Not being able to pay bills when they come due is unbelievably stressful to just about all of our clients. No one wants to hear the phone ringing, knowing that on the other line is a creditor who wants to be paid. Yes, yes, you know they want to be paid and you want to pay them. If only you had the money. . .
And the person on the other line is often not satisfied to hear that you are doing the best you can. They want to know what you can do for them. Now. And regularly as you move forward. They want you to authorize them to take money out of your bank account (and in most circumstances, that would be a mistake if you agreed). They want you to send them money by a deadline. And if they don’t get that money within that stated period of time, they are coming
But what does that mean, exactly? And can they send out the sheriff to take you away if you are unable to pay your bills?
The short answer is “NO”. The creditor cannot put you in jail because you cannot pay their bill. And this is the case, even if you have a civil court hearing scheduled in front of a local district judge or if you have a civil court hearing before the Court of Common Pleas. These are strictly hearings to determine whether you owe money, and how much you owe. You cannot go to jail as a result of these hearings.
What does happen as the result of these civil hearings? If you are scheduled for a hearing and you either lose or you don’t show up to contest the hearing, the creditor can obtain a judgment. A judgment is a document that shows that you owe the creditor money. But the creditor cannot obtain a judgment in most cases without going through this court process and having a hearing that you will be invited to attend.
Once the creditor receives the judgment, they can obtain money from you in several different ways. One of the ways is to attach your bank account. We see this all of the time. Another way, seen less often, is for the creditor to seize assets, such as a car or other goods. We most likely don’t see it that often because most of our clients do not have much equity in their cars.
In all of the cases above, you can halt these seizures by filing a bankruptcy petition.
One exception to the judgment rules above: let’s say you owe Bank XYZ money, and that is the same bank that you have your checking and or other bank accounts. Bank XYZ usually has an agreement, signed by you, that allows them to directly access any accounts you have with them to pay any of your delinquent bills that you owe to Bank XYZ. So be aware.
So no, you cannot go to jail just because you owe money. But the consequences are serious enough so that if you ignore them, you just may find your checks bouncing more thanFlubber (look it up).
If you have any concerns about this happening to you, call us. Now.
We have offices located in downtown Pittsburgh, Beaver, Belle Vernon, Butler County/Cranberry, Erie, Greensburg, Hermitage, Meadville, Monroeville, New Kensington and Washington.