Can I go to Jail for Unpaid Debt?

Up until the mid-1800s in Colonial America, placing people in debt in real, brick-and-mortar prisons was a common way to deal with individuals who could not pay back their debts. In fact, several historical figures spent time in debtors’ prison, such as Henry Lee III, Robert E. Lee’s father, and several Declaration of Independence signatories. Yet in modern times, we don’t often consider prison as a rightful punishment for debt. Rather, several avenues can be taken to resolve debt; and working with a consumer law attorney who handles debt cases can help a person in debt put the harassment that frequently accompanies being in debt behind him.

However, when you owe money on a debt that you cannot afford to pay, a creditor retains the right to sue you in civil court and get a judgment. This can put you in a risky situation if you cannot afford to pay a number of “fees” associated with court costs.

Does Debtors’ Prison Still Exist?

Debtors’ prisons were abolished in the latter half of the 1800s after the federal government outlawed imprisonment as a punishment for failure to pay debt. Today, you can’t go to prison for failing to pay what is known as a “civil debt” (credit cards, hospital bills, loans), but you can be jailed for failure to pay taxes or child support.

Is Jail a Consequence for Civil Debt?

No one should go to prison for failing to pay civil debts. In fact, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) prevents debt collectors from threatening consumers with criminal prosecution for failing to pay. However, judgment creditors in some states use the court system to put debtors in jail anyway through a simple loophole. Florida is just one of many states in which debtors have been locked up.

Failure to Appear for Debtor’s Examination

In certain states, debt collectors have discovered a loophole in the system that allows individuals to get arrested over a debt.

First, let’s say you have an unpaid debt that the original creditor charged off and sold to a third party collector. After several failed attempts to collect your debt, the collector may file a lawsuit against you as a last resort to recover funds. In some cases, you may not even know that you are being sued. Whether or not you are sued, you may fail to appear at the hearing.

When you fail to appear at the hearing, which you may have never heard about, a default judgment can be entered against you. This order can be used to obtain wage garnishment and bank liens by the collector; in some cases, the collector can use the judgment to obtain an arrest warrant for your failure to comply with the original court order.

If you are still receiving collection calls or have obtained a summons over a debt, your first steps should be to seek the counsel of an experienced consumer law attorney to explore your options. Jibrael S. Hindi and his team have obtained successful outcomes for their clients throughout Florida. Call 1-844-JIBRAEL for a free legal consultation. You will not pay a dime until Jibrael wins for you!