The High Cost of a Fresh Start: A State by State Analysis of Court Debt as a Bar to Record Clearing

A criminal record can make it hard to get a job, support a family, secure housing, vote, and ultimately pay off fines and fees. Despite efforts by states to provide a path to record clearing, monetary barriers including the cost to apply and the requirement to satisfy all outstanding debt, keep relief out of reach for many.  This report examines each state’s laws to determine the extent to which court debt is a barrier for record clearing. 

You can access the full report here

Key Findings: 

  • Outstanding court debt is a barrier to record clearing in almost every state; 6 states require that all associated court debt be paid in order to qualify, 7 states require that only court debt that is part of the sentence be paid, while 15 others require that some court debt must be paid to qualify. 
  • Louisiana  is the only state where court debt has no effect on access to record clearing. 
  • In some states, automatic record clearing laws have not completely removed monetary barriers. 
  • Other costs including application fees, costs of obtaining copies of required court documents, docketing fees, record-clearing fees to entities such as a police department or state agency, fingerprint processing fees, notary fees, and the cost of serving government agencies with petitions and orders can also serve as barriers to record clearing.  


  • Court debt should never be a barrier to record clearing.
  • Application related costs should never be a barrier to record clearing. 
  • Jurisdictions should collect and report data on monetary barriers to record clearing.
National Consumer Law Center and Collateral Consequences Resource Center