Worried about being arrested and jailed for not paying your bills? A surprising number of people think it’s possible.
Yet the only way that you can end up in jail for not paying your bills comes from not opening the mail.
Ignoring debt doesn’t work
In my experience, people with money troubles often stop opening the mail. They don’t want to be reminded of how bad things are.
Stress doesn’t usually sharpen your thought processes.
We pull inward when the outside world is too much. But not opening the mail comes at a risk.
Jail for not paying?
But really, in the US, we gave up throwing people in jail for debt about 250 years ago. After all, being locked up does nothing to allow you to repay your obligations.
So, how do people end up in jail as a result of a collection suit?
They don’t read the mail that tells them that the judgment creditor has scheduled a debtor’s examination and the judge has ordered them to appear to answer questions.
If you don’t open the mail, or don’t read the contents of the envelope, you miss the fact that it’s a judge that wants to see you. Judges are not happy about being ignored.
In fact, ignoring a court order is called contempt of court.
It’s the contempt of court that gets debtors arrested and jailed, not the underlying debt.
Exam of Judgment Debtor
While not uplifting, a debtor’s exam is not painful.
Usually, you appear in the designated courtroom. When your case is called, the judge administers the oath which requires you to truthfully answer the judgment creditor’s questions.
Then you retire to a hallway or conference room where the other side asks questions designed to determine if you have assets that can legally be applied to satisfy the judgment. When the creditor is done, sometimes you are free to leave directly. Other times, the judge wants you to return to the courtroom so she knows the examination was completed.
Every state has exemptions that protect some quantum of property from creditors. It may be that you have nothing that even a creditor with a judgment can take from you.
But it is certain that if you retreat into your shell, leave the mail unopened, and ignore the judge’s order, you will have a close encounter with a sheriff with a warrant for your arrest.
All Not Lost
Filing bankruptcy stops collection action, including debtor’s exams. File before the date of the debtor’s exam, and you don’t have to go to court.
Don’t worry: judgments are just as dischargeable in bankruptcy as the debt that the judgment represents.
So, it is not too late to file bankruptcy if a judgment has been entered against you. See an experienced bankruptcy attorney.
In the mean time, come out of your shell and open the mail.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia