Getting arrested for debt is on the rise according to the Star Tribune in Minnesota. In a recent article entitled “In jail for being in debt” they examined the growing trend of getting arrested for not paying debt. Minnesota had 849 debt-related arrest warrants issued in 2009. So are your chances greater today that you’ll go to jail for not paying your debts?
**Disclaimer – Debtprison.net does not administer legal or financial advice. The contents of this website are my opinions on collection agencies and how to deal with them. Nothing on this website should be interpreted as legal advice or council. No opinions on this website should be used to replace the advice of your financial advisor or your legal council.
Despite the headline by the Star Tribune you won’t go to jail for simply failing to pay a debt. The real story is always more complicated. You could be arrested, but that has a lot more to do with ignoring the court than it does with ignoring your creditors. As I explained in a previous article, “Can you go to jail for debt?” – you cannot be arrested for simply not paying a creditor. Law enforcement works for the courts – not for creditors.
So why are these people getting arrested?
These debtors are being arrested for not responding to the court. If you owe me money I have a right to take you to court to force you to pay me. It’s been said that the squeaky wheel gets the oil. The same is true with our court system. If a creditor really pushes they can force you to show up in court and even get liens against your property or seize money from your bank account. And your failure to appear before the court can lead to arrest. You are actually getting arrested for not responding to the court. The court needs communication from you. If you cannot pay – the court needs for you to explain to them why.
Here’s how not paying a debt CAN lead to your arrest.
1. The creditor sues you in civil court for a debt.
2. The court hand-delivers a summons to you from the court indicating you are being sued and need to appear on the scheduled date.
3. You fail to show up in court or respond to the court summons.
4. The creditor then receives a default judgment against you for the amount of the debt.
5. The court mails you a statement indicating that a judgment was placed against you for the debt.
7. You ignore the statement and make no effort to contact the court or the creditor.
8. The court may then issue a bench warrant for your arrest (if the creditor is aggressive) to force you to show up and explain why you’ve made no effort to satisfy the judgment (this is becoming more common).
It is possible that you never received the original summons (was given to the wrong person) and that you were unaware that a judgment was placed against you (because you moved or something).
It could also be that you were aware of these things and didn’t take them serious.
Either way you can end up getting arrested for not responding to the court.
Remember, the court isn’t interested in wasting everyones time and locking innocent people in jail. The arrest warrant was the last option for the court to force you to comply with the judgment that was placed against you. This doesn’t even mean that you will have to pay. It just means that the court needs some communication from you at least indicating that you are attempting to comply with the court’s judgment. A creditor has the right to determine why you haven’t tried to satisfy the judgment. And that can include the court questioning you about income and assets.
I had a friend that got into a fight with another dude at a candle store. Some merchandise was destroyed during the scuffle. As it turns out the other guy’s parents owned the candle store. So they sued my friend for damages of $1,200. My friend appeared in court and agreed to pay 100 per month until the debt was paid. After a few payments the parents told my friend not to worry about the rest of the money. This debt seemed to be gone until my friend and the other guy got into yet another scuffle. As a result, the parents contacted the court and said that my friend hadn’t paid them the four previous months and still owed them money.
My friend got arrested the next day for not paying the debt according to the terms to which he had agreed in court.
These tales that we hear about on the news of being ‘locked up for debt’ often omit many of the facts to lend emotional credence to the debtor. Just as my friend could simply say he was arrested for not paying a debt – though that certainly wouldn’t be the whole story.