The Law Dictionary

Your Free Online Legal Dictionary • Featuring Black’s Law Dictionary, 2nd Ed.

Can people go to jail for not paying their credit card payments?

Failure to pay credit card debt is not a crime in the United States. The US have debunked debt imprisonment in the 1950’s which decriminalized the act. The purpose of the government is to encourage people to establish good credits with the country’s financing business entities. The effect would be an increase in financing investments.

Imprisonment is a penalty imposed by law against a person who was proven, with proof beyond reasonable doubt, to be guilty of committing a crime. A crime is defined as an act or omission in violation of a law forbidding or commanding it and for which penalties are imposed by the state. One of said penalties include imprisonment.Therefore, in order for a person to go to prison, he must first be convicted of a crime.

Even though failure to pay your credit card debt is not a crime in the U.S. there are still serious consequences of the omission. Once there is a default in the payment of credit card bills, the account of the holder will be forwarded to the collection department. The department shall then issue demand letters against the defaulting debtor which may include warnings against the stringent steps that the credit card company may enforce against him.

Once the account has been sent to the collection department and once the demand for payment fails, the credit card company will commence the collection proceedings. Once judgment is obtained against the debtor, his properties may be levied, his wages may be garnished or liens may be imposed on his estate. Once these are done, the debtor will have great difficulty in obtaining a loan, applying for a new credit card or employment.

The effect of neglecting to pay one’s credit card has serious implications on the holder’s credit score. A credit score is a 3 digit number which is used by the banks to classify loan applicants to determine if they have the capacity to pay the loan or if they do not have the practice of omitting payment. If the applicant’s score fell on the bad range or below 620, his loan will immediately be disapproved.

The only time that a debtor may be imprisoned is when he failed to comply with court summons in the collection case. It must be noted that once the debtor absents himself from court hearings, the court may issue an arrest warrant against him. But this is merely ancillary to the issue of non-payment of credit card debts.


This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. The Law Dictionary is not a law firm, and this page does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

Recent Bankruptcy & Debt Articles