Can You Go To Jail If You Don’t Pay Your Debts?

Posted on Oct 24, 2014 By Ed Woods

Ed WoodsAfter over twenty-three years of helping individuals and families resolve their financial problems, I’m still amazed by how often I get this question. The answer depends on what is meant by “debts”. Let me explain.

Fines and Criminal Debts

 

If you have, for example, an unpaid traffic ticket or you have been fined by a court in a criminal case and you fail to pay your fine, then you might be facing jail time if you don’t pay. Whether you can be placed in jail for failure to pay fines assessed against you in a criminal case depends on the law of the state where you live or where you were convicted. If you have been in court for some reason and a judge has ordered you to do or not do something and then you intentionally and knowingly disobey that order, you may be found guilty of contempt of court and fined. If you fail to pay the fine, you might be facing jail time. Or, maybe you have a bad check outstanding. In some circumstances, you might be facing jail time if you don’t make good on a bad check. But, remember that strict procedures MUST be followed in order for you to be placed in jail for any reason, including failure to pay fines. Part of these procedures include appearing before a judge and the right to have legal representation. Outside these limited situations, the failure to pay your “debts” WILL NOT land you in jail.

The clients who ask this question are usually referring to debts like credit card payments, car notes, house notes, medical bills and the like. These debts are commonly called “consumer debts”.  You cannot be placed in jail for failure to pay a consumer debt. Rather, failure to consumer debts usually leads to you being subject to debt collection calls, letters, and other actions which may include a lawsuit against you. Even though you cannot go to jail for failure to pay these debts, these are serious legal matters which may lead to foreclosures, repossessions, garnishments and seizure of non-exempt property. So, it’s never wise to ignore these situations. It’s always best to get legal advice from a competent debt relief attorney so you can learn of all of your options.

Threat of Arrest Scams

Also, be aware of the scams that seem to permeate the internet these days. Frequently, these scams involve check cashing or payday loans. One such scam that some of our attorneys have seen recently is an “arrest warrant” issued by a “State Attorney”. It usually starts with you receiving an email or a letter which is drafted to look like a warrant from a court. It may refer to “violations” and “criminal penalties” with imprisonment and huge fines. One of our clients in Mississippi recently received such an “Arrest Warrant”. The “arrest warrant” was supposedly issued by a “John Smith” in the “State Attorney Office” in Miami, Florida. This “arrest warrant” stated that the client was the subject of charges being pressed by US Cash Advance and warned of dire consequences if ignored. A telephone number was provided. When our attorney called and identified himself and our client, the person in the “State Attorney Office” quickly hung up. Subsequent attempts to contact “John Smith” to discuss the matter were not answered. This was clearly a scammer’s attempt to unlawfully scare our client into sending money in response to the “arrest warrant.” Further, no actual district attorney in Mississippi would cause such a warrant to be issued because current Mississippi law prohibits a criminal prosecution for bad checks that were part of a payday lending or check cashing transaction.

So, take a deep breath and be assured that jail cells are only for those persons who violate our criminal laws. Jail cells are not for honest, law abiding persons who are struggling to make ends meet or are unable to pay their consumer debts. If you are struggling with your finances, help is available. Our attorneys are caring and compassionate professionals with extensive experience in resolving your financial problems. You can meet privately with one of our attorneys to discuss your situation and the options available to you. Your first consultation is free of any charge or obligation.  At that consultation, one of our attorneys will review your situation with you and discuss the possible solutions for you.  You may not need to seek formal debt relief because there may be other more effective ways to deal with your situation. Or, you may be eligible for the complete elimination of most, if not all, of your debts under Chapter 7. Many of our clients are able to consolidate their debts under Chapter 13 so that they pay what they can truly afford to pay and be protected from debt collectors and debt collection attempts. Whatever your situation, there is likely a better solution for you than just suffering in silence.