Can you go to jail for being in debt? It is a question that people ask every single day. The reason is mainly due to the fact that many years ago, people were indeed sent to jail for being in debt. There was a law put in place in 1833 by President Andrew Jackson which abolished sending people to jail for not paying their debts. If you are currently in debt, here is what you need to know about being sent to jail.
Failure to Pay Taxes and Child Support
While you can't be sent to jail for not paying civil debts such as credit card payments, hospital bills or personal, auto or student loan, you may be jailed in the event you don't pay your taxes or your child support. When it comes to taxes, the IRS is pretty lenient except in the cases where people purposely lie. For instance, if you enter your Social Security Number wrong by one number, it is an honest mistake. However, if you use someone else's Social Security Number, it is a crime. For child support, if you have been court ordered to pay and you don't, you may be found in criminal contempt.
Actual Reasons People May Have Been Jailed
You have probably seen news reports in recent years about folks being put in jail for failure to pay debts. However, the majority of the time, you will find that there are underlying circumstances. For instance, in February of 2016, a Houston, Texas man claims he was arrested by the United States Marshals for not paying a $1,500 student loan from 1987. However, Consumerist.com discovered that he wasn't arrested for not paying his debt, but he was arrested for not appearing in court when he was supposed to.
Don't Ignore a Court Date
You cannot be sent to jail for an unpaid debt, but you may be jailed if you ignore a court date. A creditor has the right to take you to court to collect their money. If this happens, the court will send you a notice of when to appear for your court date. If you don't show up for your court hearing, the judge may find you in contempt of court and that is what will send you to jail. If you really don't have the money, just go to the hearing and tell them this information in person. They won't arrest you for it.
The bottom line is that if you are taken to court by a debt collector, you don't want to just avoid the notices you get in the mail. Pay close attention to these notices and make note of your court dates. The more you do in good faith, the less likely you will face grounds for contempt. For more information, a bankruptcy lawyer may help.