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Can You Go to Jail for Credit Card Debt?

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 being sued by a bill collector for an old debt? Worried they're going to send you to jail? Find out if you can go to jail over credit card debt and what actions you should take.

If you are unable to pay your credit card debts then you might be stressed and anxious. Although credit card debt can wreak havoc on your life, you do not necessarily need to be worried about serving jail time for unpaid debts. This is because it is illegal to jail someone for being past due on their credit card or student loan debt. The only debt you can be taken to jail for is taxes or child support. Regardless, it is still important to be concerned about your debt.

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What kinds of debt can you go to jail for?

There are a couple of situations in which it is possible to serve jail time due to unpaid debts. As mentioned, these include when you do not pay your federal taxes or pay your child support payments.

If you have purposefully not paid federal taxes, then this can lead to prison time, but only after being charged and convicted of a tax crime. This might include filing a fraudulent tax return or not filing a tax return at all. If you file a return but are unable to pay your raxes, you will not be put into prison. It is only possible if you purposefully avoid filing.

Failure to pay child support is another reason why you might be put into jail. It is a federal law to pay child support, and the consequence of not paying it could be sentenced anywhere from six months to two years in prison. In some states, there are also laws that allow you to be immediately sent to jail for not paying child support.

Can you go to jail for student loan debt?

Another debt that you may have incurred is student loan debt. It is important to note that you cannot be arrested or sentenced to jail time for not paying off your student loan debt. This is because student loans are considered "civil" debts. It is the same type of debt as credit cards and medical bills, with one main difference.

Student loan servicers will work to find other avenues for collecting a past-due debt. This might include using the U.S. Department of Justice to try to collect the debt through litigation. If you are sued for student debt, then you can be sentenced to jail time if you do not appear in court.

It is common for a debt collector to file a lawsuit against you when attempting to collect on a debt. The collector will take this legal action in hopes of having a judge force you to pay the debt. After a judgment is placed against you, you may be given a notice to appear in court. If you do not do this, then you may be arrested for contempt of court.

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The statute of limitations on debt

The statute of limitations is a set of laws that governs how long a debt collector is allowed to sue you for a debt. After this time they are no longer legally allowed to take you to court, as the debt is considered time-barred.

The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) governs the statute of limitations for debt and other laws that pertain to your rights as a citizen in debt. It is good to note that the statute of limitations depends on where you live, but will typically be anywhere from three to six years.

Unfortunately, even if the statute of limitations expires, you still owe the debt. The expiration only means that you cannot be sued for the debt in court any longer. The unpaid amount will continue to show up on your credit report, and you will continue to owe the amount. It will also remain on your credit report for up to seven years.

What debt collectors are allowed to do

Knowing what debt collectors legally can and cannot do is essential if you are being pursued for a debt. Legally, a debt collector is only allowed to contact you regarding specific types of debts:

  • Credit card bills
  • Auto loans
  • Medical bills
  • Student loans
  • Mortgage payments

Debt collectors are allowed to reach out to you via phone and email, but also text messages and letters. Since October 2021, it is also legal to reach out via social media.

After contacting you, a debt collector must send a few documents within five days. These include a notice about how much you own, the name of the creditor, and how you can contest the debt.

Debt collectors are not allowed to harass or lie to you. They are also prohibited from engaging in unfair debt collection acts. They cannot threaten you or make false claims.

It is also important to note that you cannot be contacted before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. unless you have given them explicit permission. You can also ask them to stop contacting you, and they must respect that. If they tell anyone other than your spouse about the debt you may be able to sue.

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How to handle your debt

Dealing with debt collectors can be a huge pain, but there are a few ways that you can push yourself to get out of debt.

Making a budget is a wonderful way to get back on track with your finances. It can also show you how much you are spending, and on what. If you can establish a budget, then you need to try and stick to it as well. This is essential, so you can make changes as you begin to truly understand your spending habits. Another option is to pick up an extra job. This is not always possible but can help to have an extra income.

Other good methods of handling debt would be debt consolidation, or debt payment strategies. These can help you to offset your debt with a 0% APR, or learn to pay your debt off more quickly.

What is SoloSuit?

SoloSuit makes it easy to respond to a debt collection lawsuit.

How it works: SoloSuit is a step-by-step web-app that asks you all the necessary questions to complete your answer. Upon completion, you can either print the completed forms and mail in the hard copies to the courts or you can pay SoloSuit to file it for you and to have an attorney review the document.

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"First time getting sued by a debt collector and I was searching all over YouTube and ran across SoloSuit, so I decided to buy their services with their attorney reviewed documentation which cost extra but it was well worth it! SoloSuit sent the documentation to the parties and to the court which saved me time from having to go to court and in a few weeks the case got dismissed!" – James

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