordered by court to pay fines and/or restitutions as a result of civil/criminal proceedings. As for this goof, perhaps consider not citing opinion pieces as sources!

July 14, 2010 at 3:01 am
(5) Dan says:

I worked in the credit industry for many years, and you actually you can have a warrant issued for your arrest in most states if:
1) You have a judgement against you
2) If the creditor gets a motion from the court compelling you to a deposition for disclosure of assets – and you do not appear (same warrant issued for folks that ignore a mandatory to appear traffic ticket)
Easy fix = repond in person to all summons by the court

July 20, 2010 at 10:52 am
(6) Teresa says:

The notice is not always sent to the correct address. They do a piss poor job of making sure the judgment or summons is going to the correct address. My husband was taken to court in 2002 and we didn’t find out about it, till a $100 was garnished or taken from our bank account until 2007. (We got married in the end of 2003. We found out we were going to have a baby the last month of 2003) Then when he called to see what was going on, they provided a copy of the notice. It was sent to his previous address that he hadn’t of even been at for a few years or so! The man went for 5 years not knowing he had a law suit against him! How is that possible!? Well, it was.

So here I got married and married into a ton of debt, that I never knew existed, but that doesn’t matter. You would think that some sketchy piss poor last known address bs would have some sort of accuracy on some level or a freakin’ law suit summons! What a bunch of crap!

Now, if life would cooperate for once, and after spending thousands for a degree, he could get a dam* job, then we could pay it off, riding ourselves and our child, of this baggage from hell, if and only if we had some decent money coming in. Instead, he got a job that moved to and he had it for 6 months making good wages. But then he lost it and we lost our apartment and have now been unemployed for 2 years, and when he finally did get a job offer, it is making $10.00 an hour. Last year for about 6 months we were making about $4200 a month. Then we both lost our jobs. So after than we remained out of work and lived on unemployment, until that ran out for good. It timed out and we had nothing for a month! How the hell are we supposed to break out of this debt on that measly as* $1200 a month with a car note, food we have to eat to say alive and a few other day to day living expenses like auto insurenace and gas etc? We had to move in with him mom- again! You want to know the kicker? He went back to school again to get another degree hoping that makes an impact. But the economy is crap!
Life really has a way of kicking you in the balls upside down and vomiting all over you- twice! I could go on, except I don’t think it would matter…Please pray for us…
Oh and what you don’t know, last Christmas, he did get a job for about 3 weeks, and was 60 some days till getting health insurance or so, until he got H1N1 and double pnuemonia and went to the hospital for 14 days creating a bill to the tune of $99 thousand dollars! The hospital forgave 90k of it, but we still owe the other 9 plus interested to a million differnet entitites that weren’t “with” the hospital to be forgiven. So, I am at a total lost to know what end is up….Suicide would be a great option, except I would never leave my child to deal with this harsh, wicked, worthless world by himsef. It just sucks in this life sometimes. Thanks for listening…Blessings to you in your financial straights out there in crazy land….

December 21, 2012 at 10:35 pm
(7) jackie says:

What if you never got the letter saying you were being sued?

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