You walked out of that work meeting, or after your coffee stop, or the morning after your night out with friends and saw the dreaded paper fluttering under your windshield wiper. Whether the paper is blue or green or white or pink where you live, seeing it causes a nearly universal sense of dread.
Ugh. A parking ticket.
Since parking tickets, unlike traffic tickets, don’t go on your record, it can be easy to ignore it. After all, what’s going to happen if you don’t pay one ticket? It’s not like they’ll send the cops after you…
Actually, what happens when you don’t pay a parking ticket varies based on where you were when you received the ticket. Different states, municipalities, and towns have their own laws. However, your consequences will usually fall into one or more of the categories below.
You Owe More Money
The first thing that usually happens when you don’t pay a parking ticket by the date indicated on the ticket itself is that you owe more money. Most places add to the cost of the ticket every 15 or 30 days. A ticket that was originally $50 can end up costing you $1000 or more if you don’t pay it on time. Sure, this might seem like a money grab by the government, but it’s perfectly legal. If you don’t pay now, you’ll pay more later.
Your Vehicle Gets the Boot
Once you owe more than a certain dollar amount in parking tickets or have been issued more than a certain number of them, your car can get booted. This means that authorities place a device on your wheel that keeps the car from moving. The device will remain locked in place until you pay off your tickets to have it released. It’s a way of holding your car — and your life — hostage for the money you owe.
You Can’t Register Your Car
In some places, parking fines that haven’t been paid for a certain amount of time or that reach a certain dollar amount get reported to the DMV. They can place a hold on your registration until you pay off the fines. This means that you won’t be able to update the tags on your car next year until you’ve paid all the parking tickets off.
You Have to Go to Court
Some locales will send you a court summons if you don’t pay your parking tickets within a reasonable length of time. This means that you won’t be able to resolve the issue without standing before a judge. Most of the time, the judge will simply tell you to pay the tickets then and there. However, they can charge you even more money or take the opportunity to publicly lecture you about leaving your tickets unpaid.
You Can Get Arrested
If you don’t go to court, or sometimes if you accumulate more than a certain dollar amount in fines, you can get a bench warrant issued in your name. This means that, if you are pulled over, get into an accident, or have any other interaction with a police officer where they look up your name or your license plates, they can arrest you. You will have to deal with the humiliation of being arrested in the middle of the street, and then you’ll have to pay the tickets you ignored.
Your License Gets Suspended
It might seem like overkill, but some states will suspend your driver’s license for too many unpaid parking tickets or when you owe more than a particular amount. If you want to keep driving, you will have to pay the tickets off. A few places will keep the suspension active for a year, even if you get the tickets taken care of. If you want to maintain your right to drive, make sure you pay your tickets.
Your Credit Score Tanks
Many places resort to collection agencies to try and get you to pay your tickets. They will report you after you don’t pay for 3, 6, or 12 months. After that, the collection agency will be on your back. They may call you, your friends, your loved ones, your coworkers, and anyone else connected with you, in order to harass you into paying the tickets.
At that point, though, the damage has already been done. As soon as the credit agencies get wind of your name attached to a debt that has been reported to collections, your credit score will tank. How far it drops depends on a number of factors, but it will end up significantly lower, even if you pay the collections agency right away. A lower credit score makes it harder to get loans and, if you do get them, you’ll pay more in interest over the life of the loan.
Protect yourself and avoid embarrassment by paying your parking tickets as soon as you get them. You can choose to fight them, too, if you think the rules were incorrectly enforced. The key is that you take care of the ticket instead of neglecting or ignoring it. Sure, it’s a pain, but it’s not nearly as painful to pay now as it is to suffer the consequences later.