What options do I have to reduce or forgive my court-ordered debt? (2023)

It depends on the type of court-ordered debt.


As we have stated, restitution is mandatory and stays with you for life. However, a judge may order you to do community service instead of paying restitution if he or she finds “compelling and extraordinary reasons” for doing so. Again, your inability to pay is not a compelling or extraordinary reason.[2307]


It is often possible to get your fines and fees reduced or forgiven (“vacated”) by the court. However, it depends heavily on what county your debt is from, and which judge is considering your case.

In general, judges are more likely to reduce or waive fines and fees if you can show that:

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    You’re making an effort to pay your debts (for example, you’re paying restitution, even though you can’t afford to pay the other fines and fees);
    You’re taking steps toward rehabilitation (for example, you’re in drug treatment or anger management counseling; you’re enrolled in school; you’ve reunited with your family); and
    You’re following all other conditions of your supervision.

Here are some ways that you may be able to reduce, forgive, or otherwise satisfy your fines and fees:

    Some courts may allow you to do community service instead of paying your fines and fees.[2308] However, there is a lot of variation from county to county, and many counties may not offer community service at all. If the judge did not give you the option of community service at sentencing, you should contact the court or local public defender to ask if the county runs a community service program.
    The court may allow you to voluntarily choose to do jail time instead of paying your court-ordered fines. You can get your debt reduced by $30/day spent in custody.[2309]
    You can go to the court directly and ask the judge to forgive (“vacate” or “dismiss”) or reduce your debts.
    If you get your conviction dismissed, the court can forgive any remaining fines and fees you owe, including restitution fines[2310] (but the court CANNOT forgive your victim restitution).[2311]



    If you owe payments on more than one case, make sure you specify which case AND which fine or fee within that case your payment is for—otherwise the payments may automatically go to your oldest case first. [2313] Remember, you want to pay off the debts that are conditions of probation, BEFORE paying off any other debts. Try to make small, consistent payments to the court. This shows that you are aware of your debts and are doing your best to pay them off. It may also keep the court from sending your case to collections.If you sign up for a payment plan, make sure to ask about the interest rate, any additional fees, and penalties for missed payments. Collection agencies often add extra fees and interest, which could increase the total amount you have to pay.Keep a list of all payments you make, including the date and time, and who you gave the payment to (the court, county collection agency, FTB, or private collection agency). When you make a payment, always ask for a receipt for the current payment and a print-out of the amount you still owe.


Even if you do not have a car and/or you do not drive frequently, traffic fines and fees can have a significant impact on your parole or probation conditions and/or ability to find employment. Because of their impact, it can help to find out if you have any tickets and if you owe any fees and look for options to have them reduced or canceled. A few of those options are discussed below.


> If you had pending (unresolved) traffic tickets and fines when you were incarcerated, you may qualify to have the fines cancelled under Vehicle Code Section 41500. See PG.670 to learn more.

> If unpaid traffic fines caused you to lose your driver’s license, a new law passed in June 2017 may help. As of the passage of AB 103 on June 27, 2017, your driver license can no longer be suspended for unpaid fines. However, it can still be suspended for a failure to appear in court. Additionally, a court can no longer report a failure to pay fines and/or bail to the DMV, no matter the reason(s)! Before June 27, 2017, the DMV would suspend licenses upon receiving these reports from courts, but under the new law, this practice should have ended statewide!

If your license was suspended BEFORE June 27, 2017 due to failure to pay, you may still be able to have your traffic debt forgiven and have your license reinstated if…

    You are serving a state prison sentence or a Realignment sentence in county jail, AND your ticket was “pending” when you were incarcerated. You will have to proactively request dismissal from the DMV under Vehicle Code 41500. If you are sending it while currently incarcerated, it will need to be on CDCR letterhead and be signed by an Authorized Representative. Your request should be sent to: Department of Motor Vehicles, Division of Drivers Safety and Licensing, P.O. Box 9412890, Sacramento, CA 94290.
    Your license was suspended for a Failure-to-Pay, Failure-to-Appear or other failure-to-comply that is more than 5 years old. You can call the DMV Mandatory Actions line at (916) 657-6525 to see if your license qualifies.
    Your local county court has a process for waiving fees. For information on local court practices, the legal nonprofit EBCLC has created the following website where you can search for more information by county: http://ebclc.org/reentry-legal-services/.
  1. 2307

    Cal. Penal Code §1202.4(n); cf. 1202.4(c), (g).

    (Video) Two Options To Reduce Debt

  2. 2308

    Marcus Nieto, Cal. Research Bureau, Who Pays for Penalty Assessment Programs in California? 19-26 (Feb. 2006), http://www.library.ca.gov/crb/06/03/06-003.pdf (judges can impose community service in place of fines and fees); Brennan Center, Criminal Justice Debt: A Barrier to Reentry at 42 n.75 (describing county-level variations); Interview with Buffy Hutchinson, Criminal Defense Attorney, San Francisco, Dec. 18, 2014.

  3. 2309

    Cal. Penal Code §§1205(a), (b), 2900.5; People v. McGarry, 96 Cal. App. 4th 644, 652 (2002); see also Brennan Center for Justice, Criminal Justice Debt: A Barrier to Reentry at 50 n.138, n.142 (2010), http://brennan.3cdn.net/c610802495d901dac3_76m6vqhpy.pdf.

  4. 2310

    Cal. Penal Code §§1203.4, 1203.4a; People v. Holman, 214 Cal. App. 4th 1438 (2013); People v. Guillen, 218 Cal. App. 4th 975 (2013).

  5. 2311

    Cal. Const., art. I, §28(b)(13) (Marsy’s Law); Cal. Penal Code §§1203.4, 1203.4a.

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  6. 2312

    Interview with Michele Vela-Payne, Supervising Probation Officer, Sacramento Cnty. Prob. Dep’t, Nov. 5, 2014.

  7. 2313

    Cal. Penal Code §1203.1d (allocation of partial payments). The older case may not be the most important one to pay off; for example, if you owe administrative fees on the older case, but you owe restitution or other fines that are conditions of probation on a newer case, making payments on the newer case is more important.

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Does restitution affect your credit? ›

If you have been making your payments regularly and on time, restitution and other court-ordered debt shouldn't show up on your credit report. However, once you begin missing payments, the court can sell your debt to a collection agency that will likely report the debt to the credit bureau.

What are examples of court-ordered debt? ›

Common court-ordered debts include unpaid traffic tickets, victim compensation, probation, and other court fees.

Can you go to jail for not paying court fines in Alabama? ›

(2) In no case shall an indigent defendant be incarcerated for inability to pay a fine or court costs or restitution.

What if I complete probation but still owe restitution in Texas? ›

What If I Complete Probation But Still Owe Restitution? People who owe restitution after probation face a civil judgment. If your probation ends and you still owe restitution the debt does not go away.

How much will my credit score go up when a Judgement is removed? ›

Will my credit score go up after County Court Judgement removal? Your credit score should increase considerably once your CCJ is removed from your credit record. However, it is hard to be specific as credit scores are always dependent on a number of factors. On average, our clients' scores increase by 200 points.

What are the four types of restitution? ›

There are three different types of restitution: restitution fines, parole revocation fines, and direct orders. The court can order all three types of restitution in the same case.

Can you pay a court order in installments? ›

The court can order that the money is paid straight away (forthwith), or it can delay the date of payment. It can order the defendant to pay a set amount every month. [1] This is called an instalment order.

How do you get out of debt review with a court order? ›

ii. The only way to end or exit the debt review is in terms of section 71 through the issuance of a clearance certificate by a debt counsellor once the all the substantive and procedural statutory requirements have been met.

Does a court order go on your credit file? ›

You might have a county court judgment (CCJ) against you if you owe someone money and a court ruled that you have to pay it back. Your credit rating could be affected if you have a CCJ against you.

What happens if you can't pay court fines? ›

Courts have a lot of powers to collect money owed. And in the most extreme cases, you might go to prison for non-payment. If you can't afford your payments because of coronavirus, phone or write to the fines officer at the court and ask them if any help is available. They can help you.

How long do you go to jail for unpaid fines in Alabama? ›

In those cases, nonpayment incarceration cannot exceed 1 day per $15 of the fine (or 1 year in total for felony fines).

What is the restitution law in Alabama? ›

Alabama Code § 15-18-67 provides that when a defendant is convicted of a crime which resulted in pecuniary damages or loss to a victim, the court is obligated to have a hearing to determine the amount or type of restitution which the defendant must pay to the victim.

Can you bond out on a probation violation in Texas? ›

Can you get out on bond before your hearing on a probation violation? The judge who ordered you to be arrested can also set a bond amount so that you can be released from jail pending your hearing on the motion to revoke.

Can probation be reduced in Texas? ›

If you have satisfied all the conditions of your court-ordered probation in Texas, a judge may grant early termination of your probation. In order to see if you qualify for early probation, you must speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney to get the best possible outcome.

What happens if you don't pay restitution in Texas? ›

Any adult defendant who is financially unable to pay restitution may be ordered by the court to complete community service instead.

What credit score is good to buy a house? ›

It's recommended you have a credit score of 620 or higher when you apply for a conventional loan. If your score is below 620, lenders either won't be able to approve your loan or may be required to offer you a higher interest rate, which can result in higher monthly payments.

How do I satisfy a Judgement on my credit report? ›

The Satisfaction of Judgment form should be signed by the judgment creditor when the judgment is paid, and then filed with the court clerk. Don't forget to do this; otherwise, you may have to track down the other party later. It's easy to get a copy of a Satisfaction of Judgment form.

Will paying a Judgement improve my credit? ›

Judgments Don't Affect Your Credit Score, But Can Impact Your Application. Since judgments are not included in credit reports, they won't be factored into credit score calculations.

What is a drawback of restitution? ›

Critics have argued that restitution programs are not punitive, do not deter, and promote undesired victim-offender contact; while advocates counter that some punishment and deterrence is accomplished, that restitution is rehabilitative, and that victim-offender contact need not occur.

What is an example of unjust enrichment? ›

The great example of unjust enrichment is a painter who paints someone's house. The painter may go out and paint the defendant's house, thereby conferring a benefit on the defendant in the form of a new paint job.

How do I check my restitution balance? ›

At any time, you can also find out how much you owe by contacting an Adult Restitution Agent at the CDCR Office of Victim & Survivor Rights & Services Restitution Unit at (877) 256-6877 (toll free).

How long do you have to pay a judgment debt? ›

A judgment debt must be paid within 28 days of the date of judgment unless the court has made a specific Order that it should be paid by instalments. If a party (in the vast majority of cases, the Defendant) has not paid within that time, then the receiving party has a number of options open to enforce the judgment.

Can you make payment arrangements after a Judgement? ›

You may be able to pay your judgment in installments or set up a payment plan. First, you can try talking to the creditor and see if they are willing to work out a payment plan with you. Remind the creditor that you want to pay but you just do not have the money to pay the judgment all at once.

How long is a court order valid? ›

This is an order that will usually last between 6 and 12 months. There are occasions when it can be made for longer and/or applications for extensions to the length of the order can be made.

How much does it cost to remove debt review? ›

You have to go to court to cancel the debt review. That means you have to hire a lawyer, which costs in the region of R2 500 to R3 500. If the case is opposed and goes to the high court, that could set you back around R9 000.

What are the disadvantages of being under debt review? ›

The Cons: You will not be allowed to get credit while in the program. Your Debt Review will be listed on your credit record until the completion of the program or when all your debt listed under Debt Review are paid up in full. The payment period of your debt will be extended in order to lower your monthly instalments.

How do I legally write off my debt? ›

If you apply for an administration order, you may be able to have some of your debt written off. This is called a composition order. You can ask the judge for a composition order or the judge may decide to give you one after looking at your financial circumstances.

Can you ignore a court order? ›

Deliberately breaching a court order may be in contempt of court. Sanctions for contempt of court include: Imprisonment. Fines.

How long do you have to set aside a judgement? ›

Missed court hearings

The court may agree to your application if you: act promptly in applying to set aside the judgment (usually within 14 days); explain that you had a good reason for missing the hearing, and. would have had a reasonable prospect of success at the hearing.

What is a good credit score? ›

Although ranges vary depending on the credit scoring model, generally credit scores from 580 to 669 are considered fair; 670 to 739 are considered good; 740 to 799 are considered very good; and 800 and up are considered excellent.

How long does a court fine stay on record? ›

For example, a fine given to an adult becomes spent one year after it was imposed. A custodial sentence of three years imposed on an adult becomes spent after seven years.

Are court fines based on income? ›

While the initial consideration for the assessment of a fine is the offender's relevant weekly income, the court is required to take account of the offender's financial circumstances including assets more broadly.

What is punishment in default of fine? ›

The term for which the Court directs the offender to be imprisoned in default of payment of a fine shall not exceed one-fourth of the term of imprisonment which is the maximum fixed for the offence, if the offence be punishable with imprisonment as well as fine.

What is the time barred debt in Alabama? ›

The length of time that debt collectors have to chase you down regarding debt depends on the type of debt it is: If you owe state tax debt, the statute of limitation is 10 years. If you owe credit card or auto loan debt, the statute is 3-4 years. Medical debt and mortgage debt don't run out until 6 years later.

How much of a sentence has to be served in Alabama? ›

If you are serving a split sentence, you must serve the mandatory time of the split sentence. For example, if your judge sentenced you to “20 years, split 5” you must serve the entire five years in prison. During those five years, you will not be eligible for parole.

What crimes have no statute of limitations in Alabama? ›

Murder, Sex Offenses, and Serious Felonies

No time limits for prosecution exist for: Capital offenses (defined as murder committed under certain circumstances) Sex offenses (defined under sex offender registration act) involving a victim younger than 16. Felony involving use, attempted use, or threat of violence.

How does restitution compensate the victim? ›

Restitution occurs when the offender remunerates the victim for the financial losses that they have incurred. Restitution can be ordered by the criminal court once an offender has been found guilty. Restitution is considered a “right” victims have in the sentencing process.

What are the grounds of restitution? ›

Recognised grounds of restitution include mistake, duress, undue influence and failure of consideration.

Is restitution a crime? ›

Criminal restitution is money ordered by the court to repay a victim (or the victim's insurance) for financial losses. It is the right of a victim to be reimbursed for losses caused directly by the crime. Restitution is not a punishment for the offender; it is a monetary debt the offender owes the victim.

Can the IRS take my refund for restitution? ›

Tax refunds may be intercepted to repay debts that are owed to the DOR, child support debts, court ordered restitution debts, debts owed to state or local governments, debts owed to the IRS or federal government, or debts owed across states.

How does restitution work in Illinois? ›

accountable for the same criminal conduct that results in out-of-pocket expenses, losses, damages, or injuries, each defendant shall be ordered to pay restitution in the amount of the total actual out-of-pocket expenses, losses, damages, or injuries to the victim proximately caused by the conduct of all of the ...

Can the government take your 401k for restitution? ›

In United States v. Greebel, 21-993-cr (2d Cir. Aug. 24, 2022), the Second Circuit holds that the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (MVRA) enables the government to garnish a defendant's retirement accounts to pay restitution.

Does the IRS ever forgive? ›

However, the IRS works with taxpayers on a one-on-one basis, so one person's tax debt burden could be entirely forgiven, while another person could be asked to pay off their debt in full. That's because the agency only forgives tax debt in situations that warrant it.

What is the maximum amount the IRS can garnish from your paycheck? ›

The garnishment law allows up to 50% of a worker's disposable earnings to be garnished for these purposes if the worker is supporting another spouse or child, or up to 60% if the worker is not. An additional 5% may be garnished for support payments more than l2 weeks in arrears.

What happens if you don't pay restitution in Illinois? ›

If you don't pay the restitution, the Court may have several options including revoking your supervised release or probation, holding you in contempt of court, or converting your restitution amount to a civil judgment against you.

Is spouse liable for criminal restitution in Illinois? ›

If the crime occurred during the marriage and/or the restitution was ordered before the divorce was finalized, that restitution debt will be marital and, thus, divisible. Not to worry, an Illinois divorce court would not make an innocent spouse pay back the debts based on a crime the other spouse carried out alone.

What are examples of restitution? ›

Examples of restitution might include a shoplifter who is ordered to repay a store owner for the cost of a stolen item, or an assailant who must pay for their victim's medical expenses after a violent assault. In homicide cases, restitution can even cover funeral costs.

How is restitution damages measured? ›

In restitution, the damages are calculated based on how much the defendant gained from the process. In most cases, this is an amount used to restore what was lost in a civil lawsuit. In terms of compensation, the damages are calculated based on how much the plaintiff lost. This is often paid to the victim of a crime.

Can restitution be taken from stimulus check? ›

Stimulus checks to prisoners may be subject to garnishment for the following: Court-ordered payments to local and state government offices, payments to private creditors, fines related to crime, administrative court fees, restitution, and other court-ordered debts, reported The Hill.

What is punitive restitution? ›

Punitive = punishment to the defendant. Compensatory = compensation to the victim. Some types of crimes will result in mandatory restitution as part of the sentence. These may include drunk driving, domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, identity theft, and financial elder abuse.

What is the rule of restitution? ›

According to Section 65 which deals with the doctrine of restitution, when an agreement is determined to be void, or when a contract becomes void, any person who has obtained any benefit under such agreement or contract is obligated to restore the same or compensate the person from whom he received it.

Why is restitution good? ›

Restitution holds offenders partially or fully accountable for the financial losses suffered by the victims of their crimes. Restitution is typically ordered in both juvenile and criminal courts to compensate victims for out-of-pocket expenses that are the direct result of a crime.


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