Almost always the answer is NO. You cannot go to jail for not paying credit cards, medical bills, personal loans, taxes, student loans, and pretty much any other unsecured or secured debt. You can eventually go to jail for intentionally not filing your tax returns or lying on your tax returns - but you aren't going to go to jail for having past due taxes except in exceedingly rare cases where you owe the IRS a lot of money and the IRS believes you had the means to pay the taxes and just didn't.

You can go to jail for not paying child support or spousal support or alimony - although that's usually the very last resort of the Court. You can go to jail for not paying court costs and fines in a criminal case as well. Before a Court can jail you for not paying support or court costs/fines you can raise the defense that you really don't have the money because you are unemployed or your income is very low.

You can also go to jail for failing to respond to a Court order that is requiring you to respond. We see this most often in cases where a person has been ordered by the Court to answer interrogatories (just the legal word for "questions"), or appear for a deposition (just the legal word for "interview"), or provide documentation to an opposing party. This kind of Court order doesn't happen right away - you will have received some kind of motion requesting a bench warrant or that you be found in contempt of Court first. Usually these motions are called "Motions to Compel" or "Motion for Sanctions" or "Motion for Contempt" but they may have other names. If you get anything in the mail and you are not sure what it is, you should speak with an attorney (be sure you have the paper with you when you call so you can email or text it to the lawyer. It's hard to give advice about a document we can't see). These types of warrants can cause problems for people because often they get notice of them, but they don't understand what the paperwork means and they ignore it. DO NOT ignore it. If you aren't sure if there is a bench warrant out for your arrest, you can call the Sheriff's department and ask them. It's better to find out than to get pulled over for speeding one night and end up going to jail until you can get in front of a judge to post bail or ask for more time to comply.

Note that in these types of cases, you aren't being charged with a crime, but "civil contempt". What this means is that you hold the key to your own release - if you provide the answers to the interrogatories, or agree to go to the deposition, or pay the past due child support etc, you can get released. A bankruptcy will STOP motions for sanctions etc. BUT you need to let your bankruptcy lawyer know about the motion or at least the lawsuit because if the creditor doesn't get notice your bankruptcy, you could still end up in jail.

Beware of Scammers! If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS or a creditor or a collection agency and they tell you the police are coming "right now" or they are going to send the police to your house to arrest you, it's a scam. If a creditor threatens to have your charged with a crime it's a scam. If you have filed bankruptcy and a creditor tells you that your debt to them was not discharged, unless it is one of the kinds of debts that are not dischargeable (i.e., student loans, some taxes, court costs and fines (including tolls) are the most common debts that are not dischargeable) it is scam. You should always reach out to your bankruptcy lawyer before paying any creditor money on a debt you think was discharged.


1701 West Market Street
York, PA 17404
Hours:  M-F 9:00 am to 4:30 pm
Phone: 717-304-1841
Text: 717-304-1841  

The Fine Print

This is a law firm after all: This web site is for informational purposes only and does not create an attorney/client relationship. The law changes often, so please be sure to contact us for questions about your specific situation. You should NOT be making decisions about your financial life based only on the information on this web site or any web site. Seriously - don't do it. The law is complicated and is always in flux. This site is intended only for people who have legal matters in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania has adopted the Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions, but not all states have done so. Be sure to contact a licensed attorney in your state, to learn about your state's bankruptcy procedure.

We are a DEBT RELIEF AGENCY under the United States Bankruptcy Code.

Dawn Cutaia, Esquire has been a licensed attorney in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania since 1996, currently limiting her practice to bankruptcy, foreclosure and civil defense, and pardons.  Suzanne Smith, has been an attorney licensed in the Commonwealth of Pennslyvania since 1992, currently limiting her practice to criminal defense, pardons/expungements, and bankruptcy.  Dawn Cutaia is the sole member of Fresh Start Law, PLLC, a professional limited liability corporation in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.