Do Unpaid Traffic Tickets Affect Your Credit?

When you think of things that hurt your credit rating, you tend to look at the big-ticket items. That credit card debt you racked up over a Vegas weekend, the time you didn't make your student loan payments for six months because you moved and didn't get the bills, or that one time you moved out in the middle of the night because you couldn't afford to pay your rent.

However, it's important to remember that the little things affect your credit rating just as surely as the big things do. So if you've ever asked, "do unpaid traffic tickets affect your credit?" the answer you're looking for is yes.

How Badly Can Unpaid Tickets Hurt?

It's tempting to think of unpaid tickets as no big deal. After all, a $20 fine here, or a $50 fine there aren't really that important. You'll take care of them when you take care of them. However, the story of Omar Al Chaar, which was published by Aljazeera America, might give some people pause the next time they put off paying a ticket.

The story is a pretty simple one. Omar lived in the D.C. area, and he had a regular Thursday basketball game with some friends. A particularly overzealous parking enforcement agent kept ticketing him every time his meter ran out, even if it had only been out for a minute. Instead of parking somewhere else, or taking a quick break to feed the meter a little earlier, Omar decided to stop paying the tickets. After all, what were they going to do to him over a few unpaid parking citations?

The answer was drop his credit score by a triple-digit amount.

When this whole thing got started, Omar had a credit score in the solid 700 range, which is just what you want in case you decide to buy a house or get a new car. When he went to make a major purchase that required a background and credit check, though, he found his score had dropped 105 points as a direct result of refusing to pay his parking tickets.

Traffic Tickets Are Just Like Any Other Debt

Debt makes up 30 percent of your credit score, and another 35 percent of it is made up of your payment history. So, if you have unpaid traffic tickets, they can put some big black marks in the two sections that make up more than half of your credit.

Of course, it isn't getting the tickets that causes a problem. It's not paying them.

Your credit report considers every aspect of your financial life, but it isn't particularly concerned with whether or not you remember to feed the meter, or get pulled over for speeding. Those tickets only affect your credit report when they've sat for too long, and they go to collections. At that point you've simply not paid, and that is where your negative marks come in. The longer you leave those tickets unpaid, the worse they'll drag down your credit rating.

The solution, of course, is to simply pay all your traffic tickets in a timely manner. Generally speaking it takes at least three months for a ticket to even show up on your credit report, so if you pay those tickets quickly they'll never make an impact. It's also important to get a receipt for your payment, and to check your credit score annually in order to be sure there are no unexpected entries. Traffic tickets can sometimes be left unpaid when you have a receipt that clearly says you covered the costs, and if you don't contend the collection and get the paperwork straightened out then it can have a truly negative affect on your numbers.

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