There are some cities and towns where you can pay bail with a credit card . For years, many bail bondsmen have taken cards from relatives looking to spring family members from jail, but the ability to make a direct payment to the courts cuts out the middleman. For the courts, new questions arise about who covers the processing fee, and what risk factors exist for the city or county. Card issuing banks may also have an issue if courts are taking payments from defendants who may be unable to make future payments in the event of a conviction, sentencing, and incarceration.
Over the past couple of years, it has been possible to pay with debit or credit cards for municipal fees like licenses, parking tickets, fines, and building permits. Many cities charge an additional fee for using cards in order to recoup the cost of processing. Although some towns have been looking to phase out the surcharge, others are noting that they could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars as credit card usage becomes even more universal.
One thing that could get dicey for bail payment is that there may be the risk of more chargebacks and billing disputes. This is similar to the reason that some bail bondsmen can be considered high risk for the purposes of credit card acceptance. Reasons for disputing a transaction could be numerous, and the potential for fraud could be higher as well. Even the nature of the transaction, where bail monies are returned (less a processing fee) upon the completion of a trial would invite potential problems. In a hypothetical example, if a person skipped town in lieu of trial, whoever fronted money on the card might not expect repayment and therefore could issue a chargeback. Disputes affect the status of the merchant account even when they are resolved in favor of the municipality. In such cases it may make sense to have a completely separate processing account for the division that handles bail payments.
Merchant services for cities or counties are often very variable, and can sometimes involve more than one provider. In some places, for example, each department may pick its own processor. In other towns, all municipal transactions may be handled by one merchant services company. In either case, the goal for city managers, council members, and even administrators should be to negotiate the lowest possible prices on accepting credit cards. This would include everything from per-transaction charges to terminal leasing and the purchase of peripherals.
At CPN, we work with cities, towns, villages, and even agencies to cut the cost of processing and offer more options for payment acceptance. Because governments often take in a lot of money through fees, licensing, and rent, the ability to even save a few cents on every dollar can quickly multiply into significant cost cutting. Administrators who are able to negotiate lower rates have an opportunity to preserve budget dollars while showing that they are acting as skillful stewards of public funds.