When DeAngelo Smith was stopped by police in Royal Oaks, Michigan, for a traffic ticket in 2011, the Michigan State University economics major learned there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest, and his driver’s license had been suspended. “I racked up a bunch of traffic tickets and parking tickets,” recalled Smith. “I had no money. I was a broke college student. I didn’t know what to do.”
“I thought it was unfair because I was losing the right to drive, which was essential to my economic health to get by day-to-day because I wasn’t financially stable.” Smith was turned down for a job at the post office because he didn’t have a driver’s license.
Thus, was born the idea for the online payment platform, Ticket Avengers.
“Legal fines and fees can be expensive, and not everyone can afford to pay them. Ticket Avengers eliminates the friction of paying with interest-free loans with no credit checks. It’s open to anyone,” said Smith, founder of Ticket Avengers.
Customers download the Ticket Avengers Mobile Wallet to apply for a loan to pay for traffic and parking tickets, fines, and penalties, as well as legal fees, court costs, bond payments, and legal fees.
Loans are paid off in four weekly installments. The money is earmarked so the borrower can only use it to pay a lawyer or the municipalities where they have unpaid tickets. “They can’t go out and buy sneakers with it,” said Smith.
Unpaid loans are subject to late fees and then turned over to a collection company.
“Ticket Avengers is committed to protecting consumer well-being and works like the PayPal of justice tech, with a platform that makes timely delivering payment easy and flexible,” said Maya Markovich, executive director at Justice Technology Association.
Hundreds of Millions Owed
Wait, what? So how does Ticket Avengers make money?
Municipalities have large sums of outstanding tickets that have accumulated fines and fees, in some cases from people who can’t afford to pay them. Washington, DC, for example, is sitting with $550 million in unpaid tickets. Cities, law firms and solo attorneys that work with Ticket Avengers as affiliated partners pay the company 6-12% transaction fee for accepting, “Handle Now, Pay Later.” In some cases, a lawyer with a client who needs money for legal fees refers them to Ticket Avengers.
Smith raised initial funding from friends and family, then got a grant from Village Capital’s Innovations in Justice Tech fellowship. He brought in patent engineers Dexter Hennington and Scott Fuston to develop the software.
The Detroit-based company focuses on cities and towns in Michigan and has attracted interest from other communities. Smith views Ticket Avengers as a merchant partner not a lending institution. “We are sort of like Paypal for Legal and Gov-Tech, making it easy for people to pay fines or fees.”