It is quite unusual to go to jail for an unpaid debt. Debtors’ prisons were abolished in the 19th century in the United States, and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits debt collectors from threatening you with criminal prosecution.
In the state of Florida, you can’t be put in jail for failing to pay a debt or judgment. What can happen when you fail to pay a debt is that it will be reported to credit bureaus, and it will become part of your credit history for up to seven years. It is also possible that your property is seized and your wages may be garnished. But since debtors’ prisons were found to be unconstitutional and biased against people with lower incomes, you are not likely to face jail time over an unpaid debt.
However, you should be aware that there are certain situations that can lead to jail time in relation to the outstanding debt. These include:
Failing to Pay Income Taxes
Not paying your income taxes is a crime. If you’re prosecuted for this, it’s possible that you could go to jail.
Knowingly Violating a Court Order
If you willfully violate a court order, you could end up serving jail time. There are several ways in which this could be possible, most commonly in relation to court-ordered child support. If you fail to make payments, the person receiving those payments can request a court hearing. If the judge finds that you could have made the payments but refused to, he could order jail time.
In another situation, in some states, a court may order you to pay periodic payments on a debt. As long as you abide by making these payments, you will usually not go to jail. If you fail to make these payments, though, you could face jail time.
Failing to Appear for a Debtor’s Examination (a/k/a Deposition in Aid of Execution)
A debtor’s examination is when a judgment creditor orders you to go to court to answer questions under oath regarding your financial situation. You are not forced to pay the debt but must answer all questions honestly. By doing so, you are usually free to go after the questioning. But, if you do not show up at the appointed time, you could be cited for contempt of court and face time in jail. This tactic is unfortunately on the rise in many states.
If you have concerns about unpaid debts, be sure to get sound legal advice. Contact the consumer protection rights experts at Jacksonville law firm Parker & DuFresne.