In these uncertain times, many Ohio consumers have become overwhelmed with debt they cannot pay. If you find yourself in this situation, you may wonder if you can be sent to jail for not paying your credit card debt.
The short answer is no — debt collectors cannot have you arrested for a credit card or other consumer debt, because it is illegal to jail someone for being past due on their credit card, medical, mortgage, personal loan, or student loan debt. While the only debt you can be taken to jail for is unpaid taxes or child support, debt collectors have another way of making your life miserable.
In addition to bombarding you with telephone calls, emails, letters, and garnishing your wages, they can take you to court and sue you for payment. Under certain circumstances, your debt can lead you to jail for fraud, theft, or defying a court order.
So you can wind up in jail for a credit card or other consumer debt, but not because you owe money. You may face jail time if you wind up in contempt of court for reasons such as ignoring or failing to follow an order issued by a court or if the debt was a result of fraud or criminal activity. If you are found to be in contempt of court, the court can issue a warrant for your arrest.
If arrested, you can be sent to jail until you post a bond that equals the amount of the judgment. In addition, in many counties in Ohio, you can be assessed a booking fee, a daily fee, or both, for each day you are in jail, making it even more difficult to get yourself above water.
This is just one reason that if you find yourself with debts you cannot meet, your best bet is to seek legal advice. The skilled and seasoned Ohio bankruptcy attorneys at Fesenmyer Cousino Weinzimmer understand that money problems can happen to even the most well-intentioned people.
We offer a free, no-obligation consultation to evaluate your financial situation and create a plan to help you get out of debt and protect yourself from aggressive collector tactics.
Can You Be Sued For Credit Card Debt in Ohio?
Yes, creditors can and will sue you for credit card and other consumer debts in Ohio. Creditors and their collections agencies take this legal action in hopes of having a judge force you to pay the debt. If they win and a judgment is placed against you, you may be given the notice to appear in court. If you do not show up for your court date, a Default Judgement will be issued against you, and you will owe the amount of money you are being sued for.
If you find yourself faced with a lawsuit for unpaid credit card debt, you may be tempted to ignore the lawsuit, but this will just make your situation worse. In Ohio, you have 28 days to answer or respond to a complaint by creditors. If you overlook a legal summons and complaint, if you do not file an answer in a timely manner, or if you don’t show up in court when you are supposed to, you will be found to be in default, and the creditor will receive a judgment against you.
This means the judge awards the creditor everything they ask for in the lawsuit because you did not make a case in your defense. The creditor will then be allowed to garnish your wages and go after your bank account and personal property to pay for the debt.
So being faced with a lawsuit for credit card debt is something you should take seriously. To fight the lawsuit, you should get legal assistance immediately. Your lawyer will go over your options with you on stopping the lawsuit, as well as handling the rest of your consumber debt.
Can You Go To Jail For Not Paying Credit Cards?
In 1978, the U.S. government passed the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). This act defines who a debt collector is, how often and when a debt collector can contact you, and what constitutes harassment and abuse. The FDCPA covers debt which includes the following:
- Credit card debt
- Student loans
- Medical debt
- Personal debt
- Payday loans
- Car loans.
The FDCPA also limits what debt collectors can and can’t say to you while trying to get you to pay your debts. According to the Act, debt collectors collecting debts for others are prohibited from engaging in abusive or harassing conduct and that includes threats of sending you to jail.
However, if you do not pay your debts, your creditors can sue you in court.
Remember that in Ohio, you have 28 days to answer or respond to a complaint by creditors, or the creditor can win the case by default and receive a judgment against you and have the court take steps to make you pay.
Courts can order the garnishment of your wages or your bank account and allow creditors to seize some of your personal property and put a lien on your real estate.
If the judgment is large enough and you have equity in your home, you might be forced to sell your property. Ohio law does give you an exemption for a certain value of your residence, but anything over that can be used to satisfy creditors. There is also an exemption for medical debts and limits for personal property and for a vehicle. You can find a list of exemptions in the Ohio Revised Code 2329.66.
If creditors still can’t get money from you, the courts can order you to appear in court for a debtor’s examination, where you have to answer questions about your finances and why you haven’t paid that creditor under oath. If you do not attend the debtor’s examination, the court can find you in civil contempt for disobeying its order to appear.
What You Can Do to Avoid Aggressive Collection Efforts
Debt collectors are prohibited by the FDPCA from using aggressive debt collection tactics. When they contact you originally, they should send you a letter or call you to inform you about the outstanding debt and include the following information:
- The amount of your debt
- The name of the original creditor
- How can you dispute the debt.
They are prohibited from using aggressive collection tactics such as threatening to repossess your car or other personal property for failure to pay. However, they can legally repossess your property if they have received a judgment against you.
If you’re being hounded by an aggressive debt collector, you should do the following:
- Always read and respond to all papers you get from the court or the attorney of a collector. Make sure the facts, including the amount and whether the debt is really yours, are correct. Debt collectors who are not your original creditor must prove they bought your debt and own it at the time the legal action is filed, or their claim is not valid. Report harassing debt collectors to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
- Go to the hearings. Often, going to court and asking the collector to prove that it has sued the right person for the right amount is enough to get the case dismissed or settled for less. Other reasons your case may be dismissed include:
- The debt may be too old to be collected, as Ohio debt collectors generally have six years to take action for credit card debt.
- You may have been mistakenly identified by the debt collector, or someone else may have incurred the debt, forged your name, and accumulated debt under your name.
- You may have already paid the debt or discharged it in bankruptcy and can present evidence to support this claim.
- Know whether you are judgment-proof. Ohio law exempts some sources of income from seizure by creditors, including social security retirement or disability benefits, SSI, Ohio Works First and other public benefits, workers’ compensation and unemployment compensation.
- Know if the statute of limitations has passed. Ohio has a statute of limitations for the collection of debt. According to Ohio’s revised code section 2305.06. The amount of time during which a debt collector may take legal action to collect a debt is six years in the majority of situations.
The time limit begins the day a debt became overdue, or the day you last made a payment, whichever happened more recently. Understand, however, that trying to delay payment of your bills indefinitely is not a workable strategy, as debt does not expire or disappear until you pay it.
If a debt is valid, you still owe it until you pay it off, no matter how much time passes. The Ohio debt collection laws vary, depending on the type of debt. Ultimately, this means you likely need a well-crafted debt-relief strategy rather than waiting and hoping for the best.
- Ask for a hearing. You have the right to a hearing if you disagree with an order of garnishment if the money in your account comes from an exempt source. If your source of income is exempt, the money stays exempt, even if directly deposited in your bank account. However, the bank will freeze whatever is over the exemption amount.
- Speak to an attorney about debt reduction possibilities, such as filing for bankruptcy. If you have found yourself in a situation where the debt is more than you can handle, bankruptcy, a legal way to have many debts forgiven, can put you on the road to financial recovery.
If you’re a good candidate for bankruptcy, filing can keep creditors from harassing you and seizing your possessions, allowing debts to be forgiven, and providing a way for you to keep your assets and begin to rebuild your life. Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy offers thousands of consumers a fresh start every year, and it can do the same thing for you.
Contact Us for Advice and a Free Consultation
If you are struggling with debt, legal assistance can help. Take the first step toward debt relief and contact the experienced and compassionate attorneys at Fesenmyer Cousino Weinzimmer today for a FREE INITIAL CONSULTATION.
We will evaluate your entire financial situation by looking at your income, your debts, and your goals and find the best fit for you. We will handle every phase of the process, including getting creditors to stop attempting to collect unpaid bills and stop harassing you for good.
Delaying can only worsen your situation, so call the affordable Ohio bankruptcy attorneys at Fesenmyer Cousino Weinzimmer to set up your free consultation today. Call us today at 614-228-4435 (Columbus), 937-222-7472 (Dayton), or 877-654-5297 (Cincinnati).