The only thing worse than getting a traffic ticket is that dreaded call from a debt collection agency. Often you know the reason they're calling, but that doesn't make it any easier. But when that call is about something you didn't even realize went to collections, it can be an unpleasant surprise — like an old unpaid traffic ticket. You may worry that when you don't pay a ticket, it can eventually revisit you on your driving record, but it can also affect your credit.
Going to Collections
In recent years, government agencies have increasingly turned to debt collectors to handle unpaid parking tickets. In doing so, they're able to bring in money that can help offset their own debts. In some instances, consumers will find they owe as much as 40 percent in fees in addition to the cost of the ticket and any fines attached to it.
There's good news for those drivers, though. As of 2016, the three major credit reporting agencies will no longer lower a person's credit score over unpaid parking tickets that have been sent to collections. This includes towing charges, vehicle storage fees, parking and traffic tickets, fines and toll road fees. It also includes tickets issued based on photos snapped by cameras at stop lights.
Handling Calls From Collectors
Even if it doesn't lower your credit score, having unpaid traffic tickets can cause you to have issues with law enforcement. With any collections call, experts recommend that you verify the legitimacy of the caller by getting the business name and address. Your county court clerk's office should be able to tell confirm whether the caller is legitimate in this case. You can also ask for a written validation notice to go with your payment remittance, rather than giving out your information by phone. As with other collections situations, you can try to negotiate for a lower amount, but you might find that the agency is bound by the instructions of the creditor that hired it.
Pay Through the Court
In some jurisdictions, you can go through the court system to pay your fine even after it has gone to a collection agency. In Hawaii and Miami, for instance, the county court websites direct you to their respective collection agencies through a link, allowing you to validate that your payment and personal information is going to the right source.
When traffic tickets are turned over to collections, you won't have to worry about damage to your credit. But that doesn't let you off the hook for paying off the overdue fines, since that could eventually lead to issues on the legal side of things. Check with your local court to verify that the call from the collections agency is legitimate before giving out payment information over the phone.
- CNN: The Secret World of Government Debt Collection
- TheNewspaper.com: Credit Agencies Order Cities to Stop Reporting Unpaid Tickets
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: How Can I Verify Whether or Not a Debt Collector Is Legitimate?
- Hawai’I State Judiciary: Resolving Cases Submitted to the Collection Agency
- Clerk of the Courts Miami-Dade County, Florida: Collections Agencies