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Can You Go to Jail for Not Paying Student Loans?

Chloe Meltzer | December 02, 2022

Legal Expert
Chloe Meltzer, MA

Chloe Meltzer is an experienced content writer specializing in legal content creation. She holds a degree in English Literature from Arizona State University, complemented by a Master’s in Marketing from California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo.

Edited by Hannah Locklear

Hannah Locklear
Editor at SoloSuit
Hannah Locklear, BA

Hannah Locklear is SoloSuit’s Marketing and Impact Manager. With an educational background in Linguistics, Spanish, and International Development from Brigham Young University, Hannah has also worked as a legal support specialist for several years.

Summary: Are you past due on your student loans? Worried you're going to get hauled off in the paddywagon? Find out if you can go to jail for not paying student loans.

When you are in debt it can be stressful and a horrible experience. You might even worry about being sent to jail for not paying your debts. Despite this, it is usually not the case. With most debts, you cannot go to jail because you are past due on credit card debt or student loan debt. The only time you can go to jail for not paying your debt is due to not paying taxes or child support.

In some cases, you can go to jail for debt. This is only if you have not paid your taxes or if you have not continued to pay your child support payment. This is because if you deliberately do not pay your taxes, then the government believes you should go to jail. The only time that this can happen, is if you have been charged and convicted of this crime.

Tax crimes include filing a fraudulent tax return or not filing a return at all, but if you simply cannot pay, the government will not put you into prison.

Another instance where you can be put into jail for debt is if you do not pay your child support. This is because the government believes that you should be able to support your children or at least attempt to. Federal law states that you can be sentenced to as much as six months or two years in prison for not paying child support.

You cannot be arrested or placed in jail for not paying student loan debt, but it can become overwhelming. Student loan debts are considered “civil” debts, which are in the same category as credit card debt and medical bills. Because of this, they cannot send you to jail for not paying them.

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Being sued by a debt collector

Debt collectors can file lawsuits against consumers in order to collect the money owed to them. Despite this, the lawsuit is not in order to arrest you. Instead, they are looking to force you to pay them for your debts.

If you receive a notification to appear in court you will need to respond to this summons. If you ignore it, then you will have an automatic judgment placed against you. This will usually allow the debt collector to garnish your wages or take money directly from your bank account. In serious situations, if you do not appear in court or respond to the order you may be held in contempt of court. Although not directly correlated with not paying the debt, this could lead to your arrest.

The statute of limitations on debt

The statute of limitations on debt collection is the period where you can be sued for a particular past-due debt. The statute of limitations on collecting a debt is based on where you live. In some states, it may be three years, while in other states it is six or more.

Unfortunately, the statute of limitations on expiring debt does not mean that your debt is erased. It will continue to be on your credit report and you will technically owe it. The only difference is that you can no longer be sued for the debt.

When debt becomes time-barred it means that the debt collector or creditor cannot file a lawsuit against you. Although it is not legal to do so, they often still try. Should you make a payment on the debt the statute of limitations will restart. This is why it is essential to wait to make a payment on a past-due debt and check the statute of limitations.

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Rules that govern debt collectors

It is essential to know the laws that govern debt collection practices. The Federal Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is a set of rules that protects consumers against unfair practices of third-party debt collectors.

For example, a debt collector may not threaten arrest or legal action against you if it is untrue. They are also only allowed to contact you about household debts like credit card bills, auto loans, medical bills, student loans, and mortgage payments. Should they call you earlier than 8 am or after 9 pm this is considered illegal, and you can bring up a counterclaim in court against them. Overall, you cannot be taken to jail for student loan debt, so know your rights and avoid admitting fault.

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