Speaking of Old ‘Debts’… Mazes, and Car Taxes in Connecticut

the shining overlook mazeA few weeks ago I wrote about a friend who got a call from a collection agency using the phone number of a closed-up factory in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, calling on a supposed debt that was thirteen years old.

It was one of those endless cycles of consumer debt, collections, and credit reports, ‘nothing-quite-matching-up-even-in-this-the-Information-Age’ things that people can easily get caught up in.

I see it in foreclosure cases, hear it from other lawyers on a myriad of consumer debt issues, read about it pretty much every day. My last few blog and Facebook posts have focused on it, from collection agencies with ancient information to Chexsystems.  It’s a maze present day consumers have to negotiate.

Looking back over the last few weeks it has become apparent to me that it’s really up to us to try and control what gets ‘out there’. For the simple reason no one out there can do it for us – or if they can it’s cost prohibitive.

The way to do that is through information. The Information Age works both ways. There’s not much we can’t find if we spend a few minutes searching. And we need to because there are a lot of pitfalls and the days of dealing with financial issues face to face are fast fading away.

Case in point – Connecticut Car Property Taxes. Each town in Connecticut charges a yearly tax on cars. Simple thing, really. Except when it’s not.

First and foremost, towns do not have to notify residents of taxes. Go into any assessors office in Connecticut, or online, and you will see the following prominently displayed:

FAILURE TO RECEIVE A TAX BILL DOES NOT

EXEMPT YOU FROM THE TAXES OR INTEREST.  

george-booth-i-d-just-like-to-know-what-in-hell-is-happening-that-s-all-i-d-like-to-new-yorker-cartoonKind of Orwellian, actually, and it gets worse. People tend to move – towns, states. Unless you notify the town – and turning in your plates to the DMV is usually not sufficient – your car stays on the tax rolls. Since you are happily living in Ames, Iowa, have long ago sold the car, you don’t know the tax is still tolling.  Most, if not all, Connecticut towns now ship the unpaid taxes off to a collection agency after a few years. By law they can charge up to 18% interest, the collection company then tacks on it’s cut.

And there’s the crux of the problem. After ten years or so, you come back from Ames, set up shop in, say, Hartford, go to register a new car . . .  and find you can’t – you owe taxes. You call your old Town Tax Collector’s Office, they can’t help you – the account is with a collection company. They can, however, helpfully point out the the statute of limitations is 15 years.

The collection company, completely unsurprisingly, won’t help – not without some form of payment. You are now in a strict liability situation, the taxes are on the books, the books are with a collection agency, the taxes have to be paid for you to register the car. Or you can move back to Ames.

The one good thing – it will probably never be on your credit report, even the credit reporting agencies find this practice a little too skeevy for their standards.

In 2006 the New York Times wrote a scathing article about this entitled Tax Bills Can Outlast the Vehicles Being Taxed.  Nothing has changed since.

The last year I was able to find statistics for showed well over 300 complaints a month to the DMV and Attorney General’s Office. This, then, is one of those things that’s up to us to prevent, just by being aware. No one else is going to warn you.

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