Making the switch from standard license plates to custom plates is relatively straightforward. However, the fee involved can vary widely from state to state, and can vary depending on the types of plate you want. States may charge one fee for customized standard license plates, but may charge a different fee for plates celebrating state culture, state schools, or license plates for veterans and firefighters. The fees for custom plates, which are also known as personalized or vanity plates, is always over and above what you would normally pay for standard plates and registration fees.

Different fees and plate types
In some states the cost of getting customized plates is the same, regardless of what kind of license plates you have. In Missouri, for example, the cost is only $15 annually. In Tennessee, the fee for personalizing a standard license plate is $35, but if you personalize a collegiate, cultural, or other type of specialty license plate the fee is $70.00. In California, the cost of customizing most license plates is $98, although some types of plates have lower fees. For example, customizing a Veteran organization plate is $78.

Other states have yearly or fees every other year. In Oregon, for instance, the cost of ordering customized plates ranges from $112 to $154 every two years, depending on the type of plate you choose. There are two or three different fees within these prices and the cost having a custom plate is $100 across the board. The plate fee, which you would have to pay for whether a license plate was customized or not, is also built into the price. Additionally, depending on the style of plate, there may be additional surcharges. Oregon's Salmon plate is $154, including a surcharge that goes toward the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and the state's Parks and Recreation Department.

Texas also adds additional charges by the digit. For a six-digit customized plate, expect to pay $150 per year. To add a seventh digit, the cost is an extra $45. You can get discounted pricing, however, if you buy your customized plates for three or five year terms.

Custom plates and registration
Although buying custom license plates and vehicle registration are two separate processes, they are closely related. In Michigan, if you change to custom plates before your current plate registration expires your registration date doesn't change and you pay a custom plate fee for only the number of months that are left until your next registration. In Oregon, if the registration is going to expire in less than 90 days the state gives you the option to renew your registration at the same time as transferring your plates.

Transferring custom plates to a new car
In most cases, once you have custom plates you have the option to transfer them to another vehicle that you own, provided it's the same type. You can't, for example, transfer custom motorcycle plates to an automobile. This applies even in states like Alaska, where standard plates can't be transferred to another vehicle. There is usually a small fee for the plate transfer - it's $5 in Alaska, for example, while in Oregon it's $6.

If you don't wish to transfer your custom plates to a new car, you can relinquish your custom plates by contacting your local DMV. It is not currently possible to transfer custom plates to a new owner anywhere in the United States.

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