It's not easy to discharge most tickets and government fines in bankruptcy. Though it depends on what the tickets or fine was assessed for, many tickets and fines are non-dischargeable debts. That means you have to repay them even if your bankruptcy case is successful in discharging other debts like credit card or medical bills. That said, filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy can be a good way to manage non-dischargeable fines and fees. It can also help you get your driver’s license reinstated if it’s been suspended due to unpaid fines.
Written by Attorney Karra Kingston.
Updated August 9, 2023
In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, most unsecured debts are dischargeable. Some examples of unsecured debts include credit cards and personal loans. But not all debts can be discharged in bankruptcy. You’ll still be responsible for certain debts, even after a successful bankruptcy. Debts such as child support, alimony payments, and certain tax debts are not dischargeable under the Bankruptcy Code.
If you owe money to a federal, state, or other government entity, you won’t be able to eliminate these debts through bankruptcy. The Bankruptcy Court ensures that filers are held responsible for breaking the law, so it will not wipe out government fines or penalties.
Can Bankruptcy Discharge Traffic Fines?
Sometimes. Bankruptcy can eliminate some traffic fines or tickets, but it depends on what they’re for and the specific type of bankruptcy you file.
Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Limitations
Unfortunately, traffic fines can’t be discharged through Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This is because they’re owed to a government entity. Non-dischargeable fines include:
You may be able to eliminate these debts by filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy instead.
Managing Fines Through Chapter 13 Bankruptcy
Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a good tool to use when you don't qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy or you have debts that aren't dischargeable in Chapter 7. Chapter 13 allows you to pay non-dischargeable debts like fines and tickets in a 3-5 year repayment plan.
So, if you don't have the money to pay these fines right away, Chapter 13 can give you time to get caught up. Depending on the type of fines and other debts you have, you might not even be required to pay the entire amount back.
If you’re worried about having your driver's license suspended or you’ve already had your license suspended, a Chapter 13 repayment plan can be a good option. Chapter 13 filers become eligible to get their driver's licenses back immediately.
Many people who are short on cash find that filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a helpful way to get extra time to repay their fines and violations. If you aren't sure how you’ll pay your fines, tolls, or fees and are considering a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, contact a bankruptcy attorney for a free consultation to see if it’s a good fit for you.
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Can Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Help Eliminate Other Court Fines?
Most court fines aren’t dischargeable in Chapter 7 bankruptcy. However, it generally depends on the purpose of the fine. For example, if the fine was given to punish you for something you did, such as speeding or parking illegally, it's usually non-dischargeable.
On the other hand, it might be dischargeable if it was assessed because you owe the government money. For instance, suppose the county sends you a warning explaining that your overgrown lawn violates county code. If you ignore the warning and the county hires someone to mow your lawn, they can send you the bill. This is the county’s method of getting repaid for the mowing expense. A debt like this would be dischargeable. Likewise, if you were on government assistance and received a bill for government overpayments, that debt would be dischargeable.
If you aren’t sure if a particular fine is dischargeable, you can schedule a free consultation with a bankruptcy lawyer. An attorney can review your situation and give you legal advice about whether your court fines can be eliminated. Remember, even if they aren't dischargeable in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, your debt can be included in a Chapter 13 repayment plan.
Jail Fees or Incarceration Costs
Under the Bankruptcy Code, jail fees and incarceration costs likely aren’t dischargeable. However, this may depend on what the fee is for and who you owe it to. An experienced bankruptcy lawyer could successfully argue that the debt should be discharged. If you’re able to get an attorney, they should be able to tell you whether or not your debt can be discharged.
Can I Get My Driver's License Back by Filing Bankruptcy?
Having your driver's license suspended can be very stressful. If your driver's license is suspended for unpaid debts, you might wonder if you can get it back by filing for bankruptcy. If the suspension is due to traffic fines, violations, or parking tickets, you won’t be able to get your license back through a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. But entering into a Chapter 13 repayment plan might help. Depending on the type of fines you incurred, you may only be required to pay back a small percentage in your Chapter 13 plan. If you’re unsure what kind of fines have been assessed against you, contact your local DMV for more information.
If you file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you won’t have to wait for a discharge to get your license back. As long as you’re paying your monthly Chapter 13 plan, then you can get it reinstated immediately.
If you’re trying to get out from under debts such as court fines or fees and traffic tickets, Chapter 7 bankruptcy might not be the best solution since it may not discharge those debts. But Chapter 13 can be beneficial because it allows you to repay these non-dischargeable debts over time. Chapter 13 can also help you get your driver’s license reinstated if it’s been suspended due to the debt you owe.