The average American household has more than $137,000 in debt. While the largest segment of that debt goes toward housing – mortgages count toward total debt – the rest comprises auto loans, credit cards and other types of debt. But can you go to jail for debt?
Here’s what you need to know.
Can You Go to Jail for Debt?
Some bill collectors will threaten you with jail if you fail to pay your debts. However, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, or FDCPA, specifically prohibits debt collectors from threatening jail time unless it’s legal for them to do so and they intend to pursue it.
Here’s what the law says is a violation:
“The representation or implication that nonpayment of any debt will result in the arrest or imprisonment of any person or the seizure, garnishment, attachment, or sale of any property or wages of any person unless such action is lawful and the debt collector or creditor intends to take such action.”
You can’t go to jail because you failed to pay your credit card bill, your mortgage payment or your student loans. However, you can go to jail if you don’t pay your taxes or your child support – but both of those instances require you to go to court, and at that point, you’ll have an attorney to defend you.
Going to Jail for Not Paying a Debt
While you can’t go to jail for not paying your debts, you could end up in jail if you fail to follow a court order. It’s not technically considered going to jail over debt, at least under the law, but a court order is legally binding and you have to follow it or you’ll risk jail time.
That means you won’t be arrested for failing to pay back a loan, your credit card balances or your car payment – but if the company you owe sues you for the money and you ignore a court order to appear before a judge, that judge could issue a warrant for your arrest.
What if a Debt Collector Threatens to Send You to Jail?
Debt collectors are not allowed to threaten you with jail because they cannot legally send you to jail for civil debt. You could go to jail for not paying child support or your taxes, but you would be dealing directly with the agencies that ordered you to pay them (like the family court or the IRS).
If you receive calls from debt collectors who threaten to send you to prison or to seize your belongings, you could be entitled to damages – and that means you should call a Glendale consumer protection lawyer as soon as possible. Keep track of:
- The number of times the debt collector has called you
- What the debt collector has said to you on the phone
- The specific threats the debt collector has made and when he or she made them
We may be able to help you get financial compensation if you’ve been harassed, lied to, or otherwise injured by a debt collector. Judges can require debt collectors to pay you for damages you’ve suffered due to their illegal collection practices (such as medical bills or lost wages), as well as attorney’s fees and court costs. You may also be able to collect punitive damages – money designed to punish the debt collector for bad behavior.
Call us immediately at 818-659-8324 or contact us online for a free case review. We’ll look over the facts and determine whether a debt collector likely violated your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act today.