Can I go to jail if I do not pay my debts?

Question

Can I go to jail if I do not pay my debts?

Answer

In the United States, it is unconstitutional to incarcerate someone solely for failing to pay a debt. However, the law suit which the creditor may begin in order to collect the debt may open the door for you to have a bench warrant issued against you. Your creditors can use the legal system to sue you on the debt (civil actions not criminal actions). The legal process begins with a Summons and Complaint. Once you receive the Summons and Complaint, you (the Defendant) have 20 days to Answer (which means putting forth a defense as to why you do not owe the money or the amount claimed in the Complaint). If you do not file an Answer with the court, the Plaintiff will receive a Default Judgment. Once the Plaintiff receives a Judgment, the Plaintiff can garnish up to 25% of your net wages or levy money out of a bank account that has your name on it. 

Often times, the Plaintiff, after receiving a Judgment from the court, will send the Defendant a questionairre called Interrogatories or an Order for Disclosure. Typically, the Defendant is ordered by the court to answer these questions (which ask where the Defendant works, banks, etc. so that the Plaintiff can garnish or levy) within 10 days of receiving the questions. If the Defendant ignores the order, the court can and will issue a bench warrant for contempt of court (i.e., disregarding the court's order).

If you are driving and are pulled over for a broken tail light and the officer runs your plates and sees that you have a bench warrant out for you, you may spend the night in jail until you post bail and complete the order for disclosure.

Note that this means you are not being jailed for owing a debt, but being jailed for disregarding the court order to disclose your place of employment, bank, etc.