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Offsite cash payment as an access to justice issue

November 5, 2020

A recent survey by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) found that over 6% of households were "unbanked", meaning that no one in the household had a checking or savings account. While this functions as a financial access barrier, it can also be an access to justice barrier when members of such families are required to pay for court-related fees, fines, and costs.

The 2017 FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households, found among other things that of the 6.5% of U.S. households that were “unbanked,” more than half of those houses (52.7%) cited: “Do not have enough money to keep in an account” as a reason for failing to maintain a checking or savings account. While the unbanked rate was generally related to the poverty level, the rates within black and Hispanic households in particular were even higher. Respondents to the survey also indicated that bank fees for such accounts imposed too great a burden to justify maintaining the accounts.

A recent edition of the National Center's Tiny Chats series examined the FDIC report and how it can impact those who interact with the court system. Court sponsored or supported alternative payment methods and systems can help alleviate the need for people to take cash to courthouses, an issue of particular importance at a time when the COVID pandemic makes such in-person activities less than ideal. Moreover, direct in-person interaction with court staff requires the individual to take time off from work, an additional burden and/or barrier.

One possible solution was developed by the Arizona court system. The statewide Offsite Cash Payment (OCP) program through the PayNearMe® network allows local stores to accept payments instead of trips to a courthouse. Retailers like 7-Eleven, Family Dollar, and other participating stores accept cash payments. Receipts are logged into the court case within 30 minutes and the funds are placed into the court's bank account in 3 days. There are over 27,000 participating retailers nationwide.

Are your courts using alternative payment systems? Follow the National Center for State Courts on FacebookTwitterInstagram, or Pinterest, and share your experiences!

For more information, contact Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164.