IAAL - This OPINION is not legal advice. DO NOT RELY ON ANYTHING SAID HERE AS A STATEMENT OF YOUR RELEVANT LAW. This OPINION is in no way an offer or acceptance of legal representation. Consult a specialist attorney as soon as possible.
No, I don’t believe you can be arrested for not showing up to court, at least as a defendant in a civil court. The worst that will happen is a default judgment, which you will probably have to pay one way or another, unless you have a GOOD reason why you didn’t answer the summons.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Obviously, rules in different jurisdictions vary, but generally, if a complaint has not been filed, and it’s somewhere between 3 and 5 years, it’s too late to sue you (SEE AN ATTORNEY IN YOUR JURISDICTION!). Also, the plaintiff (the credit agency here) has a finite amount of time to serve you, or forfeit their case. Bets are, they have done what it takes, and there is a judgment against you, waiting to be exercised, thus garnishing your wages, attaching your bank account, etc. In any case, none of the above means a credit agency cannot Royally mess you up for this as far as your credit rating is concerned.
As far as filing for bankruptcy is concerned, I wouldn’t recommend thinking it’s a magical cure-all to make your debts go away. Placing yourself in bankruptcy (there are many kinds, etc. Once again, CONSULT A SPECIALIST ATTORNEY BEFORE TAKING ANY ACTION) is in many respects placing every financial decision you want to make in the hands of a court-appointed parent for the next several years. You think you got nothing now? Try living off half of nothing. Your creditors may have to accept a fraction of your debt to them, but every spare dime you have can be used to pay that fraction.
Your best bet? Contact an attorney. Often times, for a small fee they can negotiate a settlement between you and your creditors that you can live with with some financial counselling. And take it from me, ignoring a problem with the court (civil or criminal) rarely makes things better.
To Krispy Original -
When did this become the Striaght Dope Morals Board? When someone came to it asking to be advised how to avoid the consequences of his actions, consequences that I and others on this board will probably wind up paying in the end. I mean no undeserved disrespect to you, simple homer, but you had the choice to spend what you did, for what you did. I applaud your OP, in which you genuinely seem interested in doing the right thing. My response is in that spirit only.
But Krispy Original, your response is, well, not merely bad advice, it is counselling another to shirk a legally and properly incurred debt. That advice is irresponsible, and whether you find it moral or not, it could land homer in more trouble than he bargained for. The reason credit card interest rates are in the neighborhood of 20% is that that is the only way they can remain in business, given the high rate of credit card default. Every person who holds a credit card pays for your advice.
I note in this thread, you suggest that morals do not belong in General Questions. I disagree, to a very real extent. This question asked for the board’s advice. Our advice seems pretty collectively to be, “own up to your debt.” homer is free to accept this advice, ignore it, or choose which parts of it he will heed. But to merely lay out all the ways that a person can avoid debt, effectively passing said onto his fellow man without consequence is irresponsible. Were we as a group to treat such questions as if they existed without any moral context, we would be complicit in any of the consequences which would result from a person using that advice to the harm of another. I do not subscribe to your “give what they ask for or butt out” philosophy toward this board. I am certain that those who read these posts will judge for themselves how they feel on the issue.
That said, I know you are not an attorney (because if you were, you would have just opened yourself up to one whopper of a malpractice suit, and possible disbarment). I would hope that you have more consideration for your fellow man than to recommend that homer try to hand the bag to the next guy, but were just caught up in the moment, figuring it’s just the big, bad credit company that gets screwed. I can assure you that the credit company has absolutely every responsibility to its customers to pass that cost on to those same customers.