I know that California is broke, but this is getting ridiculous.
January 21, 2013 10:16 AM   Subscribe

I have an extra $15.00 tacked onto my library fee. This is apparently a collections agency processing fee. Is there any way to not have to pay this exorbitant processing fee?

The LA Public library says that they sic collections agencies on people with fines exceeding $50. The problem? My fine was significantly less than $50, and less than two months old. I'm willing to pay the initial fine - it was my fault that I forgot to return my library books before going out of town - but the added $15 is unfair. And crazy. Oh, and unfair.

Does anyone have experience negotiating with the Los Angeles Public Library? I will also note that I have not received a call from a collections agency, and this fine was charged last Monday.
posted by ablazingsaddle to Work & Money (22 answers total)
Have you called the branch from which you took out the books and asked what is going on?
posted by griphus at 10:19 AM on January 21, 2013

Response by poster: No, they're closed today and I think all fines come from the central branch. Just asking if anyone has any advice for dealing with the LAPL bureaucracy.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:21 AM on January 21, 2013

Honestly, it may just be worth eating it just one time, but on your terms. "I'm not going to pay some parasitic collections firm my fifteen bucks, but if there's a way I can directly benefit the LAPL, I'll do that."
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 10:24 AM on January 21, 2013

Considering how broke the LA public library system is, I'd consider it a righteous donation. Your time is worth $15, surely?
posted by Ideefixe at 10:24 AM on January 21, 2013

Response by poster: I'm poor. Suggestions to consider it a donation are not super helpful.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:25 AM on January 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm also worried that, if it already went to collections, I have a mark on my credit. Is there a time limit for that sort of thing? (Like, if I pay within a month, my credit won't be affected)?
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:26 AM on January 21, 2013

I don't know about LAPL, but these fines are usually firm. The collections fee is an attempt to offset the money the library has to pay the collection agency in order to get their help recouping fines.
posted by anonnymoose at 10:27 AM on January 21, 2013

Best answer: If the fine doesn't fit the qualifications to incur the fine, it could easily be a clerical error. You just need to get a human on the phone and have this conversation:

"Hello! I returned some late books, and my fine was $45, but they tacked on the $15 charge for fines over $50. Can you please explain why this happened? Thanks."

Then they'll either give you a bunch of rule revisions that no one told you about (or that you didn't see) and you're SOL, or it'll have been a clerical error and you'll just owe the late fees. Also, many times, places that claim they send your fee to "collections", they're actually sending it to some dude in the office who says he's from "collections." Frank from Collections is scarier than Frank from Accounts Receivable, even if they're the same guy two hours apart. And internal collections people don't generally touch your credit.
posted by griphus at 10:32 AM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In my experience, the LAPL staff may have some leeway when it comes to fines. I would go to your branch and talk to the librarian or someone on the circulation staff; they may be able to help you.
posted by mogget at 10:33 AM on January 21, 2013

I would pay the fine amount and then try to talk to someone. If you do it in person, have the exact amount in a separate place so you can say this is all you have with you. I would use what griphus wrote as my discussion.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:36 AM on January 21, 2013

Best answer: They are pretty clear about disclosing the fee on their website. You say that the book was less than two months overdue, but unless it was less than 45 days overdue, technically you owe the collection fee.

When items are ... 45 DAYS past due, or when a balance of $50.00 or more is incurred, LAPL forwards the account to Unique National Collections. A $15 service charge is added to the account in addition to overdue fines.

Your best tactic in these situations (where you honestly owe a fee) is to call and ask if they can waive it as a one-time courtesy. Being friendly and admitting that it's your mistake may soften them enough to waive it.
posted by payoto at 10:36 AM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Oof, payoto. You're right. I didn't see that.

I'll call tomorrow, I'll eat the fine if I need to, and I'll be waaaaay more careful about this shit in the future.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:38 AM on January 21, 2013

Best answer: According to the page that payoto linked to above, you're not going to get dinged on your credit report for 187 days. So, IAAL but not yours, I'd suggest trying to work this out with the library if at all possible. It's entirely possible that they have leeway. It's equally possible that after they send it to the collections agency that they don't. Either way, you don't know if you don't try and it might be worth some time to

1. Call the library and ask about this. Be totally friendly and "I made a genuine mistake is there a way that we can resolve this without me paying the collections fee?" As I said, the answer may be no but it may also be yes.
2. If they do have leeway, offer to pay the fine minus the fee immediately. I think if it were my issue I'd be more like "I can pay the fine immediately but with the added collection fee it might take me a while" and see if that makes a difference.
3. If they have no leeway at least you gave it a shot.

Sorry about this situation generally. LAPL is in a huge bad hole and they're under a lot of pressure from the city to not hemmorhage money.
posted by jessamyn at 10:41 AM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: When you contact them, do call the fees/circulation office, and not your local branch. You want to talk to the people who deal with this all the time. The circulation number is (888) 577-5275 according to this page.

And I'm nthing folks' comments about being nice and working with them.

Also, you have returned these materials already, right? If not, return them today so they'll get checked in tomorrow morning.

Finally, do note you can renew books through that toll-free phone number as well.

I say all this as a librarian who may be the worst person at returning books on time ever.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:31 AM on January 21, 2013

Agreeing with bluedaisy.

Be nice and work with them to try and resolve it. Being on the other end of the phone, I will always try to find a way to fix it for the person with fines.

Hopefully LAPL is not so screwed that the Circulation manager will have some leeway or discrection with removing fees. In some library systems, these fees are often there to help get peoples attention so that they will pay the fine. Also, it is often these fees that the manager has authority to waive.

Also be honest when you are talking to them on the phone. The first thing they will do is look at your account. If you try to say you are never late but they see that you returned 27 books last year all about a week late you will get a lot less sympathy from them.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 12:23 PM on January 21, 2013

If your account is already handed over to the collections agency, just call that agency and pay them. The extra 15 bucks LAPL wants is only to settle the fine via the library. If you do it with the collections agency you may even be able to negotiate a reduction in the amount you owe. You'll just have to wait for the bureaucracy to churn a while before the two entities straighten the situation out.

But if you can take a receipt to the library and show them on the spot, I bet they'd reinstate your lending privileges while waiting for confirmation from collections.

(IAAPLPP in Los Angeles no less, but IANYPLPP)
posted by carsonb at 12:25 PM on January 21, 2013

It's a little confusing, so allow me to explain a little more.

Your owing amount reached a threshold that triggered your account being handed over to a collections agency. They are the ones who are in charge of collecting it, and will pay LAPL whatever they collect minus $15 in service charges. (Or something to that effect, enough so that it is negated by the $15 charge from the library.)

If you attempt to settle the fine directly with LAPL, they are out that $15 to the collections agency no matter what, so they collect that from you as well. So, since the collections agency is in charge of collecting your debt, you should contact them about paying it. They may even be willing to take an amount lower than what you owe just to settle the debt. They still collect their $15 cut, and the library gets whatever's left.
posted by carsonb at 12:32 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I last went seeking an auto loan, I was shocked to see a ding on my credit related to overdue library fines. Totally my fault related to being disorganized while moving. For some reason I never received a notice about my fine and it ended up going on my credit report.

When I saw that I had a fine, I wanted to be in good standing and paid it right away. The ding never got removed from my credit report despite doing everything known to man to get it removed. Once the LAPL sends it to the collections, it does seem to be out of their hands. There was little anyone could do to help me that is an LAPL employee. The collections agency that I had to deal with never had a live human being I could talk to and my certified letters begging for removal only resulted in stock "no can do" responses.

I know that none of this helps you in your current situation but I thought I would share what happened to me.

If I were you, I'd try to talk to the central library folks tomorrow to see if it was actually sent to collections. Hopefully, they're only preparing to do so and you can still just pay the fine without the ding to your credit.
posted by dottiechang at 12:48 PM on January 21, 2013

Best answer: I see that the OP's question has been answered, but I just wanted to recommend an app (Mac and iPhone only, sorry) that keeps track of your library due dates and alerts you before you'd incur fines. I haven't paid a single late fee in over three years since I started using it.

Library Books
Reviews here.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 1:35 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Well, according to the LAPL, I have 187 days before it dings my credit. And I still had the option to pay through the library's website, so I'm not sure if it has gone to collections or if they've preemptively fined me.

Thanks for all the helpful answers. I'll report back with an update when I have one.

I know that libraries everywhere are hurting, but it sort of feels like every public agency in Los Angeles is trying to steal my money (parking tickets, traffic tickets, and other bullshit) and this is more of the same. Ah, well. Expensive lesson learned.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 3:00 PM on January 21, 2013

Response by poster: I was not able to negotiate my way out of the added $15.00. I paid early enough that none of this should affect my credit - and if it does, I'll make a fuss - but I couldn't get rid of the extra $15.00. Oh well - I'll eat scrambled eggs for dinner next week.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 1:53 PM on January 22, 2013

Response by poster: And thank you everyone for the thoughtful answers! I'm buying that app, LuckySeven!
posted by ablazingsaddle at 1:54 PM on January 22, 2013

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