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Can I get arrested (or go to jail) for failing to pay a debt?

On Behalf of | Dec 17, 2013 | Bankruptcy, Firm News, Judgments

No. Minnesota outlawed “debtor’s prisons” in the State Constitution (article 1, section 12) 150 years ago. Courts have since carved out an exception for child support and spousal maintenance, reasoning that those are not debts.

It is illegal for a creditor to threaten that you can go to jail for failing to pay a debt. Some aggressive debt collectors have tried doing so, with the hope that you do not know your rights and will be intimidated into immediately giving them permission to debit your bank account. In fact, some of these collectors are not actually even debt collectors, they are merely scammers pretending to be collecting on an old unnamed debt. If this ever happens, I recommend you tell them “I am recording this phone call. Please provide your street address so I can verify your identity” OR “Please hold while I get my attorney on the line.” Chances are, they will hang up on move on to the next sucker. While you could certainly try to countersue them for violating the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, chances are they are probably overseas and you’ll never get a dime back from them, so don’t start dreaming of getting rich!

One thing that can happen, is that after a creditor has sued you and gotten a judgment, they may obtain a court order that you disclose your assets. If you fail to do that, they can obtain a warrant for your arrest – not for failing to pay the debt, but for violating a court order that you disclose your assets. Typically, a person who gets picked up on one of those will be offered the opportunity to fill out the form at the jailhouse in lieu of spending the night and talking to the judge in the morning.

If there is a warrant for your arrest based on failing to abide by an Order for Disclosure, and you have filed bankruptcy, you should ask the creditor to have the warrant quashed. If they fail to do so, you may be entitled to damages, but it’s probably better to be proactive and avoid the inconvenience.