Can I be imprisoned if I Don’t Pay My Debts?

At one time you could have been imprisoned for outstanding debt and faced a catch 22 situation, but the Debtors’ prison has been illegal in the United States of America since 1833. So thankfully, nowadays you cannot be jailed for nonpayment of “civil debt” like a credit card, personal loan or hospital bill, but there are a few exceptions. You can be forced to go to jail for not paying your taxes or child support.

Consumer debt rights have come a long way and consumers are protected and have certain rights. Debt collection agencies have to abide by the rules of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) which is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission. According to these rules consumers are safeguarded from harassing, abusive or unfair debt collection practices. In addition, it also prohibits creditors from misleading consumers and threatening arrest but they can sue you for payment. If you fail to appear or follow the instructions of a civil court you can be arrested for contempt of court. In this situation, you are jailed not because of your debt but as a result of your actions related to the collectors’ attempt to sue you in civil court. To avoid such a situation you should not ignore notices or orders of the court and do go to the hearings, as the creditor will give up after a second or third time and realize that he cannot collect from you. Some state legislators and attorneys are working to change the laws to protect you from this type of abuse. Do consult a local or your state attorney general’s consumer division to avoid jail in such a situation.