Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Can I Discharge my Traffic Tickets in Bankruptcy?

One of the questions we receive quite often is whether or not traffic tickets and other court costs are dischargeable in bankruptcy?  Many debts are not dischargeable such as some income taxes, child support, and most student loans.  For traffic tickets we have to look at the Bankruptcy in detail.
Section 523(a)(7) of the bankruptcy code states:
"a discharge under section 727, 1141, 1228(a), or 1328(b) of this title does not discharge an individual from any debt – to the extent such debt is for a fine, penalty, or forfeiture payable to and for the benefit of a governmental unit, and is not compensation for actual pecuniary loss, other than a tax penalty."
In a Chapter 7 case, government fines are not dischargeable, including criminal fines.  A Chapter 13 debtor, however, who completes his case and receives a discharge may be able to discharge certain non-criminal government fines.  Section 1328(a)(3) of the bankruptcy code states that a Chapter 13 debtor who completes all payments under the Plan receives a discharge "of all debts provided for by the plan or disallowed under section 502 of this title, except any debt – for restitution, or a criminal fine, included in a sentence on the debtor's conviction of a crime."
Therefore, if your fine is for a criminal act determined by state law, it is not dischargeable in Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. If the fine is considered a civil penalty, it is not dischargeable in Chapter 7, but  it is dischargeable in your Chapter 13 case.