Overdue debts will not send you to jail.
Please repeat: overdue debts will not get you jailed.
Yet it is disturbing how many people fear that not paying their debts is criminal and might land them in jail.
Relax: America abolished debtors’ prisons some 250 years ago.
Can they put a lien on me?
But jail is not all that folks worry about when they can’t stay current on their bills.
The related fear is that a frustrated creditor can unilaterally put a lien on their assets.
The short answer is no. Liens arise after a lawsuit, or by agreement. Only the taxing authorities can get a lien by themselves. More on liens.
If you don’t pay
There are real legal consequences if you don’t pay your debts, but the consequences aren’t criminal.
Your creditors can sue you and get a judgment against you. To get a judgment, they have to file a lawsuit against you, in the right court, and serve you with notice of the suit.
That’s what due process is all about.
If you appear in the action, by filing a written answer, a trial on the suit is required, unless the parties settle.
A creditor with a judgment can then enlist the power of the state to help them collect the judgment.
Depending on state law, a judgment creditor may be able to get a lien on your real estate, levy on your non exempt assets or, in some states, to garnish your wages.
Exemptions limit what a creditor with a judgment can take from you.
Other consequences of unpaid bills
Even if you haven’t been sued, debt has consequences: calls from collectors, worry about who to pay, damage to your credit record.
The stress of being in debt should not be underestimated. Stress kills.
And if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stupid. Yes, stress depresses your intelligence.
Those negatives often last longer than the life of the debt in question.
If this is your situation, get some help. Consult a reputable credit counseling agency. Make an appointment with a bankruptcy lawyer.
Find out what your options are.
But don’t worry about jail.
Image courtesy of Pixabay.