Last Updated: July 15, 2022. Report error / Make suggestion
Legal financial obligations (LFOs) are debts related to a criminal conviction, including fines, costs and fees and restitution imposed by the court as part of a criminal sentence. The information below explains the process for paying and managing LFOs.
What is the difference between a fine, cost, fee and restitution?
Fines, costs and fees and restitution are all types of LFOs, but there are some differences:
- Fines may be imposed as part of a sentence by the court as a type of punishment and are paid to the county clerk.
- Costs and Fees may be imposed by the court to cover expenses from your legal case. Most costs and fees are paid to the county clerk, except costs for supervision, parole and probation go to the Department of Corrections (DOC). The county clerk may charge up to $100/year for collecting LFOs.
- Restitution is compensation for the victim of a crime and is paid through the county clerk and county treasurer to the victim or the victim’s family.
How do I find out how much I owe?
After you were released from prison, you should have received a bill in the mail detailing how much you owe in LFOs. It will have been sent to the most recent address on file, so if your address has changed, contact the county clerk to update your address.
You can also contact the clerk’s office for the county or municipality in which you were convicted for information about your LFOs. Contact information for the county clerks.
What other information do I need to know about my LFOs?
In addition to finding out how much you owe, ask the county clerk:
- How soon do I have to begin making payments?
- What payment options are available (cash, online payments with credit, etc.)?
- Who is the LFO contact at the clerk’s office?
- What should I do if I cannot pay the full amount? Are there payment plans available? It is important to make payments on your LFO even if you cannot make the full amount. This shows that you are making a good faith effort to pay off your debt. Note that some counties will not accept less than the full amount of the monthly payment, so make sure you know your county’s policy. If you cannot pay the full amount, you can also contact your community corrections officer for help with setting up a payment plan.
- What documents do I need to bring to the county clerk to establish my monthly payment schedule?
What happens if I do not pay my LFOs?
You can get in trouble for not paying LFOs, including:
- Jail Time: If the court decides you intentionally failed to pay your LFOs, you may face up to 60 days in county jail.
- Loss of Benefits: Failure to pay your LFOs may result in loss of government benefits such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), State Family Assistance (SFA), Pregnant Women Assistance (PWA), Aged, Blind, or Disabled (ABD) cash, referral to the Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) program, Basic Food Benefits and federally-funded housing. You also may lose your veteran benefits.
- Impact on Credit: Not paying your LFOs will hurt your credit score, which can make it harder to rent or buy a home, apply for loans, or purchase a car.
How can I reduce the amount I owe on my LFOs?
You may be able to get your non-restitution LFOs (for felonies), or all LFOs (for misdemeanors) waived or reduced if you can show you are not able to pay them without substantial hardship to you or your family, if you are homeless, or if you are mentally ill. You can also ask the court to waive any interest on non-restitution LFOs assigned to you from before June 7, 2018.
Instructions on how to ask the court to reduce or waive your LFOs from Washington Law Help.
You may also call the Northwest Justice Project’s CLEAR hotline at 1-888-201-1014 on weekdays between 9:15 am – 12:15 pm to speak with an attorney about your LFOs.
What records should I keep relating to my LFOs?
It is important to maintain financial records so that, if needed, you can show that you are making a good faith attempt to pay your LFOs, establish how much you will pay during any period of supervision, prove your inability to pay if you are ever brought before the court for failing to pay or reduce or waive interest. Make sure you save documents showing your past and present earning abilities, along with information about any property and other financial assets you have. Examples of these documents include receipts of LFO payments, paystubs, job offer letters, tax returns and child support orders.
What should I do if I get a new job?
If you are under supervision when you get a new job, you must report that job to the DOC. If you are not under supervision, you must report your job to the county clerk. The DOC and county clerk will determine whether your LFO payment schedule should be changed.
If I get a job, will my wages be garnished to pay my LFOs?
It is important to pay your LFOs on time each month. Garnishment occurs when the court orders a part of your paycheck to be automatically withheld and paid toward your LFOs. If your LFO is not paid when due, and one month’s payment or more is owed, you may be subject to wage-garnishment. The maximum amount that can be withheld is 25% of your paycheck.
What should I do if I lose my job?
If you lose your job and you are no longer able to pay your LFOs without substantial hardship, you should contact your community corrections officer (if you are under supervision) or the county clerk (if you are not under supervision) to explain your situation and request a payment plan.
The information on this website is not legal advice. You should not and are not authorized to rely on this website as a source of legal advice. While Civil Survival goes to great lengths to make sure the information on the website is accurate, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of this information and are not responsible for any consequences that may result from the use of this website. We recommend that you consult with an attorney for assurance that the information on the website and your interpretation of it are appropriate for your situation.
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