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What happens if a person is unable to pay a civil judgement in an unsecured debt case?

Boston, MA |

Is there any chance of having the case dismissed? I am college aged but I had to drop out when I couldn't afford to pay for it anymore. what steps would they try and take against me? i want to know what to be prepred for. in case it matters, i don't own a home, car, don't have any income coming in, what money i do have is in my savings account and according to Massachusetts state laws, it's exempt. i am mainly worried about my personal belongings and being arrested if I can't pay.

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Attorney answers 3


There is a difference between a judgment and the ability to pay a judgment. A judgment is a formal ruling by a court. For example, a court might rule that you owe a creditor a certain amount of money. However, if you are insolvent and have no assets that can be attached then the creditor will be unable to collect the judgment. However, you should know that a judgment is usually good for 20 years and a creditor may be able to collect it in the future. Also, a judgment may affect your ability to get credit.

The above answer is provided for information purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship.


Though I agree with my colleague, I would also say that getting arrested is not in the picture at this point. That would not happen because you cannot pay a judgement. It might happen if you are in contempt of court--that is, if the other side seeks a complaint for contempt and it is allowed by the judge. I would also add that the other side could try to garnish your wages through trustee process. If this happens to you, you should get a lawyer right away to help you with it.


As a very general rule, there is no longer "debtor's prisons" where you would be locked up for owing money (unless it involves as criminal act). You should be aware that a money judgment can continue to collect interest until fully paid off, so the longer it is allowed to linger, the more you will wind up owing. However, depending on how much you owe, you might want to consider consulting with a bankruptcy attorney to see what your options are.

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