Can You Go to Jail For Not Paying Bills?

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It can be difficult to keep up with your bills, no matter your best intentions. Life happens, and unintended late payments cannot be avoided at times. Remaining in good financial standing with your credit card bills, medical bills, student loans and insurance payments is critical, however. Even if you miss a payment or two, having a plan to get back on track and remaining in contact with your creditors can make a huge difference. Though surcharges or fees are the most common penalties for late or missed bill payments, legal action or even jail time are possible.

Can You Go to Jail for Not Paying Bills?

In some instances, it is possible that you could go to jail for the failure to pay your bills. For example, if you do not pay your taxes, you have committed a federal crime and could face time in jail. Failure to make child support payments is also an offense that could land you in jail for up to six months, as it is considered contempt of court.

Failure to pay most other bills, including student loans, credit card bills or medical bills are not offenses punishable by jail time. These are considered civil debts. If your debts are turned over to a debt collection agency, you may be threatened with a variety of outcomes. Though debt collectors may sue you, they cannot do anything to place you in jail. If you don’t appear for a court date related to this lawsuit, however, you could be arrested for failure to appear.

What Are the Penalties for Failure to Pay Student Loans?

Though student loans are classified as civil debts and failure to pay cannot lead to your incarceration, you may be required to follow certain repayment plans if you fall behind on your bills. If you continue to miss payments, the Department of Education is required by law to turn your case over to the Department of Justice for the pursuit of litigation. From there, you could be subject to wage, Social Security check and tax return garnishments until your loans are repaid.

What Are the Penalties for Failure to Pay Credit Card Bills?

If you know that you might miss a payment, informing your credit card company can help. If you do not reach out or make a payment within 30 days, you will likely begin to receive letters or other reminders. Meanwhile, you may be accruing penalties, depending on the terms of your cardholder agreement. Your credit card rate can also increase if you consistently miss payments. In many cases, if you miss 90 days worth of payments, your creditor will shut down your account and sell your debt to a collection agency.

Debt collection agencies can pursue legal action and liens against you as a result of your missed credit card payments. They cannot, however, do anything to send you to jail.

What Are the Penalties for Failure to Pay Medical Bills?

It is easy to fall behind on paying medical bills. If you do, your debt may be turned over to a collection agency by your insurance company or treating medical facility. You could face a lawsuit for the money you owe. However, you could not be imprisoned for failing to repay your bills.

What Are the Penalties for Failure to Pay Insurance?

If you fail to pay your automobile insurance bill, you may be subject to a penalty from the state in which you reside, on top of any late fee the insurance company might charge. You might also face higher insurance premiums in the future. If you continue to neglect your auto insurance bill and your insurance lapses, your state may revoke your driver’s license. If you are in an accident while your insurance has lapsed, you could face jail time.

If you fail to pay your health insurance bill, you typically have a 90-day grace period in which to do so. If you don’t make a payment or other arrangements within this time, you will most likely lose coverage retroactive to the last day you did pay. If you incurred medical bills during that time, any insurance benefits that lowered your out-of-pocket cost will be lost, and you will be liable for those costs, as well. Once again, failure to pay these bills will not result in incarceration.

Is There a Statute of Limitations on Debt?

There are statutes of limitations on the amount of time debt collectors have to sue you for failure to pay. State laws, the sort of debt you have and whether the state’s law is cited in your credit agreement all impact the length of these limits. Debt collectors have anywhere from three to 10 years to cash in on your missed payments, depending on the locale and the type of debt.


  • You cannot go to jail solely for failing to pay credit card bills, medical bills, student loans or insurance payments. If you do not pay your taxes or child support payments, however, you can face jail time.