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Is Debtor’s Prison Still a Threat in Modern Day America?

There was a time when falling behind on debts and not paying creditors could land a person in jail. Nowadays, debts can still be stressful, but nobody goes to jail because they fail to pay a credit card bill. Or do they…?

America has abolished debtors’ prison and creditors now have a limited number of tools they can use to collect a debt. Processes such as repossession, foreclosure, and lawsuits are an option, but for most, jail is not a concern over an unpaid debt. However, if a creditor takes legal action and a person fails to follow through on obligations related to appearing in court, it could result in jail time.

Many in the industry consider this an underhanded debt collection technique and far too aggressive, especially considering the overcrowding in prisons and the violent nature of many in prison, but it is something you need to consider if you are dealing with unpaid debts.

How Can a Debtor End Up in Jail?

Ending up in jail because of a debt is a process that will begin with a number of warnings you are headed for trouble. The first will be notice a creditor is seeking a judgment against you in court.

Unless you make payment arrangements or pay off a debt, you will need to attend the court proceeding. As uncomfortable and humiliating as it seems to attend court to be given a judgment, not doing so can get you in trouble. Missing subsequent court dates can also be troublesome and enable a creditor to seek sanctions against you. This can lead to you being held in contempt of court, which can result in a writ of bodily attachment – the action that will open the door for your imprisonment. If you are arrested, the court will likely set bail at the amount of the judgment against you (your debt).

Some consider writ of bodily attachment a form of blackmail against a debtor. Not only will you be responsible for the original debt, you will also be forced to pay attorneys’ fees, interest, late fees, and any other expenses associated with the debt. Suddenly, an unpaid credit card debt of a few thousand dollars tallies up to $40,000 or $50,000.

To learn more about a writ of bodily attachment visit the US Marshalls Service website.

What Can You Do to Avoid Going to Jail Over a Debt?

Obviously, the best option is to pay the debt. It will alleviate the problem, so if you are holding out hoping there is a better option, give in and pay the debt. Obviously, this is not an option for many debtors.

If paying in full is not an option, attempt to work out a payment plan. This might be tricky, but debt collectors are sometimes willing to accept installment payments because it saves them time and money, and ensures they are receiving something toward the debt.

If you are forced to go to court, make sure you pay close attention to all of the notifications you receive and that you attend every court date scheduled. As long as the court sees you are attempting good faith and making an effort to do all you can regarding the debt, your chances for being arrested are slim.

It is also a good idea to work with an attorney throughout the process. He or she will not only offer guidance regarding the debt and repayment, it also ensures a professional who understands the system and processes associated with a debt is overseeing your case. You might also find that filing for bankruptcy is a better option than toying with debt collectors, especially if your financial situation is dire.

Want to know more or do you have concerns about where an unpaid debt could lead? Contact the Law Offices of Robert M. Geller at 813.254.5696 to schedule a free consultation.

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At the Tampa Bay law firm, the Law Offices of Robert M. Geller, P.A., we help people with consumer bankruptcy matters in the Tampa Bay-St. Petersburg,  Florida communities such as Clearwater,     St. Petersburg, Tampa, Thonotosassa, Riverview, Lutz, Plant City, Brandon, Carrollwood, Wesley Chapel, St. Petersburg Beach, Lakeland, Mulberry, Dade City, Pinellas Park, Largo, Seminole, Odessa, Oldsmar and Lithia, and counties such as Hillsborough County, Pinellas County, Pasco County, Polk County and Manatee County.