If you plead guilty or no contest, or if you are convicted at trial after pleading not guilty, the judge will impose a sentence that almost always includes a requirement that you pay fines and court costs. Here, learn what to do if you cannot afford the fines and court costs.
Special thanks to Texas Fair Defense Project and Texas Appleseed for this article.
Most courts will want you to prove that you do not have enough money to pay.
This will involve showing the court that you don’t have any income or make little money, that you don’t have a lot of money in the bank or other assets, and/or that your necessary expenses already take up all of your income.
Most courts also have affidavits of inability to pay fines and fees that you will be asked to complete before the judge considers alternative sentences. Basically these are forms where you provide information about your income, assets and expenses, so the judge will know you actually cannot pay.
If you are not able to pay, call the court and ask if they have a specific form you need to fill out. If not, go to the Documents and Forms and download the "Statement of Inability to Pay." Filling this out in as much detail as possible prior to court will help to prepare you for the questions the judge will ask you. Bring the form and any documents that help prove what you have written on the form to court with you.
If you feel like the form alone does not give the judge a good picture of your financial situation, write and attach a short explanation, explaining your unique circumstances and why you cannot pay.
What will the judge ask about when considering your ability to pay?
The judge will almost always ask about your income and your expenses.
What proof of income would the judge need?
When the judge considers your ability to pay, you will almost always be asked about your income to show the judge you do not have enough money to pay the fine and court costs.
Proof of income could include the following:
- A paycheck or stub showing your income;
- Last year’s W-2 or tax returns showing your income;
- A document or check showing you receive unemployment benefits or a letter stating you’ve been terminated from your job;
- Copies of your bank statements or other financial statements showing your lack of money in the bank; and/or
- Letters or documents showing you receive government benefits for low-income individuals or families. Examples include Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (“TANF” or “welfare”), Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (“SNAP” or “food stamps”), Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program (“CHIP”), Supplemental Security Income (“SSI” or “disability”), or “Section 8” subsidized housing and housing vouchers.
What proof of expenses would the judge need?
When the judge considers your ability to pay, you will almost always be asked about your expenses to show the judge you have no money left over after paying for necessary household expenses.
The following are some common household expenses and documents that help show the judge the expense. If you have more to include, be sure to list those as well:
- Mortgage statements or rent payment receipts;
- Statements related to student loans, car loans, credit card debt, and other debt;
- Utility bills (electricity, water, gas, phone) and other bills for necessary household expenses and repairs;
- Receipts for child care expenses;
- Letters documenting child support obligations; and
- Medical and prescription drug expenses, including bills and receipts.
Alternative Sentences If You Can't Afford the Fine
If the judge finds that you are unable to pay, there are four alternative sentences that they may impose:
- full payment all at once but at a later date in the future, usually in 30 days;
- a payment plan, where you pay in monthly installments until you’ve paid the full amount;
- 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
- 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 orders you to do something you know you will not be able to do, respectfully let them know.
Court costs are in addition to fines.
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.
If you're not sure whether you will be able to complete community service and may need the judge to waive or reduce what you owe, see I’m Not Sure If I Can Complete Community Service for more information.
Ticket Help Texas is a resource for Texans who owe fines and costs in criminal cases that they are unable to pay.
This guide was published by the Texas Fair Defense Project and Texas App
This article suggests actions to take if you have an old ticket that you still can’t pay.