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Payment Plans and Other Ways to Delay or Reduce Payment

Especially with the assistance of an attorney, you may be able to reduce or even cancel (often called “remit” or “waive”) your criminal justice debt, either in whole or in part. Alternatively, you may be able to enter into a payment plan—or modify a plan you are currently on—based on your financial situation or other relevant factors. In some states, courts may also permit you to stop your payments altogether for a certain period if you are on public benefits or have little income.

Many states allow judges, based on financial hardship, to modify or cancel a criminal justice debt owed to the government. You can ask for this relief in a hearing to show cause for non-payment, in a probation or payment status hearing, or through an affirmative petition to the court to remit the debt.

If you cannot get a criminal justice debt cancelled, a payment plan might be a good way to manage payment if you cannot afford to pay off the debt all at once. Only agree to a payment plan you can afford. Be honest about your ability to make future payments. Ask about payment plan options as soon as possible; your ability to get into a payment plan may depend on how long you have been behind on your payments. In some states you must request a payment plan before your debt is sent to a collection agency.

Sometimes lawyers can work things out with a probation officer or other monitoring official to gain you more time to make a payment. Again, this is easier to do if you raise it as soon as possible.

Community Service as an Alternative. If you cannot get criminal justice debts waived, and are unable to pay them, in at least some states you can ask the court to consider community service instead of a fine or fee. Community service can be an excellent option for you if the work will be meaningful, promotes useful job skills or connections, and is reasonably convenient and the total hours required are manageable. But it is not for everyone, particularly if you have physical or mental disabilities, substance abuse issues, lack access to transportation, have inflexible schedules due to work or child care obligations or other responsibilities, or if the total community service hours are high and would take a long time to complete. If you have debts from different courts, it may not be possible to complete community service for each of them simultaneously.