Can You Go To Jail For Not Paying Credit Cards?

Jason Saltzman
Sep 1, 2021

Can You Go to Jail For Not Paying Credit Cards?

It’s a scary thing to fall behind on your credit card payments.

So many people find themselves in this predicament that I’m continually surprised how many people ask, “Is it possible for me to actually go to prison for not paying my credit cards?”

Credit card default is certainly not a pleasant proposition. However, you can breathe a sigh of relief; in fact, you won’t do time behind bars for nonpayment of your credit card bill. 

There are other unpleasant consequences you are likely to face, however, including:

  • Non-stop calls from debt collectors
  • Soaring interest rates
  • Hefty penalties racked up on your unpaid credit card bills

It’s important to keep this in mind when overzealous debt collectors threaten or hint at the prospect of jail time. It’s bluster; it is true that one can ultimately face jail time for failing to pay taxes to the government, but the same is not true of falling delinquent on credit card bills or not paying child support. There is simply no thing as a debtor’s prison in the United States.

This wasn’t always the case; as late as the early decades of the 19th century, there were entire prisons dedicated to housing citizens who had failed to settle their debts, but it was outlawed in the 1830s. More than a century and a half later, the Supreme Court ruled that a judge must consider if an individual was willingly choosing not to pay or was entrapped by their situation before being ordered to jail for a failure to pay a fine or a fee.

This isn’t to say that you should neglect paying your credit card bills; creditors can pursue other means of getting paid that can also make your life difficult, such as being sued in court with the prospect of your wages being garnished. 

There is a possibility that if you fail to meet the requirements of a judgement ordering you to pay your debt through a step like wage garnishment, you could potentially be arrested and ultimately jailed for violating a court order. This, it should be emphasized, is a very rare instance which can be avoided not only by following all court orders, but by also avoiding falling back on paying your credit card bills to begin with.

You can almost always save yourself enormous headaches by communicating clearly and seeking compromise with any credit card company or debtor you owe money to. It’s far simpler and more straightforward to work out an agreement – such as a reduction in penalties or interest rates – rather than letting a dispute go all the way to court…and before lasting damage is rendered to your credit and financial history.

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Jason Saltzman