Today the Wall Street Journal published a troubling article about people in debt getting arrested and jailed, just like in the olde days. Debtors' prisons were finally abolished in the U.S. in 1833, but just like pre-Prohibition cocktails and straight razor shaving, they're back in style! More than a third of all U.S. states allow borrowers who can't or won't pay to be jailed, and there are numerous examples of people getting arrested, including one woman who was collared at her mom's house because she missed a court hearing concerning the $1,159.87 in credit card debt she owed Capital One. Which got us thinking—could we be next?

We got in touch with Nasoan Sheftel-Gomes, a staff attorney at the Urban Justice Center. She reassured us that in New York State, you cannot be jailed for not paying a debt. But that doesn't stop debt collectors from threatening people with jail, regardless of the law. J. Brandon Black, the president of America's largest debt-buying firm, tells the Journal he stopped threatening borrowers with jail "because the practice made his company look bad." Sheftel-Gomes thought that was pretty rich:

One thing I find somewhat interesting is the statement made by Mr. Black, that the only reason they stopped threatening jail time is because it made them look bad. There's actually a federal law that makes it illegal to threaten jail time when there's no intention of arresting. It's under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which prohibits certain types of behavior in the collection of debts.

Mr. Black's company pays pennies on the dollar to acquire the debts and whatever they collect is all gravy. We actually had a case where a New York State where a resident who had a judgment against him and couldn't satisfy it received a letter threatening jail time. That's illegal, because in New York you cannot be jailed for not paying a debt. We are currently in negotiation to settle this.

Our clients always fear that they can be incarcerated and everyone sort of believes that there's a debtors' prison, and I spend a lot of time convincing my clients they don't have to worry about arrest.

So there you have it: max out your credit cards and go wild. Rent a very fast car with no top and get out of NYC for a few days. First class all the way. They can send you all the annoying letters in the world, they can refuse to rent you an apartment because your credit rating is in the gutter, and they can make humiliating phone calls to your family telling them you're a deadbeat. But they can't lock you up... just be careful not to cross state lines.