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A $30 Bounced Check for School Lunches Turned Into a $700 Debt Collection Nightmare

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A Washington state mom owes nearly $700 after bouncing a $30 check for her children’s school lunches, Reuters reported Oct. 3.

North Thurston High School officials in Lacey, Wash., sent the unpaid amount to a debt collection agency months after the check failed to clear Christina Johnson-Conley’s account, though the school had sent Johnson-Conley multiple notices before then, a school district spokeswoman told Reuters.

The ordeal began last school year, when Johnson-Conley sent the check that would have paid for about 10 school lunches. After the check bounced, the school sent her two letters — one in November and one in May — before notifying her they were turning over the debt to a collection agency, the spokeswoman said.

That agency, Grimm Collections, filed a lawsuit and received a judgment against Johnson-Conley in July for $535. With court costs, fees and interest, Johnson-Conley now owes about $695, agency owner David Grimm told Reuters. The school said it has not yet received payment.

Johnson-Conley said she is “outraged over the amount” and never received court papers, Reuters said, citing her interview with Seattle news outlet KOMO.

She’s not the first person to run into debt problems concerning school fees. In January, Utah schoolchildren had their lunches thrown out because their parents were past-due on lunch fees, and a Pennsylvania woman died in a jail cell where she was serving a sentence to satisfy unpaid truancy fines (her death seemed to be an unfortunate coincidence).

Millions of Americans struggle with debt collection, but sometimes it’s the small bills turned massive debts that seem most outrageous. Just because the amount seems insignificant doesn’t mean the person you owe won’t pursue it, which is why it’s important to not overlook parking tickets, small fines and bounced checks. If you can’t pay the amount immediately, it won’t hurt to contact whomever you owe to discuss a possible payment plan — it’s worth the effort to avoid having a collection account or judgment on your credit report.

Collections accounts damage your credit score, which may make it difficult for you to obtain credit, housing or utilities at an affordable price in the future. Pull your free annual credit reports to see if there are any accounts listed in collections, or if there are any mistakes that need to be corrected. And look at your credit scores regularly — you can get your credit scores for free through Credit.com, updated monthly — to watch for any changes that could signal a problem with your credit.

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