In jail for not paying debts???

Isobel - posted on 07/23/2010 ( 27 moms have responded )




By CHRIS SERRES and GLENN HOWATT , Star Tribune staff writers

Last update: June 9, 2010 - 7:58 AM

"As a sheriff's deputy dumped the contents of Joy Uhlmeyer's purse into a sealed bag, she begged to know why she had just been arrested while driving home to Richfield after an Easter visit with her elderly mother.

No one had an answer. Uhlmeyer spent a sleepless night in a frigid Anoka County holding cell, her hands tucked under her armpits for warmth. Then, handcuffed in a squad car, she was taken to downtown Minneapolis for booking. Finally, after 16 hours in limbo, jail officials fingerprinted Uhlmeyer and explained her offense -- missing a court hearing over an unpaid debt. "They have no right to do this to me," said the 57-year-old patient care advocate, her voice as soft as a whisper. "Not for a stupid credit card."

It's not a crime to owe money, and debtors' prisons were abolished in the United States in the 19th century. But people are routinely being thrown in jail for failing to pay debts. In Minnesota, which has some of the most creditor-friendly laws in the country, the use of arrest warrants against debtors has jumped 60 percent over the past four years, with 845 cases in 2009, a Star Tribune analysis of state court data has found.

Not every warrant results in an arrest, but in Minnesota many debtors spend up to 48 hours in cells with criminals. Consumer attorneys say such arrests are increasing in many states, including Arkansas, Arizona and Washington, driven by a bad economy, high consumer debt and a growing industry that buys bad debts and employs every means available to collect.

Whether a debtor is locked up depends largely on where the person lives, because enforcement is inconsistent from state to state, and even county to county.

In Illinois and southwest Indiana, some judges jail debtors for missing court-ordered debt payments. In extreme cases, people stay in jail until they raise a minimum payment. In January, a judge sentenced a Kenney, Ill., man "to indefinite incarceration" until he came up with $300 toward a lumber yard debt."

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Do you think that people who don't pay their debts belong in jail? If I lived in the States, I would be deep in hiding right now ;P


Isobel - posted on 07/25/2010




It's my understanding that the housing crisis was largely (not entirely) because of lenders tricking people into thinking that they COULD afford a mortgage that the in fact could not.

They used intentionally cloudy and convoluted language and made people who didn't understand full banking, accounting, and financial language (do you?) to allow people to buy houses they could not afford. They then reaped everything they could from that buyer, knowing full well that they would soon own the house again and sell it again, and the cycle continues. In fact, while the methods have changed, the basic scam has been running since the 1800s in America. (Upton Sinclair's The Jungle is a fascinating read about an immigrant family arriving in Chicago).

Our society today is disgusting when it comes to games that teach children to "play with credit", banks giving children "toy" credit cards when they visit, banks lined up on the first day of college to throw credit at the starry eyed ignorant absolutely makes me sick to my stomach. My ex was a big believer in credit, everything he had was maxed and we couldn't afford any of it, when I left, I cut up all my credit cards...and I don't know if I will ever get any again. If I do, it will be with eyes wide open this time.

Isobel - posted on 07/23/2010




It seems to me the American economy DEPENDS on people taking out loans that they cannot afford...only now, after this last near-collapse are they starting to realize that they shouldn't spend money they don't have...and the papers are still judging consumer confidence based on spending...perhaps the fact that they are not spending is a GOOD thing (for them, if not for the boutiques)

Charlie - posted on 07/23/2010




Well if banks weren't so happy to give money to people who clearly could not afford it there wouldn't be half the problem there is now with debts thankfully banks ( here at least ) have become much more strict on lending terms but previously it was far to easy for a person on government assistance as their only income to get a credit card and max it out .

[deleted account]

I am on the fence. On one hand, I think there there are much more important issues to spend our resources on, and more dangerous people to allot prison space to.
On the other hand, if someone incurs a debt, they need to be held accountable for paying it back. One of the reasons that the economy tanked is because millions of people took out tons of unsecured loans and are now refusing to pay them back.

Perhaps jail is not the answer, but I would be interested in hearing other ideas on how to hold delinquent borrowers accountable. Honestly, I do not have any good ideas at the moment.

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Lucy - posted on 07/26/2010




No, this is ridiculous.

The system that persuades people that they can afford loans, credit cards, a massive mortgage etc, and then gives it to them should be in the dock here, not the individual, who has actually not committed a crime.

Even now, with the world financial climate the way it is, it is still shockingly easy to get credit. My husband is offered loans for thousands from his bank, without even asking, all the time. There is no way we could afford the repayments, but it doesn't stop them offering.

I'm not saying that there should be no individual responsibility for our personal finances, but not everyone is equipped to fully weigh up those decisions and come up with the right answers. Interest rates, inflation, fixed rate, tracker or endowment, this stuff is complicated! Most of us don't have the know how to deal with the financial world safely.

My Dad (now passed away) was a hard core gambling addict, who never fully acknowledged his problem and it dominated his life. As a family we were homeless numerous times, often facing bailiffs at the door and had nothing to show for it. My parents finally split when I was 20 and Dad only got worse. He was made bankrupt twice and was always skipping between flats as he owed rent all over the place. But STILL I have spent the last 18 months since he died on the phone to companies, banks etc, to whom he owed money saying "are you serious? You knew his history and still gave this guy credit?! More fool you!" Throwing my Dad in jail would just have made life more difficult for us, there is no way it would have stopped him borrowing money he didn't have. The ONLY thing that could have stopped him is not having the money made available to him in the first place.

As a result of my family history, I insist that we avoid any kind of credit except for our mortgage. No loans, overdrafts, credit cards, higher purchase, NOTHING. I won't even borrow a fiver from a friend. If we don't have it, we don;t spend it.

Lea - posted on 07/26/2010




Although I think this is terrible and credit card companies are crooks... what do you think it means when you sign your name on those applications and those receipts? You are engaging in a legal contract. In essence, if you don't pay it back you are stealing. I think people should just have the sense not to buy things they can't afford and stay away from credit cards. You never know when a misfortune will befall you and cause you to have to default on debts... better not to have them in the first place if you can help it.

Christa - posted on 07/25/2010




Jail probably isn't the answer, but we do need something changed. It's close to impossible (in the US) to get a persons wages garnished for a debt (child support is different). They can take your car or home, but beyond that not so much. Repo is usually limited to installment loans or loans tied to specific purchases. Credit card debt, there's not much they can do besides ding your credit score. There are very strict rules as to what a collector is even allowed to say over the phone. Our laws have really swung too far in the direction of not harassing people for money. It needs to swing back the other way a bit, but I think jail is too far. People in the US know that if they can get a credit card and rack it up, other then a bad credit score there's not much else people can do to them, so people abuse it.

I'm getting tired of our government constantly stepping in to block businesses. It's about time for our government to allow people to feel the consequences of their own actions. We've been saving people from losing their homes and from having to pay increased interest rates all because it's the big bad banks fault. News flash, these people borrowed the money and said they could pay it back. THEY are responsible for it. It's not the banks fault that they were stupid or uneducated or anything else. In the mortgage area there were some shady things going on with the loans on the back end and the government had to step in as far as that was concerned because the consumer has no knowledge and no control over that stuff, but signing a loan for a house they should have known they couldn't afford, all the consumers fault.

Now there are times when unexpected emergencies come up and a person has to use the credit card, I get that. But I also know that CC companies are more then willing to set up a payment plan with you and will cut the interest rate etc, if you will work with them. They just want their money. But if you are not willing to call them back then something should happen to you. I don't know, maybe I've changed my mind, maybe jail would be appropriate in EXTREME cases where they are just dodging all responsibility. Because what ends up happening is those of us who have never even been late on a payment end up paying for others bad actions. Like this terrible credit card bill that was just passed so the big bad bank won’t take advantage of the “poor helpless consumer” who is avoiding giving them any money. As a result they will likely put annual fees and other fees on ALL cards so they can get back some of their money that way. So now people like myself will have to pay more just to use the credit card. It’s about time to responsible people were not required to make up for all the irresponsible people. Otherwise why be responsible at all?

[deleted account]

I'm going to say no. My friends are deep in debt. They've actually paid 'off' the debt a couple of times, but because of interest and late fees and such.... it's still not paid off. They are trying HARD, but just can't make it.

Though I do wish my ex was thrown in jail. He owes various companies a total of $50,000 and he owes over $12,000 in child support........

Katherine - posted on 07/25/2010




Good Lord NO!!! That's really pushing it. That poor woman and they didn't even tell her what her offense was. I hope she got some retribution.
Like everyone has said the jails are crowded enough. The police have better things to do!!!!
That's sickening, I'd be in jail.

Coley - posted on 07/25/2010




I've never had (or wanted) a credit card, and the only time I've had debt was when my ex was an asshole. The credit union set up a payment plan for a "fresh start" loan, and I had to have it paid off in 4 months. I was afraid of what would happen if I didn't pay it back in time. I ate nothing but ramen and free food for a while. Its a shame that people who are on hard times and just trying to feed and house their family gets the same treatment as a compulsive shopper who buys designer sunglasses and purses by the dozen. There's got to be a way to tell the difference. They should create more jobs by hiring people to assess each case and help set up payment options instead of throwing people in jail after paying people to harass them over the phone every single day. It costs money to put and hold people in jail, so it sounds like taking a step back... I like the repo idea better.

Rosie - posted on 07/25/2010




i know that i had to go through a court mediation for one credit card that i owed money too. we went, we agreed on a set payment amount, or else they would take me to court. it was also 2 years after the fact, which is the quickest anybody (i had like 5 cards that i went crazy with) respectfully tried to get their money back. i had tried to avoid them because every other creditor was a complete ASSHOLE that i talked to. they seriously demeaned me over the phone, calling me names, making me cry (which isn't very hard, but still), i didn't want to talk to these people because of the other creditors, so they took me to court for worked out well.

basically what i'm saying is that i agree with you all, just that when all other avenues fail there has to be some type of punishment that happens. if i hadn't obeyed the court ordered mediation then something should've happened to me.

i know we have repo men that come and take your car (i've never heard of them being used for any other thing) if you havn't paid on it. but i havn't heard of it happening to anybody with credit card debt.

Tara - posted on 07/25/2010




OMG, this is ridiculous, and the states has such crowded prisons as it is.

Tracey - posted on 07/25/2010




In the UK as long as you make a regular small payment, even $5 a month towards a debt the company should not take any action against you.
Did these people make any attempt to make payments or just ignore the situation and hope the debt would vanish into thin air?

Sarah - posted on 07/25/2010




I was going to say the same as Cathy.

My husband was badly in debt years ago, eventually, Bailiffs came round and we negotiated terms to pay back what he owed. While he was in our flat talking it all through, he was making a list of all the things we owned that would be taken if we failed to pay. (he paid it all back with no problems)

I think something like that is FAR a better solution than sending someone to jail over it. I think people SHOULD be held accountable for the debts they amass, but I don't think jail is the best way to do it.

Rosie - posted on 07/24/2010




i've heard that term cathy, but i don't know what they do so i can't answer that for you. i would think we would since i've heard it-i think i've heard it on judge judy, lol!!

Rosie - posted on 07/24/2010




i know it's different, and i am even guilty of having debt that i havn't paid back yet. :) but if the credit card company that i owe money too from my wild days when i was 19 would contact me, or try to take my wages they would get the money. but there are people out there who simply work under the table so these companies CAN'T get their money. there has to be some type of recourse for these people, they won't stop doing what they're doing if there is no punishment.

Rosie - posted on 07/24/2010




i feel that if they have been trying for YEARS unsuccessfully to gain their money back, and have done all other avenues like someone mentioned garnishing wages and such. but there has to be some sort of punishment for this if other avenues fail. i don't feel it's right.

this is a little different, but my ex owes me about $20,000 in child support. he hasn't worked for 10 years, and if he is there's no way to track it. sooooo, he just gets to get away with it without any type of punishment? they've taken his license once, and he's gone to court numerous times, oh yeah, one time they ordered him to take a class on how to get a job......worked out real well. anyhoo, it's simply ridiculous that people can owe others money and be court ordered and STILL not pay. definitely if all else fails with garnishing wages (cause those like my ex, don't have any wages on paper to garnish) can keep on doing this over and over and over. it's definitely criminal in my mind, you're basically stealing.

Jenny - posted on 07/23/2010




You're right Laura. There is not enough money in existance to pay off the debts owed. Defaults are counted on in the system, it can't exist without them.

Amie - posted on 07/23/2010




This is ridiculous. I don't think jail is the answer but as Becky said, garnish a persons wages, take their tax refund (if they get one), there are better ways of dealing with it.

If you are an honest person who has fallen on hard times, you will have called the creditor to work out a payment schedule that you can afford. They just want their money, even if it means $20 payments with renegotiation after a set amount of time.

Becky - posted on 07/23/2010




No. There are people who deliberately ignore and refuse to pay their debts, but there are also those who honestly fall on hard times after incurring the debt and can't pay, without sacrificing feeding their family or something. I don't think those people should be punished.
Can't a collection agency garnish your wages or something? I thought they had means of getting your money out of you whether you wanted to give it to them or not.

[deleted account]

That is a good point, Loureen, the banks are a little to blame as well, but I think that it is an individual's responsibility to know how much they can afford to borrow and pay back with interest, so I do blame the individuals who took out bigger loans than they could afford more than I blame the banks who lent to them.

Charlie - posted on 07/23/2010




No .

Jails are crowded enough trying to cope with real criminals such as murders , rapists , pedophiles ect , ect could you imagine how many people would be eligible for jail if this were the case !

Sharon - posted on 07/23/2010





Next you'll be entered into a life or death tv reality game to pay off your debts.

I have a crap load of unpaid debts. Incurred by a couple of assholes who thought identity theft was fun, incurred at a time (that still sort of exists) when having debts wiped out because of identity theft was impossible. I refuse to pay them.

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