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A car is not yours until it is fully paid off and if you are unable to make payments, a creditor has the right to repossess it.

If your car has been repossessed, there are a number of things you should do.

What To Do If Your Car is Repossessed

If your car is repossessed, here’s what you can and should do:

Assess any damage

Repo companies are allowed and are given the legal right to take your car, but not the legal right to damage your property or use excessive force while in the process. If you see any property damage caused by the repo agency, document it. You could potentially be able to take action and get reimbursement for the damage, and you might even be able to have the car returned to you.

Find out the reason

If it isn’t obvious why your car was repossessed – for example, if you’ve been making regularly scheduled payments – you’ll want to contact the creditor to find out why. Mistakes with processing your payments, failing to fulfill insurance requirements for loans or leases are other reasons why a repossession can happen.

Check local laws

The creditor will give you a “reasonable amount of time” before selling the car at auction to recover costs. While state laws vary, on average, ten days is the minimum. Find out how much time you have to act and what your options are.

Get your possessions 

The creditor is allowed to repossess your car, but not its contents. Retrieve your possessions from the car as soon as you can. You will need to go to the repossession lot to do so. At this point, it is also wise to look over the car to assess for any damage that occurred during the repo process. Any damage may affect your decision to reclaim the car.

Review your options

You will need to review your financial options – even if you decide to not take the car back. Options vary by state, but you may be able to reinstate your loan by paying off all payments including missed, repo charges, and other penalties or by paying off the whole loan (also known as”redeeming” the car). You can also choose to wait until the auction and attempt to buy your car back.

Limit the credit damage

Generally, a repossession action remains on your credit report for seven years. While you can’t do anything about that, you can do other things to offset the drop in your credit score. This includes limiting your debt and making sure that you pay at least the minimum amount on all your bills on time, every time.

What is Repossession?

Repossession is when a creditor decides to take your property without first suing you. The main form of repossession is car repossession, but many other things can be repossessed, including household appliances, large screen TVs, or any other item of your property that can serve as security for a loan. This property will serve as collateral for the loan or other debt that you owe to the creditor. Typically, defaulting on a loan means that you have not made your monthly payments in full and on time. But you can also default on your loan if you do not maintain other areas of your property. For example, you do not maintain insurance coverage on a car you financed.

There are strict rules that cover what and what cannot be repossessed by a creditor if you default on a loan.

What Can Be Repossessed?

A number of things can be repossessed if you default on a loan, including:

Your home. When your home is repossessed it is called a foreclosure. This is when you default on your home loan and cannot make your mortgage payments. The lender evicts you and then sells the property in order to recover as much of the outstanding loan as possible.

Your car. Most auto loans allow a creditor to repossess the car if you do not pay the loan and default on payments. The car is then sold to help the lender recover the money. There are a number of things that can be done in this situation. Read on to learn about your options.

Rent-to-own items. These items include furniture, electronics, appliances, and anything else you rent with the option of purchasing.

Any property used as collateral. A debt is secured can be secured by offering up another piece of property (called collateral) as a guarantee of repayment of the debt. If the debt is not repaid, then a creditor is allowed to take that property through repossession.

A credit agreement will detail what “default” on that specific loan means. This can be for a number of things, including being behind on payments or not maintaining proper insurance, as with a car.

Working with a Repossession Lawyer

Work with a repossession lawyer to negotiate with the with the creditor to get the car back. While you are not required to use a lawyer, it is advised, as they will be able to build your case for why you should be able to get the car back. Most repossession lawyers also offer payment plans for their services.

Understanding Your Options

Once you understand you must act quickly, you’ll need to decide how you want to act. Here are the options available to you.


The best way you can ensure you’ll get your car back is by paying off the loan. This is called exercising your right of redemption. To fully “redeem” your loam, you will be required to pay back the entire balance of the loan, in addition to certain fees and costs (such as repossession and storage fees). The bank or creditor is required to send you written notice that has all the information about how to redeem the possession. This information should include a telephone number for you to call to find out the exact payoff amount and how to make the payment. You are able to redeem the car at any time prior to the private sale or bank auction. If you don’t receive the notification within five days of your property being repossessed, you should contact the creditor or bank right away to get the payoff amount in addition to instructions for how to redeem your property. Your right to redemption ends when the property is sold.

Time Period for Redemption

The bank or creditor is required to send you a notice shortly after it repossesses the vehicle. This is the notice that should contain all the information you need to redeem the property. Some states, California included, require notice to be given within 48 hours after the property has been repossessed. The bank or creditor must give you written notice of the information you need to be able to exercise your right to redeem within a reasonable time period before the car is sold.

Reinstatement (If Applicable)

Often times people do not have enough money to be able to employ the redemption option. In this case, there is another option available. This is reinstating the loan. Reinstatement means you make the loan current through making up all of the past due payments. This amount also need to include applicable fees (such as repossession and storage fees) and late charges.

Reinstatement is not allowed in all states, and can also be dependent on the terms of your loan agreement. If reinstatement is an option for you, you should act quickly as  this is usually only allowed for a short amount of time – sometimes as quickly as 15 days. This amount of time can be even shorter (or it can be longer) if the right of reinstatement is based on the loan agreement. The amount of time is dependent on what the agreement says.

Buy the Vehicle Back at the Public Auction

If your car is to be sold at public auction you are able to attend the auction and bid on it yourself. The bank is required to give you notice of the public auction your car will be sold at.

Talk to the Bank

If redemption, reinstatement, or buying the car back at the auction are not doable for you, you should consider negotiating an alternative arrangement with the bank or creditor. An example of this could be: you are only able to pay for two months of the three you own. You could work with the bank to negotiate a partial reinstatement of those two months with an agreement to pay the rest of the past due payments later. The bank or creditor might also allow you to work out a new payment plan or refinance the car loan for lower monthly payments. Work with the bank to see what it would agree to. If you know that the bank might be repossessing your property, you should try to work out an agreement before your property has to be repossessed. Chances are they will work out something with you to avoid the effort and money it takes to go through with a repossession.

Work with a Lawyer

If you believe the bank violated your rights during the repossession, such as not informing you properly and with enough notice, or by breaching the peace, you can use this as bargaining leverage to get the car or property back. You’ll want to contact a lawyer to advise you on your legal rights when it comes to repossession. Make sure you record all the dates and times – specifically when you received notices, calls, etc. This information will help a lawyer build your case and potentially get your car or other possessions back.

Be Proactive

Being proactive in this situation can mean the difference between getting your belongings back and losing it to repossession. If more than five days have passed since the property has been repossessed and you still haven’t received a notice from the bank or creditor, do not wait any longer. There is such a little amount of “reasonable time” given that you will need to act quickly if you want to employ any of your options. Contact the bank or creditor to obtain any and all information you need to be able to redeem, reinstate, or bid on the car before it is sold.

Working with a Repossession Lawyer

If you are facing repossession, it’s important you contact a repossession lawyer that can walk you through your options for how to get your property back, regardless of if its your car, personal property, or your home.

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