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Introduction

Surviving Debt is available to all for free during the COVID-19 emergency. Navigate using the Table of Contents on the left sidebar to access the text. To purchase Surviving Debt (available in print or as an ebook) visit the NCLC bookstore.

An important and increasingly widespread category of consumer debt is fines, fees, surcharges, and other costs assessed by courts, state agencies, or even private parties as a result of a consumer’s law violation—everything from a traffic ticket to a fee for using a government-appointed lawyer to the premium on a commercial bail bond. Non-payment of these criminal justice debts can have serious consequences, and you should never ignore them, but instead understand your rights and deal with these debts in a careful and reasoned manner.

This chapter helps you identify your criminal justice debts, explains why such debts require immediate and careful attention, and then provides advice on dealing with these debts. The chapter explains your defenses to incarceration for non-payment, provides advice on how to keep your driver’s license when it was suspended for non-payment of criminal justice debt, and describes your ability to obtain a payment plan or otherwise reduce or delay payment. Finally the chapter sets out your rights in responding to a collection action—that a debt is too old, that state law protects your income or assets from seizure, and what a bankruptcy filing can and cannot do to deal with criminal justice debt. More than for most other debts, the advice of an attorney is recommended and the chapter has tips on finding an attorney.