At the end of last year I wrote a check to the state of Colorado for $1.93. This was a payment for unemployment insurance which I’m required to carry as an employer. A few weeks after that, I received my check back with a note saying if I owe less than $5 for any of my unemployment payments, there’s no need to pay them. Okay, no big deal– I just saved two bucks.

Today I received a letter from the state demanding payment for that $1.93 plus 3 cents in interest which had accumulated since the due date. The letter included lots of scary language about collections and legal action. Hoo boy!

I called the unemployment office and spoke with a nice guy with Jack, who laughed along with me and told me the problem was the computer sends the collection letters, but it’s humans who send back checks which are too small. Apparently the computers and the humans are locked in some kind of eternal struggle down at the office or something. He promised he’d take care of it, so all’s well that ends well.

Two questions come to mind:

1) Perhaps this is a clever way for the state to make some additional revenue. Refuse to accept checks from businesses, and then bill them for the amount they’d already paid, plus interest. Three cents may not seem like much, but multiplied by a hundred thousand businesses across the state and you’re talking some real money.

2) What if I’d paid this $1.96 bill? Wouldn’t a human see my check and bounce it back to me because it was less than $5? Then in a few weeks a computer would notice the discrepancy and send another notice– this time for perhaps $2.00. And just because the computer was miffed, it would probably also contact a lawyer and start proceedings against me.

I was almost tempted to send in the check just to find out. Almost.