Forgetting to pay that toll fee, ignoring that one parking ticket you got during a trip out of town or blowing off a speeding ticket in another state could have some rather expensive and serious consequences. However, it's something that far too many people do on a regular basis. It's not unusual for someone to have unpaid traffic tickets from decades ago. The following illustrates just how those unpaid tickets could have an unexpected impact on your finances, ability to drive and even your freedom.
1. Potential Fees & Penalties
Additional fees and civil assessments are a common penalty for blowing off a traffic ticket. What started out as a relatively cheap fine can easily turn into a fine worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars due to late fees, collection fees and court costs. Many jurisdictions also tack on interest, meaning that the total amount of fees to be paid increases with each passing year.
Some jurisdictions may turn over the unpaid amount to a debt collection agency after a short period of time. This can easily result in a black mark on your credit report as well as a ding on your credit score. Others may attempt to sue you to recover the debt. Being a no-show to such a hearing could leave you stuck with a judgment on your credit report and wage garnishments attached to your bank account.
Another common penalty for failing to pay a traffic ticket is license suspension or revocation. Depending on the jurisdiction, you may end up with your driving privileges suspended or even taken away altogether within the state where the driving offense took place. Even if you're not a resident in the state where you got your traffic ticket, chances are that information about your suspension or revocation in one state will be shared with others, resulting in a reciprocal outcome in your home state.
2. Potential Arrest
Many traffic citations require you to show up at the issuing jurisdiction's court at the date and time stated on the ticket. Some jurisdictions also send notifications via mail with the same information. Miss that court date and chances are the judge will deem you in contempt of court and sign off on a bench warrant. Once this happens, your next dealings with law enforcement could result in an arrest due to the outstanding bench warrant.
Fortunately, most courts will issue a statement of default judgment shortly after the court date has passed and before a bench warrant is issued. This gives you a little time to contact the court, explain your situation and make a payment, including any additional fines for skipping your court date.
3. Constant Bother
Simply ignoring the ticket until it goes away usually isn't an option. There's no statute of limitations on traffic violations in most jurisdictions. In most cases, the ticket will remain outstanding until it's either paid off or explicitly dismissed by a judge. Also keep in mind that the jurisdiction in question can still issue warrants years after the offense was committed.
What to Do About Your Old, Unpaid Tickets
If you think you have unpaid traffic tickets from years past, you'll want to get in touch with the issuing jurisdiction. Make sure to verify the traffic ticket first and find out if there are any bench warrants associated with the ticket. Afterwards, you can follow the instructions given to resolve the issue. Many states offer an amnesty period for certain types of traffic tickets. These periods allow you to safely settle your debt, sometimes for only half the original amount of the ticket and its associated fees.
Don't forget that you can always turn to a law firm like Thomas & Associates, PC if you have any questions or concerns about paying off those old traffic tickets.