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If You Can't Pay the Fine - Ticket Help Texas

Criminal Records & Traffic

This guide was published by the Texas Fair Defense Project and Texas Appleseed. Access the toolkit and related resources at

Special thanks to Texas Fair Defense Project and Texas Appleseed for this article. 

Do not ignore a ticket just because you cannot pay it.

Even if you can’t afford the fine, it is important to show up in court by the date on your ticket. If you miss court, the court may:

  • Issue an arrest warrant;
  • Charge you with a separate crime of failing to appear in court that also carries more fines as punishment;
  • Consider your failure to pay when considering your fine later on, and fine you a greater amount;
  • Place a hold that will prevent you from renewing your driver’s license, meaning when it expires you cannot legally drive until you resolve what you owe; and
  • Place a hold that will prevent you from renewing your vehicle registration until you resolve what you owe.

What if I don't know what my court date is, or can't go?

Contact the court if you aren’t sure when your court date is or absolutely cannot make your court date.

If you can’t show up for your court date, call the court and try to reschedule. You will likely need to ask for a different date in writing; often, the court has a form you can fill out.

Go to court prepared to handle the ticket and prove your inability to pay.

You’ll be asked to enter a plea. See What Happens at My First Appearance in Court. If you plan to plead Guilty or No Contest, the judge will likely sentence you that day. If you plead Not Guilty, you'll have to come back for your trial, where you may be either convicted (found guilty) or acquitted (found innocent). If you're convicted, the judge will sentence you then.

Your sentence will likely require that you pay a fine and court costs. When the judge sentences you to pay a certain amount of fine and costs, they are required by law to ask about your ability to pay. But if the judge doesn't ask, speak up and tell her that you are unable to pay because you don’t have enough money. Bring with you any evidence that you have that can help show the judge you are unable to pay.

If the judge finds you unable to pay the fines or costs, you have several alternatives. Think about the alternatives to full payment that will work for you, and ask the judge for the one that works best for you.

Generally there are four alternatives for people who cannot immediately pay:

(1) full payment all at once but at a later date in the future, usually in 30 days;

(2) a payment plan, where you pay in monthly installments until you’ve paid the full amount;

(3) community service, where you work off what you owe at a rate of $12.50 or more per hour, and which may include traditional volunteer work, as well as things like job training, drug or alcohol treatment, tutoring and other activities; and

(4) waiver of the fine or reduction to an amount you can afford.

If you would prefer one of these options over the others, explain that to the judge. If the judge is ordering to do something that you know you will not be able to do, respectfully let her know.

The amount you are ordered to pay will usually consist of both the fine and court costs. Know that judges are usually only willing to agree to waiver or reduction of the fine if neither a payment plan or community service is possible for you. However, the judge may waive the court costs, even if you're able to complete community service or enter a payment plan for the fine. Always ask for the court costs to be waived entirely if you're unable to pay them, even if you're completing community service or entering a payment plan to resolve the fine.

For more information about alternatives, See I’ve Been Ordered to Pay an Amount I Can’t Afford and I’m Not Sure If I Can Complete Community Service.