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Debt Collectors & Jail

Debt Collector sending me to Debtor’s Prison?

Not in America, Right?

One of the scarier things a debt collector can say to someone to “encourage” them to turn over cash they don’t have is that the debt collector will have them sent to jail or prison for non-payment.  It’s a terrifying proposition to hear, given what we’ve seen on movies and television it doesn’t take long for the imagination to run wild as to what a bad experience spending time behind bars might be.  And that doesn’t even begin to take into account the embarrassment of being locked away of the trouble that being separated from one’s family and work responsibilities can cause.

And so that’s why collection agencies (the really bad ones) will say it.  The threat of imprisonment for not being able to pay an old cellphone bill is enough to make many take whatever means is necessary to come up with enough money to satisfy their aggressive debt collectors.   If paying $50 a month on an old bill would keep me from serving hard time, you’d better believe I’d find a way to make that happen.

But the real question is, should someone be worried if a collection agency threatened them with imprisonment?  The good news is that we do not have debtor’s prison in the United States.  That is not to say that if I don’t pay my Discover or Verizon bill there won’t be consequences.  The bill may get charged off.  There may be delinquent marks that appear on a credit report.  There may even be a civil, NOT CRIMINAL, lawsuit filed.  None of these things, however, involves the threat of any type of jail or prison time.

There are situations where non-payment of obligations can land someone behind bars.  Failure to pay child support or alimony/maintenance pursuant to a court order can often cause someone to be held in contempt of court, which in turn can lead to being locked up.  Intentionally avoiding the IRS and evading your taxes is a Federal criminal matter that can do the same.  Furthermore, in certain instances, not paying local fines could put you in trouble with the law.  However, time served for non-payment of debt is almost always due to violation of court orders or criminal matters; it is never for the simple missed payments of consumer debts.

Bottom line: If a debt collector threatens you with imprisonment, or even arrest, they are almost assuredly LYING to you in an attempt to coerce you into turning money over to them.  They cannot send you to prison.  They cannot have the police come to your residence or place of work and haul you away.  And they definitely cannot turn a civil matter with civil consequences into a criminal one that includes time locked up as a consequence.  If a collection agency says that to your, they are lying, and they are the ones that are breaking the law.  If you’ve been told by a debt collector that you will be arrested or going to jail, make sure to call an FDCPA attorney today.  You may be entitled to monetary compensation for these baseless threats.


  1. Louis says:

    Can a service provider threaten to issue a 1099c and report me to credit companies because an insurance check was lost.

    • Jeffrey Hyslip says:

      If its a third party debt collector their threat is likely intended to intimidate and harass you and is therefore illegal. A 1099C is a way for them to write off the debt as a loss on their taxes (and also forgive you from having to pay it). The fact that their threat includes a threat about credit reporting makes me think they are just trying to intimidate you. I will have one of my Paralegals email you directly to get more information from you on a private forum so the communication is protected by attorney/client privilege.


  2. zach says:

    So I got a call today aboutt a Verizon bill thati haven’t paid haven’t had verizon for three years, Anyway the people was very rude to my wife and insisted that I needed to contact them to avoid the worst. My question is what can they physically do to me

  3. Blake says:

    I got an email from a debt collector saying they are filing charges against me in days if I do not pay.

    The Charges are

    and they keep sending threatning emails. How can I stop this?

  4. […] Debt Collector Threatened to Send me to Jail! – HELP! – Debt Collectors & Jail. … Bottom line: If a debt collector threatens you with imprisonment, or even arrest, … They cannot send you to prison. […]

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