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Payment Plans As A Compliance Tool: Best Practices For Florida Courts

This brief describes the various ways in which payment plans are administered inconsistently across Florida’s counties. The author argues that these conflicting procedures breed confusion among people who have court debt, especially those who owe money to courts in different jurisdictions. In addition to discussing how state laws implemented and steered the evolution of payment plans, the text highlights one Florida county that improved its payment plan compliance and provides recommendations to achieve uniform compliance in Florida.

You can read the full text of the brief here.

Highlights
  • There is no standardized process for establishing a payment plan nor a standard payment plan formula, meaning each of the 65 counties that grant payment plans follow unique or different procedures
  • Hamilton and Lafayette counties do not offer payment plans.
  • None of Florida’s counties adhere to the 2% [of a person’s average monthly income] standard for ability to pay.
  • In Bradford County, the down payment required to set up a payment plan is one-third of the total amount owed plus the $25 administrative fee.
  • Palm Beach County increased compliance with payment plans by implementing various internal practices for misdemeanor and traffic cases: providing payment plan information upon case disposition, instituting “Compliance Officers” who refer people to set up payment plans, eliminating the requirement of a down payment to enroll in an installment plan, and following up with clients.
Recommendations
  • Grant payment plans immediately following the disposition of misdemeanor and traffic cases for anyone who wants to pay in installments.
  • A person’s payment plan should be tailored to their ability to pay. The 2% rule should be standardized and implemented across all jurisdictions. For people whose monthly income is less than $500, a minimum monthly payment of $10 could be used but converting their debt to community service may be more fitting.
  • Online and phone payment options as well as satellite payment locations should be available.
  • Require regular reminders for payments via text or email and allow a 10-day grace period for late payments.
  • The courts should allow a community service program that is credited at a living wage as a means to satisfy court debt. Community service programming should be broadly interpreted to include activities such as school classes and drug addiction support group meetings.
  • Eliminate the payment plan service charge or reduce it to a one-time $5 fee.
  • Ensure payment plans are allowed for people who previously defaulted or were non-compliant.
  • Create a centralized, state-managed database of all criminal and traffic court fines, fees, and restitution.
  • Stop suspending driver’s licenses for court debt and non-compliance of payment plans.
Ashley Thomas
Fines and Fees Justice Center
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