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What should I do if I can’t make my car payments?

If you’re having problems making payments on an auto loan or lease, contact your lender or servicer as soon as possible to ask what options are available to you.

If you’re experiencing financial difficulties, it may be difficult to know where to start, but there may be a number of options to help you address short or longer-term financial challenges. You also have rights and protections if you’re at risk of having your car or vehicle repossessed.

How to get your auto loan back on track

  • Contact your lender or servicer as soon as possible. As soon as you know you’re unable to make your monthly payment, contact your lender or servicer – whoever you make your payments to – to find out the options available to you, which may include affordable payment plans, changing your due date, or pausing your payments through forbearance. Learn how to find your lender or servicer
  • Get the agreement in writing. To avoid miscommunications, get the agreement with your lender or servicer in writing. You also want to ask how this new agreement would impact your credit report. If you’re told it won’t have an impact but it then appears on your credit reports, a written agreement provides evidence you can use to dispute the error with the lender or the credit reporting companies.
  • Refinance your auto loan. You can also talk with different lenders about refinancing your existing loan to get a lower interest rate or to spread out your payments over more time. Keep in mind, though, a longer loan term may mean cheaper monthly payments but more interest over the life of your loan. Learn what questions to ask when shopping for an auto loan.
  • Sell your vehicle. Another option is to sell your vehicle, but first, find out how much you owe on the auto loan and the approximate market value of your vehicle. If you owe less than the value of the vehicle, you can sell it and use the proceeds to pay off the loan. Check your auto loan contract to also see if you have a prepayment penalty for paying off early. In some cases, your lender may also be willing to buy back your vehicle.

How to get your auto lease back on track

  • Contact your lessor as soon as possible. The dealership or company you leased your vehicle through – your lessor – may be willing to work with you on an affordable payment plan, especially if you have made timely payments in the past. If you do reach an agreement, get it in writing in case you need to dispute it later.
  • “Cure” or reinstate your lease. Within your contract or under state law, you might have the right to “cure” or reinstate your lease after missing a payment. If you have this protection, you have the right to make up missed payments before your car is repossessed. You would generally receive a notice after a missed payment and have one to two weeks to make it up. If it’s not in your contract, check with your state attorney general or consumer protection office as to whether it’s a protection under state law. Some states also allow you to reinstate your lease after your vehicle is repossessed, but this is rare.

Knowing your rights and protections around repossession

If you’re not able to make your payments and you haven’t been able to work out an alternative with the lender or loan servicer, you could be at risk of having your vehicle repossessed. In some cases, lenders can repossess vehicles without warning or court order after you’ve missed a payment.

Losing a car to repossession can be financially and emotionally difficult, but it’s important to know that you have certain rights and protections. Auto loan servicers also need to ensure that every repossession is lawful.

If you experience issues with a lender or servicer or your car has been repossessed in error, contact your lender or servicer immediately, and if you’re not able to resolve it, you can submit a complaint and/or pursue a legal action in court.