New law catching some Iowa drivers off guard - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

New law catching some Iowa drivers off guard

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

If you go to pay your vehicle registration fees, you might find yourself owing money for a lot more than just your car registration sticker.  A new law went into effect this summer requiring Iowans to catch up with unpaid court costs in order to get a new vehicle tag. 

The Black Hawk County Treasurer's office stays pretty busy as people come in to pay their property taxes and renew vehicle registrations.  But over the past two months, some customers have been sticker shocked when they come to pay up, learning they have unpaid court costs that must be caught up before a new vehicle tag can be issued.

"We cannot issue it unless we have a lift notice stating it's paid in full, we collect it, or if they have made arrangements to make payment," said Rita Schmidt, Black Hawk County Treasurer.

Tonya Gebhardt recently went to renew her vehicle tags and got stopped, since she owed over $300 in court fees from a child custody hearing four years ago.  Most frustrating to Gebhart is she says that at no time since 2007 was she ever told she owed money.  She only learned of it when the stop notice was put on her vehicle registration.  And it was tough for her to pay up.

"When I'm on Social Security disability, a chunk of money like $348--that's a lot to ask from me without me knowing.  If I'd known, I probably would have fought it, because I don't think I should be charged for the services, but when you don't know, you can't fight it.  But I also need my tags on my car, so I did pay it.  But I'm not happy, not happy at all," Gebhardt said.

The county treasurer's office says the bottom of vehicle renewal notices should indicate if you may have a hold on your account because of unpaid court fees.  That wasn't indicated on Gebhardt's notice.  Now she just hopes the problems she encountered will be a lesson to others.

"I think everybody should before you go pay your tags, whatever month you've got to do it, call ahead of time and find out if there's any charges to you and then take care of it, fight it or whatever.  But you need to know," said Gebhardt.

In fact, county treasures recommend you check Iowa Courts and the Department of Revenue online before you come into pay your vehicle registration fees to make sure you don't have any unpaid costs that could put a pinch on your budget.

In Black Hawk and some other counties, settling up unpaid court costs is also challenging for some since the treasurers office can accept only cash, a cashier's check or money order for payment.  That's because the treasurer's offices don't want to be held liable for court fees should a bank check or credit card not go through.  The good news is, the clerk of courts may be able to set up a payment plan to get you caught up.  And once that's done, you can go ahead with registering your vehicle.

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