Long Island Village charges a 7% credit card fee for online ticket purchases

In an age of convenient e-commerce, some villages are charging residents a credit card surcharge of about 7 percent to pay for tickets online — what consumer advocates call a “junk fee.”

Spencer Sheehan was shocked when he paid a $325 Great Neck Estates traffic ticket online earlier this year only to be slapped with a $23.72 service fee.

Although the village's website clearly states that there is a 2.99% fee for paying in person with a credit card, he said it was not mentioned Charge online until he's ready to click pay.

“I think it's predatory and overpriced,” said Sheehan, a Great Neck attorney who works on consumer issues.

what to know

  • Pay a traffic ticket In some Long Island cities, online credit cards may charge an additional 7% fee.
  • Because these surcharges Consumer advocates have likened it to a “junk fee” because it is not clearly disclosed and is considered high.
  • at least one municipality said it was considering phasing out companies that charge these fees.

Sheehan accused the village of working with third-party software and payments provider nCourt, an Alpharetta, Ga.-based company that processes credit card transactions, charging a fee of 6.99 percent, plus an additional $1, and passing it on to State Government. The villages of Cedarhurst and Southampton, which also use nCourt, admitted to charging a 7 percent fee, according to village officials.

Photo illustration showing copy of ticket and service fees for Attorney Spencer Sheehan. Image source: “News Daily”

Private business surcharges tend to drop between 3% and 5%, according to state consumer protection departments. It's unclear which government agencies typically charge fees or how many on Long Island charge the 7 percent fee. But experts who spoke to Newsday said the expense was shocking and raised questions about whether private companies profited from public services and why the government allowed it.

“This is a complete garbage fee. I know there is a cost to credit card processing, but that doesn't mean it has to be cost plus profit,” said Adam Rust, director of financial services at the Consumer Federation of America. , the federation is a non-profit organization with nearly 250 members. “It's unfortunate that entities like governments become part of these policies.”

great neck estate Administrator Kathleen Santelli confirmed that the village negotiated a contract with nCourt several years ago to charge a 6.99 percent fee for online credit card transactions. She and other village officials emphasized that they do not profit from the fee and that there are other payment options that would avoid the situation. For example, there is no additional fee for paying cash in person, while nCourt charges a lower rate for using a credit card in person.

“The village did not receive this money; it was nCourt's service fee,” Santelli said.

Cedarhurst Mayor Benjamin Weinstock said he learned of the surcharge after being contacted by Newsday, adding: “Rest assured, the village will not charge any fee. We are given the net amount of the ticket.” points out that people can avoid the surcharge by paying cash in person.

Southampton Village Judge Linda Riley says nCourt may be replaced, Although she declined to reveal why. “We're looking at phasing it out. I'm reviewing the contract,” Riley said. She also noted that people can choose to pay in person with cash or check.

But supporters say online payments are more than just convenience for some people who are struggling financially and don't have bank accounts. They may not have time to travel to traffic court, which often has limited time. While the villages do not disclose online credit card fees for traffic tickets on their websites, Eric Johnson, a spokesman for nCourt, parent company Catalis, confirmed the company charges a 6.99 percent fee, plus an additional $1 paid directly to the New York state court system.He said that the company's The fees are necessary to cover expenses such as the call center, website and financial reporting that would otherwise be borne by the village. He also said that the risk of online fraud is higher than that of face-to-face fraud. The state Office of Court Administration did not return multiple calls and emails seeking comment.

“It may lower fees, but courts will have to deal with their own chargebacks and fraudulent transactions,” or pay additional call center fees and other costs, Johnson said. He declined to say which Long Island villages nCourt has contracts with, but said the company has thousands of customers across the country.

The Suffolk County Village Officials Association did not respond to a request for comment. Ralph Kreitzman, executive director of the Nassau County Village Officials Association, was unaware of any issues and declined to comment.

Suffolk County also contracts with nCourt but charges a lower online credit card processing fee of 3.5 percent, county spokesman Michael Martino said. Johnson, the nCourt spokesman, said Suffolk County “has its own, independent payment processing contract and has a large population and payment processing volume that qualifies for the lower fees.”

Nassau County spokesman Chris Boyle did not respond to numerous requests for comment about the county's online credit card charges.

Experts: Government charging rules are “vague”

Although the country says it is strengthening consumer protection, experts It said it was unclear whether government entities were subject to the same requirements as private businesses. A bill signed into law in February clarifies businesses' practices and requires disclosure of cash and credit card prices. It would also limit fees passed on to consumers to the amount charged by credit card companies.

Consumer Protection has also sent letters to local governments outlining the new law, its enforceability and civil penalties for non-compliance.

Last said that in most business transactions, parties “charge what they can get away with” and consumers can take their business elsewhere.

“You have no choice” about paying the fine, Rust said.

Hofstra University consumer law professor Norman Silber called government credit card charges “very vague.”

“This is an area that's clearly confusing for consumers and clearly ripe for processors to cash in,” Silber said. “More oversight may be needed.”

People who have to pay a traffic fine may feel like they have little recourse other than to pay.

As online payments become a part of daily life, drivers may feel that hidden costs are an unfair burden.

“Whether you’re paying with your phone or using an electronic payment method like PayPal, Venmo or Zelle, it has become a fundamental and important part of how we all interact,” Sheehan said. “And we were punished for it.”

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