A Suffield friend was traveling in eastern New York and was clocked doing 85 mph in a 65 mph zone. She deserved the $150 ticket for excessive speeding, but the consequences for doing so were expensive.
The ticket was initially given with no dollar amount. Seven weeks later, she received a letter from an eastern New York court detailing the cost of ticket along with payment options. The original ticket was $150, with an alarming $85 surcharge, totaling $235.
Surcharge? It seems cruel, almost criminal, tacking on a surcharge of nearly 57 percent of the total ticket amount. Since traveling back to eastern New York, and contesting the ticket was not an option, she decided to pay it.
We all remember our first speeding ticket, fender bender and other minor infractions with the law. You were probably much younger, showing off in your father's car ... or maybe a paranoid newby driver twirling and jingling your ring of keys. Your ticket was given with a totaled fee sloppily written on the bottom. The option of paying, or contesting the ticket, were both affordable options. It seemed there were no surprises, no surcharges and certainly no convenience fees. You knew the financial consequences and humbly adhered to those expectations.
In this case, personal checks were not accepted. Money orders, cashiers check or online payments were her only alternatives. Since money orders and cashiers checks require a trip to the bank, the online payment feature seemed appropriate. She logged on to the referred website, paycourtonline.com. After going through a series of lengthy steps (and just prior to the highlighted “Pay Now,”) was an additional $22 “convenience fee.”
Convenience fee? For paying a speeding ticket online? There’s nothing convenient about paying a fee for a standard online payment. It’s almost an oxymoron. I can understand a minimal charge, but $22? A procrastinator would be forced to pay such nonsense. Out of sheer protest, she closed the webpage, marched down to her local bank, paid the $3 processing fee for a cashiers check, placed a 45 cent stamp on the envelope and called it a day!
I became annoyed with the blatant advantage the court had in the process of paying a simple speeding ticket. After my friend's fiasco came to a close, I read over the paperwork from the court, becoming motivated to make a phone call and ask a few questions. What’s the surcharge for? Why the outrageous convenience fee for paying online?
The answers I received were short and quick, with little information. After a long pause and a brief, “Hold on, let me ask," I waited. The court employee's initial reply wasn't exactly what I expected. She eventually clicked over and stated, “The surcharge is a mandatory charge from the state.”
I pictured her with a dog-eared manual, reading the answer to my question, word for word. At that point, no other explanation was given.
“OK. Then what about the online convenience fee?” I asked.
“The online convenience fee is determined by the website that offers the service of online ticket payment. The state receives nothing for that convenience,” she replied.
In a twisted form of satisfaction, I was delighted to hear the state does not profit from this convenience offered to lucky ticket holders. Like anything, lessons are quickly learned if actions affect the checkbook. So, if you can’t drive 65, prepare yourself for a chunky financial hiccup with a labyrinth-style payment.