Editorial Policy

How a speeding ticket can ding your credit score

Erica Sandberg

November 12, 2015

QHi Erica,

I got a speeding ticket when I was driving through the San Fernando Valley. How does a speeding ticket affect my credit history, as opposed to a credit card affecting my credit scores? The guy said if I pay the speeding ticket off now, he can stop it from affecting my credit. I am getting conflicting advice, and I have to keep my credit clean for work. — Jim

ADear Jim,

If you want to make sure your credit rating remains in top shape, pay that speeding ticket — and fast. I just hope you caught it in time.

As costly as these citations can be, they will not appear on your consumer credit report unless you fail to take care of them when you should. Send what you owe, attend traffic school if necessary, have the traffic ticket wiped out in court or do whatever else it takes to deal with them swiftly, and these liabilities will safely fly under the credit reporting radar.Ask Erica

A fine for speeding is different from a credit card debt — it's not payment owed for services rendered. Unlike a loan or line of credit, a fine for speeding is just a bill that needs to be paid, much like a parking ticket. However, a fine, if left unpaid, becomes a delinquent debt, and that's when credit trouble can begin.

Which brings us to the present. I'm afraid that the ticket in question may already be damaging your credit rating. If the man you spoke with is working for a collection agency, the agency can report the debt to the three credit reporting agencies at any time. Once the speeding ticket is listed, the damage is done.

A debt in collections is a clear indication that you did not pay a bill when you should have. If you're applying for a job and the employer asks to view your credit report, that employer may see the unpaid debt from the speeding ticket and make a judgment about your level of financial responsibility. While opinions are subjective, in general it doesn't look favorable.

Also, debts in collection are negatively and strongly calculated into credit scores. The most important factor in a FICO score is payment history. A credit report indicating on-time payments (which is where credit cards and loans come in) will cause scores to be high. If the report shows delinquencies, defaults and collection activity, especially in the past year or two, the opposite will happen. Your score will drop.

You can find out if the ticket is already listed on your credit files by getting your credit reports from annualcreditreport.com. Hopefully the speeding ticket is not showing up on any of them, and the collector (assuming that's who this guy is) is holding off from reporting until the ticket is paid. If you do see the debt, don't panic or delay. Pay what you owe as soon as you can. A satisfied collections debt looks infinitely better than a debt that's still outstanding. And with time, the impact of a cleared collections debt will lessen until it can no longer be reported.

Finally, be prepared to explain what happened to a hiring manager who requests your report. It is certainly not uncommon for a person to have a ding on his report, but it will help you feel confident if you talk it out in front of a mirror first. Stress that it was a one-time event, and you've taken care of the citation. I doubt you'll be unduly penalized.

Got a question for Erica? Send her an email.

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