Last Updated: May 6, 2022

More information about debt and re-entry can be found in the Washington Re-Entry Guide.

What should I do when I am first released to manage my debt?

Once you are released, you may choose to obtain a copy of your credit report and contact all lenders to determine how much you owe.

You are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the four major reporting agencies, which you can order at is the only free credit reporting service, so be careful around other sites that claim to provide free reporting.

Which debts should I check on that may be outstanding?

If you do not have enough money to pay all of your debts, you may need to decide which ones to pay first. Consider the following different areas of debt and potential consequences of not paying that debt as you are making the decision:

  • Family Necessities (food, essential medical expenses, housing and essential utilities)
    • Failing to pay your housing bills, including rent, mortgage, real estate taxes and insurance may result in the loss of your home.
  • Legal Financial Obligations (“LFOs”)
    • Failing to pay your LFOs may result in a court order garnishing a portion of your paycheck or, if a court makes a determination that the failure to pay was willful, then the court may sentence you to jail time. .
  • Car Loans and Insurance (if you need a car to get to and from work)
    • A missed car loan payment can result in your car being taken.
    • If you are in an accident and do not have insurance, your license can be suspended.
  • Child Support
    • Failing to pay child support can result in jail time, a reduction of your tax refund, wages or government benefits and suspension of your driver’s license.
    • If you cannot afford the full amount of child support owed, you may arrange to make a partial payment and contact the Division of Child Support or a lawyer to see if the payment amount can be reduced.
  • Student Loans
    • Failing to pay back your federal student loans can result in your tax refund, wages or government benefits being reduced.
    • If you cannot afford to pay your student loans, contact a lawyer or the student borrower assistance website to see if you can get your loan payments reduced.
  • Income Tax
    • You must file a federal tax return even if you cannot afford to pay the amount due.
    • Contact a lawyer to determine if you can get your tax debt put on hold based on your income.
  • Hospital and Medical Bills
    • If you cannot pay your hospital bills because of your low income, ask the hospital if you are eligible to have Charity Care cover all or part of your bills.
  • Credit Cards
    • Pay your credit card bills only after you have paid all of your other bills.
    • A credit card company can file a lawsuit for nonpayment, but you will not be arrested for not paying your credit card bills.
    • Not paying your credit card bills will hurt your credit score, which can make it harder to get an apartment, job or loan.

What can I do if I do not owe the debt the collection agency is claiming?

If you do not agree with the debt a collection agency is claiming you owe, you must notify the collection agency in writing within 30 days of receiving their initial notice.

Are there any debts that I do not have to pay back?

A debt that you have not made a payment on in at least six years is a “stale debt.” Collection agencies can try to collect on the debt, but you have a legal defense when the debt is too old and you do not have to pay it.

What should I do if I get sued for not paying my debts?

If someone serves you with notice saying you are being sued for not paying you debts, you must answer within 20 days. Do not ignore the papers, even if you think you do not owe money to the person suing you. If you do not respond, the court will rule against you and give the other party a judgment for everything they are asking for. The Northwest Justice Project has an online tool to help you draft your answer.

What should I do if a creditor or collection agency gets a court judgment against me?

If there is a court judgment against you for a debt, move that debt to the top of your payment list. Also consider reaching out to the creditor or its attorney to set up a payment plan.

What can I do if a collection agency is harassing me?

Keep detailed records of all of your communications with collection agencies because you can sue a collection agency that has harassed or misled you. Examples of unlawful conduct include:

  • The collector calls at “unreasonable” hours (9 p.m.- 8 a.m. under federal law and 9 p.m.- 7:30 a.m. under state law);
  • The collector threatens illegal action, such as threatening to take money from your Social Security check or threatening arrest or jail time;
  • The collector communicates with you or someone in your household in a harassing, intimidating, threatening or embarrassing way;
  • The collector calls you or your spouse more than three times/week;
  • The collector send notices that intentionally look like government documents or emergency messages.

Where can I get free legal help?

Coordinated Legal Education, Advice and Referral (CLEAR) is a centralized intake, advice and referral service for low-income people seeking free legal assistance. Contact CLEAR at 1-888-201-1014 or online.

How can I repair my credit?

Fiscal Tiger’sHow to Repair Your Credit After Getting Released From Prison guideis a three part guide meant to help individuals understand how their incarceration might have in-directly damaged their credit score, as well as how to begin to improve their credit score.

Statewide Financial Education Resources

Financial Beginnings Washington

530 Industry Drive Suite 240 Tukwila, WA 98188

Provides free, unbiased financial education to youth and adults in the Pacific Northwest to help them build and protect assets while increasing opportunities available to them, such as home ownership, higher education, and secure retirement

Additional info: Last year Pierce County comprised 32% (4,373 individuals) of the total Washingtonians we educated, and this year we are on track to reach over 6,000 individuals in Pierce County.

Clearpoint Credit Counseling


National, nonprofit agency offering free credit counseling, budgeting help, bankruptcy counseling, and housing counseling.

Kitsap County Financial Education Resources

Business Education Support Training (BE$T)

Kitsap Community Resources

Works with entrepreneurs who are ready to start a new business or improve an existing one. Open to all who are interested (regardless of employment or income levels). Class schedule on website.

Financial Education

The Asset Building Coalition of Kitsap County
845 8th Street, Bremerton, WA 98337

Free financial workshops, credit reports, credit counseling assistance, home ownership education, tax preparation assistance, and referrals to financial support programs.

Pierce County Financial Education Resources

Sound Outreach’s Financial Empowerment Program

Multiple Locations

Provides services to put consumers in charge of their money utilizing Financial Counselors to teach consumers how to build wealth and use credit wisely, embedded in organizations throughout Pierce County. Partners with a credit union to provide credit-building loan products to consumers with lower income or poor credit and those who are unbanked.

Pierce County Asset Building Coalition (PCABC)


Services provided include financial education and coaching, free tax preparation, home owner resources, employment/job training. Associated Ministries partners with the IRS and other agencies to recruit, train and schedule volunteers to complete taxes for people making under, for 2017 income, $56,000 a year or less (at no cost).

Please check out the available Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites (e.g. GoodWill, United Way of Pierce County, Sound Outreach, Pierce County Library System locations, etc.)

Skagit County Financial Education Resources

Sedro-Woolley American Legion George Baldridge Post 43

701 Murdock St, Sedro-Woolley

Provides financial assistance to veterans

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