Q&A: Is there such a thing as debtor’s prison?



Is there such a thing as debtor’s prison? Can I go to jail for not paying my debts?


Good question and, believe it or not, we get asked this a lot at TLG! The answer is that America actually outlawed debtor’s prisons back in the 1800s. However, there have been some reports of people being arrested in relation to their debt collection. It is important to note, though, that these people are not arrested because they haven’t paid their debt. They can be be put under arrest because of loopholes in the laws or failure to appear in court when issued a subpoena or the like.

Here’s how it works:

If you fail to pay back a debt, the creditor can sue the debtor. Then, the creditor can obtain a civil judgement against you. The debtor, in this case, is summoned to a civil court. Depending on the Court and the jurisdiction, there may be rules that require the debtor to appear in Court. The failure to appear could force a warrant to be issued for your appearance. Again, this is not actually based on the fact that the debtor owes the money. It is due to the fact that the debtor did not comply with Court rules. At this point, the police can haul the debtor in and jail them until there’s a court hearing, or until they pay the bond.

Cases like this are rare, but they do pop up here and there. Still, remember that it is illegal to throw you into jail for simply owing a debt! Don’t trust a creditor or a debt collector if they threaten to arrest you and be careful about how you handle the legal proceedings once your debts reach that stage. Knowing what debt collectors can and cannot do can be overwhelming. To be safe, consider consulting an attorney in your county. They can help you find out the exact rules and procedures in the collection of debt once the legal process has begun. If you have any questions about debt collection practices or legal procedures in relation to a debt you owe, visit our website or call Tayne Law Group at 631-470-8204 for a free, no obligation phone consultation.

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  • Very well stated. I would let your clients know that there is generally a procedure the Court follows before issuing a warrant for the arrest of a judgment debtor. There are also situations where the Court (a Judge) directs that a judgment debtor comply with certain actions, such as a payment Order or to respond to certain discovery requests for documents or information. In the event that the Judgment debtor should fail to obey the Courts directive, the Court may hold that person in contempt and place them in jail until such time as they comply with Courts directive. This is why it is always best to timely deal with requests for information or seek legal counsel, rather than just ignore them in the hopes that they will simply go away. In New York, the law allows 20 years for the execution of a judgment against personal property. Our office has a pleasant, longstanding and effective working relationship with the Tayne Law Group and I highly endorse them to consumers. Todd E. Houslanger, Esq., Managing Attorney, Houslanger & Associates, PLLC.

    • Jimmy Ingrilli Jimmy Ingrilli /

      Todd, thank you very much for your comment. We will post this information so our clients and readers can see!

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