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Answered 2008-05-04 14:53:09

When you finance or lease a vehicle, your creditor holds important rights on the vehicle until you've made the last loan payment or fully paid off your lease obligation. These rights are established by the signed contract and by state law. If your payments are late or you default on your contract in any way, your creditor may have the right to repossess your car. Talking with Your Creditor

It is easier to try to prevent a vehicle repossession from taking place than to dispute it afterward. Contact your creditor when you realize you'll be late with a payment. Many creditors will work with you if they believe you'll be able to pay soon, even if slightly late. Sometimes you may be able to negotiate a delay in your payment or a revised schedule of payments. If you reach an agreement to modify your original contract, get it in writing to avoid questions later. Still, your creditor may refuse to accept late payments or make other changes in your contract and may demand that you return the car. By voluntarily agreeing to a repossession, you may reduce your creditor's expenses, which you would be responsible for paying. Remember that even if you return the car voluntarily, you're responsible for paying any deficiency on your credit or lease contract, and your creditor still may report the late payments and/or repossession on your credit report. Seizing the Car

In many states, your creditor has legal authority to seize your vehicle as soon as you default on your loan or lease. Because state laws differ, read your contract to find out what constitutes a "default." In most states, failing to make a payment on time or to meet your other contractual responsibilities are considered defaults. In some states, creditors are allowed on your property to seize your car without letting you know in advance. But creditors aren't usually allowed to "breach the peace" in connection with repossession. In some states, removing your car from a closed garage without your permission may constitute a breach of the peace. Creditors who breach the peace in seizing your car may have to pay you if they harm you or your property. A creditor usually can't keep or sell any personal property found inside. State laws also may require your creditor to use reasonable care to prevent others from removing your property from the repossessed car. If you find that your creditor can't account for articles left in your car, talk to an attorney about whether your state offers a right to compensation. Selling the Car

Once your creditor has repossessed your car, they may decide to sell it in either a public or private sale. In some states, your creditor must let you know what will happen to the car. For example, if a creditor chooses to sell the car at public auction, state law may require that the creditor tells you the date of the sale so that you can attend and participate in the bidding. If the vehicle is to be sold privately, you may have a right to know the date it will be sold. In either of these circumstances, you may be entitled to buy back the vehicle by paying the full amount you owe, plus any expenses connected with its repossession (such as storage and preparation for sale). In some states, the law allows you to reinstate your contract by paying the amount you owe, as well as repossession and related expenses (such as attorney fees). If you reclaim your car, you must make your payments on time and meet the terms of your reinstated or renegotiated contract to avoid another repossession. The creditor must sell a repossessed car in a "commercially reasonable manner" - according to standard custom in a particular business or an established market. The sale price might not be the highest possible price - or even what you may consider a good price. But a sale price far below fair market value may indicate that the sale was not commercially reasonable. Paying the Deficiency

A deficiency is any amount you still owe on your contract after your creditor sells the vehicle and applies the amount received to your unpaid obligation. For example, if you owe $2,500 on the car and your creditor sells the car for $1,500, the deficiency is $1,000 plus any other fees you owe under the contract, such as those related to the repossession and early termination of your lease or early payoff of your financing. In most states, a creditor who has followed the proper procedures for repossession and sale is allowed to sue you for a deficiency judgment to collect the remaining amount owed on your credit or lease contract. Depending on your state's law and other factors, if you are sued for a deficiency judgment, you should be notified of the date of the court hearing. This may be your only opportunity to present any legal defense. If your creditor breached the peace when seizing the vehicle or failed to sell the car in a commercially reasonable manner, you may have a legal defense against a deficiency judgment. An attorney will be able to tell you whether you have grounds to contest a deficiency judgment.

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