If you’ve defaulted on your auto loan payments, your lender might repossess your car. But is there a way around car repossession, and will it hurt your credit score?
It’s not easy to keep up with your car loan payments – especially when prices in the economy are skyrocketing. However, if your finances take a turn for the worse and you end up missing one or two payments, your auto lender might move for car repossession. While that might be preferable to many instead of defaulting again, a question that’s likely on your mind is: “Will car repossession hurt my credit score?”
We break down everything you need to know in this post.
What Is Car Repossession?
When you take an auto loan to purchase a car, you don’t technically own the car immediately. Instead, the lender will hold the lien of the car while you make monthly car loan payments and completely pay off the loan. At the end of the loan term, the ownership will transfer to you. However, if you miss a monthly payment or two, that indicates you are unable to keep up with the loan – which means the lender will move to repossess your car.
Usually, the lender will have to give you a warning or legal notice before car repossession. This notice will detail which payments you have missed and the due date for the same so that you can repay the pending amount within a certain period. However, other states allow car repossession even without a court order or legal notice.
How does car repossession work?
- When you miss a car loan payment, the lender may send you a warning or a legal notice before they move to repossess.
- In some states, they may use a starter interrupt device (SID) to deactivate your car’s ignition system.
- The lender will send a tow truck to repossess and recover the car. However, they cannot physically compel you using physical force, damage your property, or tow the vehicle from a closed garage. That being said, it’s best not to cause a hindrance during the repossession process – especially if you’re at fault.
- Though the lender has the right to sell the repossessed car, the resale price may not cover the pending loan balance. Therefore, you may have to shell out an extra amount (deficiency balance) to cover the cost of towing, storage, fees, and any pending amount.
When can a lender move to repossess your car?
In many states, lenders are legally allowed to repossess your car if you have missed even one payment. However, repossession is a costly affair for lenders and includes several expenses like towing charges, service fees, documentation, etc. Most lenders will wait until 60 days after your payment is due to make a move.
Will car repossession hurt your credit score?
Yes, car repossession is a serious event that will be recorded in your credit history and may cause a drop in your credit score. Typically, data about a car loan repossession will remain on your credit report for up to 7 years. Because credit scoring is a complex process, the magnitude of the drop in your credit score depends on each individual.
Car repossession can affect your credit score in the following ways:
- Late payments: Each late payment you make negatively impacts your credit score, further affecting your chances of taking a loan in the future.
- Car repossession: If your payment default reaches such a stage that the lender moves to repossess, it will dent your credit much more deeply. The details of your car repossession will be reported and stored by credit bureaus for up to 7 years.
- Collection agents: Even if the lender sells your car, it may not be enough to pay back the loan. The lender may then send collection agents to persuade you to pay the remaining amount. This may also remain on your credit report for up to 7 years
- Court order: The lender can take legal action against you to repay the loan, which can significantly dent your credit score.
Will voluntary car repossession hurt your credit score?
Voluntary repossession is when you choose to “surrender” your car to the lender before they move to repossess. You can resort to this option if you’ve missed a payment and feel that you’ll likely default again soon. However, just because you surrender your car voluntarily doesn’t mean it won’t impact your credit score.
Voluntary car repossession will hurt your credit score – the only difference is that you can save yourself the towing and storage charges.
How can you get back a car after it has been repossessed?
Repossessing a car involved quite some effort on the part of the lender. Therefore, getting it back is not an easy affair – but it’s not impossible either. Here’s what you can do:
1. Ask to reinstate the loan
Some lenders may store your car with them for a certain period after repossessing it. This will give you time to ask the lender to reinstate the loan, i.e., get them to return it to you, provided you make up for the missed payments as well as the repossession charges. Usually, the lender will wait for 10-20 days before selling it off at an auction.
2. Redeem the loan
Redeeming a car loan means paying off the entire pending loan balance as a lump sum so that you can reclaim the car and ownership from the lender. This will be costlier since you will have to make large payment upfront (which includes the towing and storage charges).
3. Buy the car back at the auction
If you can cobble up enough money, you can also buy back your car at the auction where repossessed cars are sold off.
Five ways to avoid car repossession and a hurt credit score
Car repossession is an extreme and costly measure – one that even lenders will try to avoid as much as possible. Therefore, if you feel like you’ll face a cash crunch in the near future and want to avoid repossession, try the following:
1. Contact your lender
The first step is to initiate a line of communication so that you can negotiate to a certain extent. Some lenders may allow you to defer your payments or restructure the loan in extreme cases. If you have a good history with them, you can even ask for a new payment plan to tide over the cash crunch.
If the lender is unwilling to be flexible with payments, you can always refinance your car and get a new loan. The new lender will pay off the remaining balance, while you can start paying more affordable payments on the new loan. You will need to have a better credit score than when you got the existing loan.
3. Consider a voluntary surrender
While a voluntary repossession of the car will still affect your credit score, you can avoid the excessive towing and storage charges by turning it in.
4. Reach out for legal consultation
If you’re unclear about the circumstances of the repossession or feel you’ve been wronged, you can consider legal consultation. Hiring a consumer lawyer may also help you get an idea about the vehicle repossession laws.
5. Sell your car
The extreme option to choose is to sell your car and close the pending loan in one go. That way, you can avoid further dents in your credit score from late payments.
Can filing for bankruptcy protect you from car repossession?
Yes, you can file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy to avoid car repossession. Once a stay order comes into effect, the lender is prohibited from repossessing your car until the courts sort out your debt repayment plan.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
How long does a repossession stay on your credit?
A car repossession can stay on your credit report for up to 7 years.
How much will it cost if my car is repossessed?
While towing and storage charges vary according to states and cities, repossession could cost you at least $800-1000.
When they repossess your car, what happens?
When a lender repossesses your car, they tow it away due to non-payment of monthly amounts. The lender will typically store it for 10-20 days before selling it to cover the pending loan balance and towing charges.
How long before a car becomes repossessed?
While lenders are authorized to repossess vehicles as soon as the borrower defaults, most lenders will wait for at least 60 days. This is because repossession is a costly affair involving towing, storage, and documentation.
Should I pay off a repossession?
Yes, if you value your car and want to continue using it, it’s best to pay off the deficiency balance. This is the total amount you owe – including the pending loan amount, towing, storage, and other charges.
How many car payments can you miss before repossession?
Lenders will wait until you’ve missed two or three consecutive payments before they repossess your car.
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