An Overdue Book Can Ruin Your Credit Score. Really…

As cities work to scrape up every little bit of revenue, they’re now going after library fines and overdue parking tickets.

How are they going after this money? With collection agencies.

Is it working? The Wall Street Journal says yes:

A handful of cities, including San Diego and Chicago, have worked with collection agencies since the late 1990s. But the trend is spreading rapidly around the country as strapped local governments look for creative ways to boost revenue without raising taxes and fees. Over the past few years, local governments in places including Seattle; Anchorage, Alaska; Austin, Texas; and Florida’s Miami-Dade County have contracted with private agencies to collect late parking tickets and court fees. In New York City, Baltimore and Dallas, libraries use private collection firms to recover fines. New York state recently hired a collection company to pursue overdue E-ZPass toll bills.

While shaking down citizens over small debts might sound petty, hundreds of cities around the country are owed millions of dollars in unpaid fines. Since 1997, when Chicago began using a collection agency to track down unpaid parking fines, ticket revenue has more than doubled, rising from $68 million to $154 million last year. (The total number of parking tickets issued has dropped slightly over the period.) Since the Omaha, Neb., public-library system hired a private collection company in March, it has collected more than $40,000 in fines and recovered about $75,000 worth of overdue books and materials.

Yep, they’re bringing in the big boys in order to collect on millions of dollars of small fines that many of you have ignored… until now. If you decide to ignore a collection agency, that $20 library fine could show up as a collection account on your credit report.

How will will single collection account for a stupid small overdue fine affect your credit score? It could lower it by as much as 100 points. Ouch! That’s gonna hurt.

It appears that Equifax is the sole credit bureau that feels this may be a bit of overkill. Also from the Wall Street Journal:

Equifax Inc., the third credit bureau, makes an effort to weed out small charges like library books and parking violations from credit files. The company says it is not fair to include them in credit reports since municipal fines are reported unevenly around the country.

Well, that won’t help too much because you never know which bureau a potential creditor will use to look at your credit.

So what should you do?

  • Pay your fines, no matter how small
    Your city could start using a collection agency at any time. Your fines – even years old – could then be sent to collections.
  • Call and negotiate
    If you do get a collection notice, call and negotiate with the agency. Make sure they agree that if you pay the fine they will remove the collection from your credit file.
  • Review your credit
    Make sure you review your credit report from all three bureaus months before you apply for a car or home loan. You want to have time to resolve issues like this before applying.

Author: Dave Nielsen

I started using computers in 1978 on the Apple II and was first online (using my “high-speed” 1200 baud modem) in 1989. I’ve managed web sites for several Fortune 500 companies and for internet start-ups. Working for one of those start-ups is what brought me into the world of credit. I was part of the the executive team that ran QSpace, the first company to offer credit reports over the internet.

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10 Comments

  1. Hi,
    Now i have read your post & i do agree with this post because to maintain or to improve the credit score we need to pay all of our dues.
    But sometimes we think that some small credit if we will not pay then it will not affect our credit score but finally we found that it will hamper our credit score.
    By the way i do agree with all the last 3 points which are mentioned above.
    I have shared all of my financial view in this below blog. Please have a look…
    http://financeideas4u.blogspot.com

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