An Overdue Library Book Could Scuttle Your Dreams Of Home Ownership

That unreturned library book could threaten your credit score if it becomes a permanent fixture on your shelf. According to the New York Times, libraries are treating borrowed materials as debts and siccing debt collectors on borrowers who fail to pay longstanding late fines. The Queens Public Library has used Unique Management Services to collect over $11.4 million from delinquent borrowers, who may not realize that their unreturned books could eventually stand between them and a mortgage.

When a patron fails to return a book and is then billed for it by a library, Mr. Bowling said, “it is a legitimate debt, and it is credit-reportable.”

It is not clear how many library patrons are reported to credit bureaus, or how many of them have trouble getting credit as a result. The three main credit bureaus, TransUnion, Equifax and Experian, compile information from lenders and debt collectors and provide it to banks and other lenders who use it to estimate how likely a consumer is to repay a loan — and thus who should get credit and at what interest rate.

Federal regulations limit only how old a late payment can be before it is reported and for how long — seven years — that negative information can stay on a consumer’s record. It is up to credit bureaus to decide what kinds of payments to record, and they generally choose the ones that they think will be useful to the lenders who are their clients, said Rebecca Kuehn, assistant director of the Federal Trade Commission’s division of privacy and identity protection.

Experian and TransUnion accept reports from Unique, according to spokesmen for those companies, but only put debts of more than $50 on consumers’ records.

Now we know to save those return receipts the New York Public Library hands out, just in case. If an unreturned library book does appear on your credit report, say, one from 1971 that you’re sure you returned, break out a stick of Dentyne and send a dispute letter to the credit reporting agency .

How One Overdue Book Can Hurt a Credit Record [NYT]
News Flash: Library Fines Can Hurt Your Credit Rating [Gothamist]
The Library [Seinfeld Lists]


Edit Your Comment

  1. IrisMR says:

    Yes it actually happened to a friend of mine. They tried to block her on getting an APARTMENT because she presumably owned 200 bucks to the library. Gave her bad credit and the landlord didn’t like that.

    And thankfully it was a mistake on the credit researchers.

  2. MercuryPDX says:

    Mr. Kleinman, a lawyer from Uniondale, N.Y., represented a Queens man who sued Unique Management Services for reporting his $295 late bill from the Queens Library system to credit bureaus.

    Wait… how can the fines exceed the price of the book? Last time I borrowed a book from the library the fines capped at the value of the book because the library was more interested in having the book replaced than making a profit off of it.

  3. Womblebug says:

    @Mercurypdx: Nowhere does it state that the fine was the result of one unreturned book. I would suspect that, instead, this guy had a longstanding pattern of returning books late. If you’re that inept or irresponsible to rack up almost $300 in library fees, I don’t feel particularly bad for you. If the library can’t enforce the fines in some way, where is the incentive (for those who need a stick approach) to return books on time, or pay your owed fines?

  4. FessLove says:

    Wait… So you borrow something, and never return it… and it ends up biting you later? Amazing! Simple solution: return your books

  5. The issue I have with this, is that years ago, libraries required no identification to get a library card. In some places, a child can still get a library card without anyone showing identification. What is to say that the overdue library books actually belong to the correct person if no picture ID was ever shown? These libraries are going back many years to enforce their fines. I understand trying to get people who currently have books to return them, but hitting people with outrageous bills for books that were forgotten about years ago is ridiculous.

  6. Myotheralt says:

    If you have fines, you cant (shouldnt be able to) borrow until its settled. Its like that with banks and movie rental, why should libraries let you continue?

  7. DrGirlfriend says:

    A library screwed my credit report. I had some late fines, and as soon as I got the bill I paid. They sent me to collections anyway, except I never once heard from a collections agency so I didn’t know. This was back when I wasn’t exactly proactive about checking my credit report annually. A few years later my husband and I applied for an apartment and were denied because of that bogus collection.

  8. catskyfire says:

    My library system does require identification, same for kids, to limit identity issues. I don’t know if they send anyone to collections, though. They have a $10 limit where you can’t check out. But, if you’re at a larger library, and you check out a high priced book or two (especially those for research), and don’t return them, it’s easy to add up the funds. I’ve borrowed a book through inter-library loan because I can’t afford to buy it…it’s $500 on amazon, new. So while most items are less than 50, it wouldn’t be hard to stack up major fees if someone decides that ‘borrow’ becomes ‘own’.

  9. says:

    @myotheralt: My library does it that way. I don’t know if many other libraries do, or how long mine has had that policy — it certainly is a reasonable one.

    However, it’s not terribly hard to get moderately large fines. Say you check out ten books (easy to do when you’ve got a family) and they are five days late back to the library; my fees are $0.20 a day, that’s $10 for the batch. If I check out DVDs, the fee is $0.75 a day, so my hypothetical fees would then be $37.50.

    All in all, that’s a reminder to me to find all the library books due this week and get them back to the library…

  10. Copper says:

    Good idea, I think libraries should be able to have some leverage in getting people to return books/movies/cds.

    Bad if they’re going back years, because as outsiderlookingn pointed out, random people can get a library card. I was able to get one from my public library a few months ago without showing a photo ID and I’m 18.

  11. Parting says:

    @catskyfire: Which book sells 500$ ? I need to know :)

  12. GeekChicCanuck says:

    @outsiderlookingn: I can address the issue about kids as I’ve worked in libraries in both the U.S. and Canada that use collection agencies. Children’s accounts are not usually sent to collections and, in general, it is the parents that are responsible for the minor’s account.

    The 12+ libraries I’ve worked with in both countries have always asked for picture identification of either the potential borrower or their guardian – but I don’t doubt that this is not always the case. The collection agency that my current employer uses would be quite uncomfortable if we didn’t require picture identification.

    As for the whole notion of using collection agencies… I believe that it is part of my role as being a good steward of public funds. I do not see why the tax payers should pay repeatedly for the same items simply because some people are overly forgetful or abuse the system.

  13. azntg says:

    Ah, some good memories with Queens Library. Got my library card when I was 4, volunteered at a branch for a little over a year and an occasional, yet regular donations from whenever I have a small payday from my college.

    Hopefully, they’ll continue to provide excellent services to the community and work to keep my respect for them as an organization.

    Let me add some small tips, that hopefully, everyone in the Queens Library system would know:

    Unlike New York Public Library, where this is the standard practice, Queens Library does not print you a return receipt even if you return books through the circulation desk. The only exception is if you return an item in a different branch, then the “routing information” will get printed on a receipt (which you can ask for).

    Otherwise, your only safeguard against librarians improperly scanning returned items is to log into Infolinq (or whatever they call it now) and verify that it is taken off your account.

    If, for reason, a returned book, CD or DVD was not taken off your account after you’ve returned it through the circulation desk, you’d better go back and ask them to rescan the items that you’ve returned. Older multiple CD/DVD sets are particularly prone to that problem, especially if you invert the order of the CD/DVDs (Queens Library recently discontinued the practice of barcoding each individual CDs in a set. Newly circulated ones won’t have this issue)

    If you return a non-RFID tagged book (all newly circulated items will have RFID tags in them. It’s the older ones that may not have them) at the Court Square branch and one other branch, which I can’t recall, it will take a LONG time for the book to be removed from your account.

    If you find out about non-removed returned item too late, go to the reference librarian (not the ones working at the circ. desk) and ask them to put in a “Returns Claim” on your account. That will effectively prevent any fines that would otherwise be levied to your account. It does count towards the total items checked out while it’s under that claim though. When the return item is found again, it will be taken off your account.

  14. iamme99 says:

    What’s a library?

  15. simplehuman says:

    I’m a librarian in Chicago.

    First off, libraries don’t make money off of fines. Libraries are a break-even to slight loss proposition. We aren’t racking up huge bank by charging people for overdue materials. We just want the materials back at some point.

    Most libraries now offer over the phone and online renewal. You don’t even have to bring the books in, just call and we’ll do it for you.

    Most libraries also offer some kind of exchange (canned food for fines) amnesty (return your books, fines waived) or work-off (volunteer to pay off books, this is something I did at a suburban branch to great success with teens) in exchange for large fees and fines.

    There are usually 5-10 dollar limits on overdue fines (they don’t accumulate for decades) though some libraries will go as far as the full value of the item. Lost or unreturned materials are the biggest pain. Libraries often have books and videos that you can’t just get off of Amazon. It’s heart-breaking when you realize that a replacement for an out of print book is just too expensive for the library to shell out for. When you tell these nimrods that the set of BBC documentary videos they “lost” cost 350 dollars to replace they scream bloody murder yell about how “they pay our salary” and other cliches.

    A suburban library I worked for had a 200 dollar threshold for calling in a collection agency. 200 dollars in materials or fines. That’s a car payment for alot of people, or a good chunk of rent. We try and try and try to get people to return items, but after months of begging and pleading what are we supposed to do? We have expenses, people want the materials back on the shelves and the borrower is either ignoring us or simply refusing to pay.

    As for libraries continuing to circulate books to people with fines/overdues, that varies from system to system. I’ve worked for libraries that let you have a few overdues, and remind you to bring them in, and libraries that cut you off at a certain level of fines. It varies based on the community. Some libraries are just stricter than others.

    Is it fair that someone might not be able to get a loan because they didn’t return books? To be frank, YES. Paying your bills on time and returning things you borrow are indicators of responsibility. If you can’t handle little things like returning library books and paying parking tickets should you really be trusted with hundreds of thousands of dollars in borrowed money?

  16. Snakeophelia says:

    I have to admit, I’ve run up legendary library fines in the past. I’m much better now. I think both my undergrad and grad school libraries were able to build new wings with what I paid in fines, though – they didn’t rely on a collection agency; instead, they went with the near-foolproof plan of requiring that library fines from one semester be paid before you could register for the next semester.

  17. captnkurt says:

    Bookman: You’re a comedian, you make people laugh.
    Jerry: I try.
    Bookman: You think this is all a big joke, don’t ya?
    Jerry: No, I don’t.
    Bookman: I saw you on TV once, I remembered your name from my list. I looked it up. Sure enough, it checked out. You think because you’re a celebrity, that somehow the law doesn’t apply to you, that you’re above the law?
    Jerry: Certainly not.
    Bookman: Well let me tell you something, funny boy. You know that little stamp that says New York Public Library? Well that may not mean anything to you but that means a lot to me, one whole hell of a lot. Sure, go ahead, laugh if you want to. I’ve seen your type before, flashy, makin’ the scene, flaunting convention. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: “What’s this guy making such a big stink about old library books?” Well let me give you a hint, junior. Maybe we can live without libraries, people like you and me. Maybe. Sure, we’re too old to change the world. But what about that kid, sitting down opening a book, right now, in a branch of the local library, and finding drawings of pee-pees and wee-wees in The Cat in the Hat and The Five Chinese Brothers. Doesn’t he deserve better? Look, if you think this is about overdue fines and missing books, you better think again. This is about that kid’s right to read a book without getting his mind warped. Or, maybe that turns you on, Seinfeld. Maybe that’s how you get your kicks, you and your good-time buddies. Well I got a flash for you, joy-boy: Party time is over. You got seven days, Seinfeld. That is one week.

  18. Electroqueen says:

    Ah, I can understand why the Library can afford so many current DVDs including Shrek 3 (which I borrowed), Talladega Nights, and Spider-Man 3. They go after those #$@$ who can’t bother to return a book or pay their fines. Thanks! Now I don’t have to go to the store to buy new DVDs anymore!

  19. moonarcher says:

    The library I work at doesn’t charge a daily late fee. If it is returned or replaced, we don’t charge anything. And as long as you have under $50 in bills, we continue to let you check out.

    While I love this policy (I have a habit of checking out too much and taking forever to return most), we have many patrons that abuse it. As long as it’s $49.99 or less, we just tell them and start scanning. They all know and most of them don’t care. Honestly, as long as the computer lets me, I don’t care either! As long as the policy allows this, there’s nothing to be gained by pushing for them to take care of their bill, and they know it.

    The idea has been around for us to use a collection agency, but I think we’d get a lot more taken care of (or a quieter library) if we blocked internet access to anyone with a bill. I don’t think many patrons of my branch are worried about their credit score.

  20. Imaginary_Friend says:

    If you use a Mac computer, try this program called Library Books. It tracks the library books you have borrowed.

    “Library Books connects to your library catalogue and downloads the list of books you have checked out. The books are then displayed the menu bar.

    * View the books you have currently borrowed in the menu bar.
    * Add due date alerts to iCal.”

    If you don’t see your local library system as a choice after you install it, just email the developer with the relevant info, and he’ll add it. He’s very cool – added my local library just a few hours after I emailed him.

    The best part? This app is totally free!


  21. Rando says:

    @captnkurt: Seinfeld is an absolutely horrible show. That cocky faggot needs to die.

  22. erratapage says:

    I’ve never been sent a bill for my late fines. Hmmm…

  23. @randotheking: Totally out of line.

  24. …break out a stick of Dentyne and send a dispute letter to the credit reporting agency.

    Shouldn’t that be a Mentos?

  25. LadyCarolineLamb says:

    I LOVE libraries, don’t get me wrong…and love that they have all kinds of current DVDs and CDs (though I wonder WHY), but I just read an article 2 days ago about libraries loaning out TOYS. WTF?

  26. sleepydumbdude says:

    I once lost a few library book two years ago. I kept renewing them online for about 5 months until I got my tax return and went in and just paid for the books. That way I held off on them trying to collect when I didn’t have the money.

  27. Wormfather says:

    Wait…with this being true, returning books to the library should help ones credit score.

    It’s only fair.

  28. LadyCarolineLamb says:

    “BY SLEEPYDUMBDUDE AT 09:29 AM I once lost a few library book two years ago. I kept renewing them online for about 5 months until I got my tax return and went in and just paid for the books. That way I held off on them trying to collect when I didn’t have the money.”
    They must be onto that scam, because every library I’ve dealt with in the past 10 years only aloows one or 2 renewals online (none if someone has put a “hold req” on it). With books I reaaaaallllly still need, I have called the library directly and they are able to override another renewal (again if no one has it on hold), but you need to get someone who is not brand new to do it.

  29. @Mercurypdx: “how can the fines exceed the price of the book?”

    I’ve had that happen. I had $360-odd dollars in fines on two books from the university library in college, neither of which had cost more than $30. But it was a result of several connected SNAFUs, from the wrong checkout time being applied to the books to my car breaking down when I tried to get back from a break (with the books in tow to return), so I just told the librarian what had happened and that I didn’t want to pay $360, and she really just wanted the books back and took the fine off the account.

    @GeekChicCanuck: “As for the whole notion of using collection agencies… I believe that it is part of my role as being a good steward of public funds.”

    I’m more comfortable with what my childhood library did, which was send you a bill after X months (6 months?) for the replacement price of the book plus some small penalty. If you located it and returned it (in the same condition you checked it out), your fine was half the replacement cost (whereas your six months of 10 cents a day would generally have been waaaaaaay higher than that!). No checkouts if you had more than $5 on your account in late fees. It encouraged people to return books and actually pay fees, rather than face enormous penalties they’d ignore rather than cope with.

    It also meant most of the books in the children’s section, at half replacement cost, had long-term loss fines payable by kids from their allowances. Early lesson in money and stuff responsibility for me!

    I gotta say I’d be PISSED if I got sent to a collection agency. I’m happy to pay the replacement cost of a book I lost (or even a reasonably-priced one that managed not to get checked in when I returned it and now can’t be found, as occasionally happens), but if I get sent to collections I’m certainly never darkening the door of THAT library again.

    I guess I can see people who lose $350 BBC video sets (as mentioned above) and refuse to pay for it going to collections. But I think if I were the library I’d make city hall collections do collections first. Then taxpayers can hate the municipal government instead of the library board, which they hate anyway.

    @LadyCarolineLamb: “but I just read an article 2 days ago about libraries loaning out TOYS. WTF?”

    My childhood library did that, back in the 80s, mostly puzzles.

  30. LadyCarolineLamb says:

    I can see puzzles…that’s cool…something you have to use the brain for…but this articles was talking about actual toys (I wonder who gets to test them for lead and sanitize them on return)?
    Here’s the story:
    (Yes, even “teeter-toters”)

  31. GeekChicCanuck says:

    @Eyebrows McGee: If you lose (or accidentally destroy) an item and are responsible enough to tell the library – you will not get sent to a collection agency. If you simply “forget to tell us” – well that’s a different matter. As SimpleHuman points out above, people typically only get sent to collections after the library has repeatedly tried to get in touch with them (and their borrowing privileges have been suspended due to fines or number of overdue items).

    The current agency that we work with does not report someone to the credit bureaus if they contact the library and return the items/pay their fines after a reasonable amount of time. Frankly, I feel that we are being more than fair. If a collection agency still makes you hate the library – then we’re sorry to see you go.

    @LadyCarolineLamb: My current place of work has a toy library (and an art library). Staff monitor recall lists and sanitize the toys on return and we don’t purchase toys that cannot be easily sanitized. Play is part of the overall development of children and toys are as legitimate a part of the collection as romance novels or first-run DVDs (at least in our view).

  32. Curiosity says:

    The irony of the situation (having worked in numerous libraries) is that the fines are usually only seen as a motivator so that people return books so that others may use them. Libraries at times erroneously perceive that the cause of patrons not returning books is irresponsibility. While at times that may be so at some times, Librarians sometimes forget that the reason for libraries is education (

    In fact many libraries, even those who have very expensive collections like law libraries, are moving away from fines ( [] ).

  33. Rando says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation: That lame joke that took half my page was out of line.

  34. Curiosity says:

    To clarify (since I accidentally posted) – whatever problems a person has including irresponsibility, a greater understanding of the world through books is thought to help. If a person keeps a book too long, and needs it b/c they are bettering themselves, it seems a shame that libraries may be a force at times for abuse rather than good. A kind word and a personal relationship (things that should be fostered in education and a library) has a greater effect than a fine ever would.

    Don’t let libraries lose track of why they are there. []

  35. machete_bear says:

    *Glances nervously at the 12 year old copy of Ethan Frome sitting ominously on his bookshelf*


  36. kris in seattle says:

    I once had 2 or 3 books checked out over a year… and NEVER got a letter about it.

    Also, I worked in a library a year ago and we got an over due book back… from 1986. Yeah.

  37. akalish says:

    I hope more libraries follow this one’s example. Too many times for me to count I’ve searched for a book and found it to be “lost” or “missing,” which I surmise to be code for “irresponsible borrower.” Nobody deserves a free ride when everyone’s taxes pay for this.

  38. Curiosity says:

    Man returns library book – 47 years later – anyone see this? 57 years $171.32 fine. Why are the fines so high?


  39. Curiosity says:

    I mean the current fines.

  40. selectman says:

    @randotheking: Go away troll.

  41. ancientsociety says:

    @captnkurt: []

    @randotheking: And your “lame” comments are taking up just as much room.

  42. curiouser says:

    @curiosity: That’s about a penny a day if the book was 47 years late. That doesn’t seem high to me.

  43. gingerCE says:

    @outsiderlookingn: I think libraries can do this but I agree, there needs to be more safeguards and a way to appeal any fines. A woman was checking out a ton of children’s books in front of me, just gave her name, no ID, no library card (she has a purse but no ID?) and only had to give a phone number (not library card number) to prove she was who she was. Well, there’s no way I would’ve let her take out those books because she could’ve used a friend or siblings name/phone number. There’s no way to prove it. Also, what about children checking out books? Last I saw my library allowed those over 13 to get cards w/o a parent–does that mean their credit can get messed up?

    As far as I know, no store will let a shopper buy an item using only a name and a phone number, with no card and no ID of any kind, so why should a library let people do that.

  44. gingerCE says:

    Someone I know, aside, had over a $100 in fines in overdue books at her university library, usually every year she did her undergrad and grad work there. But, every year, her school does a can food drive where if you donate a canned food, it’s worth $5 in overdue fees. So every year, she’d donate a bunch of canned foods and wipe out her overdues. Not sure, but maybe other libraries due something similar. Like a forgiveness day or something.

  45. whirlybird says:

    I remember my grandmother telling me fond stories about these “libraries” you speak of. Odd that anyone would still use such a service, but I suppose they might be useful for historical re-enactments and such.

  46. LadyCarolineLamb says:

    Ginger our library is doing that this month a can for each $1.00 in fines.

  47. esea says:

    @curiosity: It wasn’t a per day fine in this case I’m pretty sure. Earlier posters may have said (and from my experience this is true- I work in a library) that once an item is past due a certain length of time they add on additional fees, beyond that the item ages to lost and then the replacement cost of the item must be paid. Add into that the credit reporting fees and you could owe a lot of money. Also, minors would never be credit reported, but you could be in trouble if your umpteen children are irresponsible enough to rack up almost $600 dollars in fines and fees (overdue and lost items) between them.

  48. simplehuman says:


    Libraries are not stores. Sorry to boil it down to such a simple statement, but libraries are unique institutions (as the idiot who keeps going “What’s a library?” seems to think is so funny) that provide a community service. Most library systems require you to provde a couple forms of id to get a card.

    As for someone checking out without handing over ID or a card, that’s usually done when the patron is known by the staff person. In some libraries I’ve worked in desk staff have memorized patrons card numbers or know a kids’s mother’s card number or some such.

    It’s true, there could be abuse of the system, but the over-whelming majority of hideously late books and huge fines come from patrons who use the library rarely, sometimes on their first trip, and simply don’t return.

  49. jimmy37 says:

    I love reading these touchy-feely posts describing how using fines to motivate people to return books make the libraries the bad guy. As others have posted, libraries are designed to make media available to as many people as possible. And that is only possible if everyone cooperates to return their media as agreed.

    As for the personal touch, my library went from stamping return dates on each book to printing a receipt with the return dates. Now, they have self-serve checkout stations – no personnel needed. In an era of increasing expectations for local services, libraries must keep up by increasing automation and reducing personnel.

  50. Librarycat53 says:

    I know this doesn’t apply to academic libraries, but most public libraries are governed by a library board which sets policy. If you don’t like a policy at your own public library, you can approach the board to see if the policy can be changed. Most public libraries have a procedure for you to follow.

    I am the director of a small public library which is part of a 29 member library system. Each of those libraries has drastically different ways of handling fines and lost/damaged materials, and in each case, the policies are determined by the library administration and Library Board, both of which are responsive to public opinion and the political process.


    Our library checks out puppet kits (book and related puppet) and Kid’s Time kits (toys with parent activity sheet and related book) and an overhead projector, and we are getting prepared to check out an MP3 player preloaded with audio books. We also supply toys for kids to play with in the library. We buy from reliable sources; we do not sanitize anything (although I take the puppets home to wash them when they get dirty). We have never sanitized books, so I do not feel a need to sanitize the other items, either. I know of libraries that check out computer software, artwork (both paintings and sculpture), scrapbooking kits, bicycle repair kits, typewriters, and laptop computers. Essentially, we will acquire and check out anything that we have space, equipment and staff for, if there is a demand.