In Iowa, 47 counties reportedly have some type of collection division operating.

State law, updated in 2007, says all court-related debts are delinquent if not paid within 30 days. The first shot at collecting debts older than that goes to the Centralized Collection Unit at the Iowa Department of Revenue. Anything not collected after 90 days goes to the local county attorney, if prosecutors so desire.

Many counties are reporting great successes. Polk County, Iowa’s collection unit, which was launched in 2007, brought in roughly $3.5 million in court fines during the fiscal year that ended June 30. In that county, garnishments take money directly from paychecks of those who won’t comply, but the program strives to be fair to drivers.

“We go back to the beginning of time for any traffic tickets or anything that they may owe on up to today’s date for anything that we can collect on - which then gives us the ability when they need their (vehicle) tags or something, we can say, ‘OK Treasurer, we have everything that this guy owes money on. He’s making his payments as he’s agreed to do. You can go ahead and release his tags,’ ” Assistant Polk County Attorney Bret Lucas told the Des Moines Register.

County collection offices are allowed to keep 40% of most fines and court fees they collect - except for restitution, which must be paid wholly to the victim, before any other debt is paid.

In Black Hawk County, Iowa, a Fine Collection Division started in 1992 and brought in $2,500. In the fiscal year ended June 30, the county's team of five paralegals collected more than $2 million in fines, court costs and attorney fees.

Jeff Dion, executive deputy director of the National Center for Victims of Crime, said the best sign of a collection program’s success is not the overall debt backlog but the number of active accounts, adding that California has managed to collect $8 million just by sending bills to incarcerated offenders - bills that are then paid in small increments by family members.

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