Will a credit-card holder be imprisoned if he cannot pay his bills anymore?
A delinquent credit card holder, just like any ordinary debtor, is obliged to pay whatever amount he owes the credit card company as it falls due. Although the company cannot force him to pay, the former may opt to file a collection case in court. As this is civil in nature, in no way shall the card holder/debtor be imprisoned. If ever, he will just be required by the court, through its compulsory processes, to pay.
In the same vein, the credit card holder’s failure to pay alone, does not give rise to a criminal liability, which may cost his liberty. As enshrined in the Bills of Right of the 1987 Constitution, no one shall be imprisoned by reason of debt (Section 20, Article III, 1987 Constitution).
Nevertheless, the illegitimate use of a credit card is punishable under the law. Republic Act (RA) 8484 or the “Access Devices Regulation Act of 1998” prohibits the fraudulent use of an access device, such as a credit card. Section 9 thereof enumerates acts that constitute access device fraud:
“Section 9. Prohibited Acts. – xxx
(j) obtaining money or anything of value through the use of an access device, with intent to defraud or with intent to gain and fleeing thereafter; xxx”
It is presumed that a credit card holder used his credit card with intent to defraud, if he abandons or surreptitiously leaves the place of employment, business or residence stated in his application for credit card, without informing the credit-card company of the place where he could actually be found, if at the time of such abandonment or surreptitious leaving, the outstanding and unpaid balance is past due for at least ninety (90) days and is more than Ten thousand pesos (P10,000.00) (Section 14, Republic Act 8484).
Any person found guilty of committing any of the acts constituting access device fraud shall be punished with fine and/or imprisonment (Section 10, Ibid.).
Again, we find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated.
We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.
Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org