FEE LOGIC: the reason a city decides to charge or not to charge their defendants the credit card fees for court payments.
Over the years I have had hundreds of discussions with various city leaders about the costs they incur when taking credit cards for court payments. Someone has to pay those “processing fees” and the opinions over whether the city should absorb the fees or if the city should pass them on to the customer is the FEE LOGIC behind these decisions.
Let’s unpack the FEE LOGIC and explore the rationale behind these budget decisions. For the sake of this argument, let’s consider only those fees for those payments made online or by phone. There are two options to cover those costs: the city can pay for the credit card fees or the customer can pay for the credit card fees.
Let’s take a look at reasons why a city chooses to absorb those costs:
Cities that opt to pay merchant fees often have the mindset that “we don’t want to burden the violator with any more costs.” This decision makes the case for “mercy” and who doesn’t want to show mercy? Plus the city doesn’t want to appear greedy or have a reputation as “unfriendly.” These are all viable reasons to argue for absorbing the credit card costs. Elected officials are particularly sensitive to the city’s overall friendly quotient and certainly don’t want to mar their chances at the polls by burdening their constituents. In reality, city officials are asking their taxpaying citizens to cover the costs for the violator (who may not even be a citizen.)
This FEE LOGIC works against the citizen but if cities make their case to have the violator underwrite the costs of the credit card fees then the citizen no longer bears that burden. What does this look like?
A violator wants to pay their fine with a credit/debit card and if they want to pay online or by phone, they are seeking a “convenient” means of making their payment.
Being able to use a debit or credit card often relieves them of the “burden” of having to go to court especially if they must take off of work, deal with heavy traffic or travel far to the court. Exchanging that “burden” for a reasonable Service Fee is a trade-off that most defendants gladly accept. The violator pays the cost, the city spends nothing and the taxpayer is not footing the bill. This FEE LOGIC works for the violator and the citizen.
Credit card costs are significant and cities that opt to pay these with taxpayer dollars may find that this decision is less popular with their citizens than sustaining their ideology or image. Cities aren’t merchants yet providing credit cards payments is a practical necessity. Therefore, shouldn’t the person who is directly benefiting from using the credit card be the one who really bears the cost?
Over the years I have had hundreds of conversations with city officials who took the time to consider who is really paying the costs of credit card fees for court payments. The majority of those leaders took the necessary steps to remove the burden from their taxpaying citizens and place it on those who were very willing to pay for a convenience.