Public Libraries- No More Mr. Nice Guy

“A New Threat To Your Credit Rating
Unpaid Parking Tickets, Library Fees Start to Hurt Consumer Credit As Strapped Cities Seek Payment

By JANE SPENCER
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
January 3, 2006

A growing number of routine municipal fines and fees — including unpaid parking tickets, library fines, and trash-collection charges — are starting to damage consumer-credit scores.

In the face of budget crunches, major cities, including New York, Chicago and Miami, are hiring private collection agencies to chase down small debts that are frequently shrugged off by consumers. Since an outstanding account handled by a private collection company can wind up in a credit file, more consumers are discovering that niggling government fees — like unpaid speeding tickets or dog-catcher fines — are marring their credit. It’s up to each city to decide whether such information will end up in a consumer’s credit file.

Claude DaCorsi, a management consultant in Portland, Ore., used to pride himself on his near-perfect credit rating. But during a recent routine credit check, he discovered his credit scores had plunged to “below average.”
The reason: Two late library books, including a picture book taken out for his two-year-old son. The library had turned over the $40 late fee to a private collection agency.”

…As local governments increasingly outsource collections, more companies are focusing on collecting for public agencies. Unique Management Services in Indiana works exclusively with libraries, and currently handles collections for about 750 of them in North America. The company says it has annual revenue in the millions of dollars, and the business has been growing at about 15% a year.

….Technically, any bill more than 30 days old can be reported to a credit bureau, though many local governments opt to give citizens more time before deploying hardball tactics. Both TransUnion LLC and Experian, two of the country’s three major credit bureaus that compile information about consumers’ credit history, include information about overdue municipal fines and fees on credit reports. Equifax Inc., the third credit bureau, makes an effort to weed out small charges like library books and parking violations from credit files. The company says it is not fair to include them in credit reports since municipal fines are reported unevenly around the country.

Even when the dollar amounts involved in the fines are small, any collections activity in a credit file can do serious damage to a credit score. “It’s a very serious negative item on your report, on par with a tax lien or a bankruptcy,” says Maxine Sweet, vice president of public education at Experian. “You will definitely pay more for your credit, in higher interest rates and higher down payments.”

A library fine reported to a credit bureau, for example, can knock as much as 100 points off a credit score, making it difficult for someone with previously good credit to get the best rate on a loan, consumers and industry experts say. (Credit scores calculated by Fair Isaac Corp., the leading provider of such scores, typically range from 300 to 850; any score above 700 will generally get you the best rate on a loan.) Collections activity can stay on a report for seven years.

Oh yes, indeedy, I am in trouble with this as we speak ( or write)…and this time ti was their fault, but does that matter? No.

My child took out a book on my card… I received notice that it was considered a book needing replacement. The trouble was that everyone looked, all persons ( drivers who might have returned the book or had it in their car, accidentally) were interrogated and we had a family meeting. It was a sure thing that it was returned. OK…. called the library – directed to the library person in charge, put on hold while they checked the shelves. Yep, sure enough, they found it on the shelf. It had been there more than a month- which was when we figured it must have been returned.

But does this mean the credit agency was off my back? No.

And how about the obscene amounts they still charge for one day late fee on videos? Do you realize how fast you can rack up fines on their schedule of a dollar per item per day for infinite amount of days ?

And now they hound you rather quickly with the credit agency. this recounted last experience was only one day past the red flag, which seems to be about three weeks. Since I didn’t realize which book it was and I didn’t pay attention to what my child took out, I wasn’t completely clear.

And that is what is so punishing about the librarians with the friendly face masks- behind them is a steel spined robo-bureaucracy that doesn’t care about how messed up your life gets over a missing book -whether its really missing or one of their own glitches. And all paid for with your taxes.

Have no sympathy? Wait til they mess up on you. I’ve always loved libraries and never protested paying my fines, but they have become so heavy handed in this that I would as soon not use the library anymore.

And not vote for its support with taxes anymore, either. Not til they figure out something more equitable.

Not all library systems have adopted these tactics, which makes me wonder about the ones who have. What gives?

2 thoughts on “Public Libraries- No More Mr. Nice Guy”

  1. I miss the library.

    I refuse to use mine because they’ve claimed that I didn’t return books on several occasions when I know that I did. More than once, I’ve pointed out copies on shelf and proved it was their error.

    I feel stupid protesting nearly every time I come in that I really did return this book or that. Even when I’ve pointed out reshelved copies, the librarians regard me suspiciously. “Nobody else seems to have this problem,” they say.

    In any case, it’s no longer worth it to me. I spent $60 on replacement books a few years ago and I swear on everything I’ve never not returned a book or returned a book in bad shape.

    Bleh.

    I’m poor, too, so it sucks having to use bookstores for everything.

  2. This has been a big problem in the Columbus system especially. They very often get caught in mistakes which is why it angers me so much that they play hardball with everything lined up in their corner. It is very hard to prove their mistakes… and it is very hard to not self-doubt when you are the usual “absent minded professor” type.

    The libraries have become bureaucratically unfair- which is a shame. It used to be the last bastion of government service that actually functioned right.

    I know all the argument on their side, but I will still say it is supremely unfair to punish all their best patrons- those who are responsible to pay their fair fines and take care of the books. The libraries have lost their sense of serving the community.

    Although I find a discrepancy between some librarians and libraries who are still noble and caring about the public and those who are maddening little martinets.

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