Every day I have people tell me that they got a price from GC Services (the collections agency for traffic cases in LA County) to buy back their license. If you learn anything from reading this blog, please learn that the collection agency does not have the power to give you a driver’s license at any price. In many cases, paying the collection agency actually creates a bigger problem than you started with.
For most people the story begins with a small problem. Maybe you got a ticket for speeding (VC 22350 or VC 22349), or maybe you were simply stopped for a fix it ticket for expired registration (VC 4000) or not carrying proof of your liability insurance (VC 16028). Maybe you are just like me and you got caught talking on your cellphone while driving (VC 23123) because you think getting a ticket is better than looking like a cyborg with that stupid blue tooth thing in your ear. For the average traffic citation there is only one question, “How much is this going to cost me?” Answering this question really involves two parts. “How much is this going to cost me now?”, in terms of fines and fees to the court. And more importantly, “How much is this going to cost me later?” when my insurance company or employer finds out about it.
The next page in the story involves a missed court date or two. Maybe you didn’t realize you still have to go to court even after you fixed your registration. Maybe you were just too busy to get into court or you forgot the court date or lost your ticket. Maybe you thought you would get a courtesy notice in the mail and it never came. Regardless of your explanation, once you miss a court date your simple traffic problem is no longer so simple. When you miss the court date, you create a whole new set of problems. First, the fines immediately increase. The court clerk will assess the maximum fine for each offense plus penalty assessment. Next, they will add a charge for failing to appear under VC 40508(a) and this of course will add additional fines plus penalty assessment. Next they will add a $300 civil assessment under PC 1214.1, and finally they will suspend your driver’s license under VC 40509.5. Now each $200 ticket is worth about $1000 and you are getting a letter from the DMV telling you that you can’t drive. If all of this weren’t enough, you can also face a warrant for your arrest, and the failure to appear can be charged as a misdemeanor which brings up to six months of county jail time into the equation. All of this for talking on my cell phone?
This is usually followed by a series of frustrated attempts at fixing the problem online or by phone. When this doesn’t work, the next game is to spend several hours in line at the courthouse and the DMV getting the run around. Many people get so frustrated by all of this that once they get in contact with the collection agency they are willing to do just about anything to get the problem solved and get their license back. And this is exactly what the collection agency wants.
Based on my interviews with thousands of clients over the past 10 years, I have determined that GC Services will not hesitate to tell someone that the only option is to pay off the collection amount in full on all outstanding tickets. This could not be further from the truth. In most cases you still have the option of fighting the charges and if this procedure is done properly, the holds can be lifted from your license almost immediately. Another thing that the collection agency fails to mention is that if you pay them the crazy amount of money they are requesting, you aren’t just out the money. The second you pay them they will process your case with a guilty plea to all charges! This means that all of the charges you were initially cited for as well as the failure to appear charges which were later added will go down as convictions. This can make a real mess out of your driving record.
Lets take the case of one of the many client’s who have come to me over the years after going through this process. We can call him Joe Driver. Mr. Driver told me that he saved and saved to pay off GC Services and “buy back his license”. Once he finally had all the money and paid off the thousands of dollars demanded by GC Services, Joe thought his problems were over. He eagerly went to the DMV the next day like a kid with a golden ticket to get his driver’s license back in his wallet.
After waiting an hour or two at the DMV, the clerk at the window tells Joe, “I’m sorry but you can’t have a license for at least 6 months.” At this point Joe is ready to erupt and demonstrate why all the court and DMV clerks sit behind those bulletproof glass windows. Doing everything he can to keep his cool, Joe politely tells the clerk that he just paid off all of his tickets to the collection agency yesterday and asks the clerk to check again. He even gives the clerk his receipt to show that everything has been taken care of. The clerk then explains to Joe that by paying all of his tickets through the collection agency, he has entered multiple guilty pleas. Several of the offenses he plead to were moving violations which carried one point each. Other violations such as Driving on a Suspended License (VC 14601(a), VC 14601.1, VC 14601.2. and VC 14601.5) carried two points each. Any driver in California who receives too many points faces a suspension under the California Negligent Operator laws. Joe had just bought himself a bigger problem than he started with and GC Services was all too happy to sell it to him.
Even in the case of a client only facing one or two points, there is the potential for complications. One or two points won’t suspend your license, but it will almost always get you a higher insurance bill. In cases such as these it is always best to avoid paying the collection agency and take your case to court. If you can afford to retain a lawyer, we can handle all of this for you and help you obtain and keep your driver’s license. We can also help dismiss or reduce the charges that could harm your driving record or your criminal record. A chance at a dismissal, reduction, or traffic school is usually attainable once we appear in front of a judge. Finally, we can help save you money. In almost every case I have handled the fines are greatly reduced or eliminated. If GC Services is giving you a price to “buy back your license” think twice before you hand over the money. Your best bet is to get into court or better yet, contact me and I will go for you.