The very same fees that go to keeping your neighborhood well kept could also cost you your home and ruin your credit score. In modern times, just about any fine, even homeowners association, HOA, can go to a debt collector and wind up on your credit report. It might be wise to pay HOA fees in any manner possible, because fines can triple the balance and accrue even after bankruptcy.
Homeowners associations can report late payments to the credit agencies, but this almost always occurs by selling the debt to a collections agency. Alternatively, the HOA can put a lien on a property in some states, which also becomes a matter of the public record. The major credit bureaus constantly hunt for public information like liens and agencies usually report accounts to the bureaus, so it should not be long before they find out about one.
A collection account is really awful for your credit score because fiscally responsible people do not let a debt go unpaid and/or budget properly to allow for their payment. You could also lose access to community facilities, such as the pool and gym, and the HOA might take you to court, which may result in a wage garnishment and fines in addition to the original balance. If an HOA goes to court, it almost always win.
If you cannot pay HOA dues, you might be in trouble with your mortgage and seek bankruptcy protection. Keep in mind that the HOA can only go after dues from the legal owner of a property. Thus, if a bank forecloses on a home, you may still be responsible should the property fail to sell. Fees can accumulate after bankruptcy and further damage your credit if the HOA reports them to the bureaus or send it to collections.
The HOA might be willing to accept a payment plan. Most want to collect dues within six months, but you can shoot for a 12-month plan. The HOA probably won't settle for less than the full amount, because any lost fees mean the rest of the community picks up the tab.