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What To Do After Your Car Is Repossessed
Get back personal property left in the car.
Creditors cannot keep property left in your car when it is repossessed. The lender can only keep the car itself. As soon as possible, demand any property left in the car.

A lender's failure to promptly return the property is illegal. (A gray area is whether certain improvements to a car have become so much a part of the car that you don't have a right to their return, such as a cd player or radio semi-permanently installed.)

Put the request in writing and specify everything left in the car and do so quickly. Some credit contracts require (probably illegally) that you request return of your property within a certain number of days.

Reinstate the contract.
In some states you can reinstate the contract, which allows you to recover the repossessed car and pay only the back-due payments, not the full amount of the note. You must act quickly. In most states, you only have a few weeks to reinstate after repossession.

You can redeem the car.
In every state, after repossession, you can "redeem" the car assuming you owned the car and didn't lease it. The creditor must send you written notice of the date of the car's sale or a date after which the car will be sold. You can redeem the car up until the very moment before the car is sold.

To redeem the car, you must pay off the whole note in one lump sum, plus reasonable repossession and storage charges. Be sure to get a breakdown from the lender of how much you owe. The breakdown should include a refund for unearned interest and insurance charges that aren't owed because the note has been paid off early.

Try to negotiate with the creditor.
If your car has just been repossessed, you might be able to negotiate to get the car back. The creditor might agree to reinstate the original payment schedule or even agree to a new schedule. The same considerations apply as when negotiating a workout arrangement prior to repossession.

If you don't want the car back, it is still worthwhile trying to get the creditor to permit you to sell the car privately. If you can't sell it yourself, learn whether the creditor intends to sell the car at wholesale or retail, and encourage retail sale, which will produce a price about 40 percent higher than wholesale.

Get the car back by filing bankruptcy.
Even after a car is "lost" through repossession, you can get it back in most states by filing bankruptcy. If the loss of the car is your only problem, a bankruptcy filing may not be justified. But if you have other financial problems, a bankruptcy may be justified and you should know how bankruptcy can help to get your car back.

You will have to file for bankruptcy before the lender resells the car. The lender should return the car voluntarily. If not, then you may be able to get a court order directing the creditor to return the car. Once you get the car back, you'll need to pay for it if you want to keep it for the long-term.

What should you do if the repossession was wrongful?
Sometimes cars are seized even though the creditor has no right to seize the car or no right to take the car at that time. Other times, the repossession company won't follow proper procedure in seizing the car.
In each of these situations, you have a right to get the car back and be paid money damages. As a practical matter, enforcement of your rights will usually require a lawyer or someone who understands repossession law.

Surviving Debt: A Guide For Consumers
Copyright © 1999 National Consumer Law Center

When To Worry About Car Repossessions
Preventing Car Repossessions
Collection Efforts After A Car Is Repossessed

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