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What Happens If You Don’t Pay A Ticket?

Last updated 12/19/2022 by

Benjamin Locke

Edited by

Fact checked by

If you don’t pay a traffic ticket, you could be subjected to a variety of penalties over time. These can range from higher fees and worse credit to a warrant for your arrest and even possible jail time. There are also several ways you can try to avoid paying the ticket fine or getting the fees and penalties reduced for traffic violations.
Whether it’s a speeding ticket, parking ticket, or another violation, nobody likes getting a traffic ticket. And while some traffic ticket fines are relatively small, others can cost a few hundred dollars. So what happens if you just didn’t pay the fine?
Keep reading to learn what an unpaid traffic ticket could lead to and what you can do to satisfy the ticket requirements without paying a fine.

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What happens to you if you don’t pay a traffic ticket?

It’s important to note here that under U.S. Federal Law, all states behave differently when it comes to unpaid traffic citations, such as speeding and reckless driving. Each state will have a different delinquency timeline, fines, and punishments.
Below are some of the common punishments for not paying a traffic ticket, although the specific terms might differ from state to state.
IMPORTANT! Though we won’t discuss this part in detail, keep in mind that an unpaid traffic ticket will likely lead to higher insurance premiums as well.

Higher fines and debt

When you receive a traffic ticket or traffic violation, you will, in most cases, be awarded a window of time in which to either pay the traffic ticket fines or enter a plea.
The state of California, for instance, gives 90 days to enter a plea or pay the ticket without extra penalty. If the ticket still has not been addressed after 90 days, the court will tack on a “civil assessment” on top of what you already owe. This can, in most cases, fall in the region of $300.

Collections can affect your credit

Traffic tickets that continue to sit there can be sent to collections, which will, in turn, affect your credit. You’ll then have the original ticket fine, extra late fees, and bad credit if you just let the ticket sit there.
Need to pay for a ticket but don’t have the cash? A bit of debt is certainly better than a suspended license or bad credit, so you might want to consider taking a personal loan out. Below are some options.

SuperMoney may receive compensation from some or all of the companies featured, and the order of results are influenced by advertising bids, with exception for mortgage and home lending related products. Learn more

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Suspended license

A failure to pay a ticket or show up in court can result in a suspension of your driver’s license, depending on the state. A license suspension for speeding tickets or unpaid tickets can be much worse than just paying a fine.

Charged with a misdemeanor

So if you don’t care about excessive fees, bad credit, and a possible suspended driver’s license, maybe you care about your criminal record. If you don’t pay for your traffic tickets, you’ll be required to appear in court.
If you fail to appear, the court will charge you with a failure to appear (FTA) violation, a misdemeanor. You could also be charged further fines and infractions for failing to appear.

Arrest and jail time

In the most extreme circumstances, you could be facing arrest and possible jail time. This is if you ignore all the mailers and fines, don’t show up to court, or are uncontactable. A bench warrant will be issued for your arrest, and if you’re pulled over, the cops are legally obliged to arrest you, even if it’s just for an unpaid traffic ticket.
Depending on where you are, if you’re arrested and still don’t pay, you could receive jail time. Utah, for instance, classifies some traffic tickets as Class C misdemeanors, which, left unattended to, can land you up to 90 days in jail. Not only does this go on your criminal record, but insurance companies may view you as a high-risk driver after jail time.

Pro Tip

As the justice system can take ages to process things, an arrest warrant can be issued for your case years afterward. If you had a traffic ticket you ignored five years ago, don’t be surprised if you are pulled over and come to the realization that there is a warrant out for your arrest.

Options to avoid paying a traffic ticket

Not everyone has the disposable cash needed to pay for a ticket, and the justice system understands that. Rather than pay a fine, drivers with unpaid tickets have a few alternatives available to them.

Traffic school

Some states, such as Illinois, will allow you to enroll in traffic school as opposed to paying the full cost of the ticket. In this case, the judge will allow you to be one of the many traffic school participants and complete a defensive driving course or traffic school course in lieu of the ticket fine.
The traffic course will be lower than the ticket fine and can also help save you money on insurance premiums and help protect your driver points.

Fine reduction, payment plans, and alternatives

If you do address your ticket, go to the appearances, and still can’t pay, don’t worry, there are options. Depending on the jurisdiction, you might be able to reduce the fine, get a payment plan, and even do community service to replace ticket payments.

Fight it in traffic court

Of course, you can choose to fight the traffic ticket in court yourself. However, you can choose to represent yourself or hire a lawyer, which costs money. Secondly, you’ll be at the whim of legal bureaucracy, and it could take a while to process and get a court date.
Unless you have some strange conviction about needing to win the case and feel you are 100% correct, this should be a last resort.


What happens if you don’t pay for a ticket in another state?

There are still repercussions if you don’t pay a ticket in a different state. If the DMV in your state of residency gets wind of an unpaid ticket on your driving record, you could get have your license suspended in your home state until you handle the out-of-state ticket.

If I pay for my traffic ticket, do I still have to go to court?

No. Paying the whole fine means you effectively plead guilty with no contest to the traffic ticket, and you won’t have to go to court.

Can I pay traffic ticket online?

Yes, but you will need to check if the county you live in has that option (most do).

Can I pay for a traffic ticket with a credit card?

Yes, most places allow a traffic ticket or a parking ticket to be paid using a credit card or debit card.

Key Takeaways

  • If you don’t pay a traffic ticket, you could be subjected to a variety of penalties over time.
  • The penalties can get progressively worse, from higher fines to possible jail time.
  • Each state has different rules and regulations as it pertains to unpaid tickets.
  • There are some ways you can avoid paying a traffic ticket, such as enrolling in traffic school or seeing if you can replace it with community service.

SuperMoney may receive compensation from some or all of the companies featured, and the order of results are influenced by advertising bids, with exception for mortgage and home lending related products. Learn more

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