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What To Do If You Can’t Make Your Car Payments

by Gerri Detweiler

What to Do If You Can't Make Your Car Payments

If you find yourself unable to keep up with your vehicle loan payments, investigate the following options as soon as possible to avoid a repossession of your vehicle:

Modify Your Auto Loan

Talk with your lender to find out whether you can modify your vehicle loan. Some lenders will allow you to make lower payments for a short period of time, or even skip a payment or two, and add the deferred amount to the end of your loan. This option may be available to someone experiencing temporary financial problems, but it is not wise if your money troubles are ongoing. It’s important to discuss this option with your lender before you miss a payment.

Refinance Your Vehicle Loan

If you have strong credit, you may be able to refinance your loan and lower your payments, either by taking out a longer loan or by lowering your interest rate. The former can be a costly option but may be better than other alternatives. Your current lender may be willing to refinance your loan or you may have to shop around for a new lender. Not sure what your current score is? Find out using’s Free Credit Report Card.

Let Someone Assume Your Loan

If you have a good car loan with a low interest rate, or even a good lease, a buyer may be happy to take over your payments. Talk with your lender – not all car loans and leases are assumable. If yours is, the buyer will likely have to meet credit and income qualifications in order to officially take over the loan or lease.

Sell Your Vehicle

Advertise your vehicle for sale and see if you sell it for enough money to pay off your current loan. If not, you will have to come up with the difference between what you sell the car for and what you owe in order to transfer the title of the vehicle to the new owner.

Turn The Keys In

Sometimes walking away from your vehicle (known as a “voluntary repossession”) is the only available option. However, keep in mind that in most states the lender can still pursue you for the “deficiency” – the difference between what you owe and what the car sells for at auction. If you are thinking of going this route, try to work out something with the lender to minimize balance you’ll still owe.

Let Your Car Be Repossessed

If you fall behind on your loan, your vehicle may be repossessed. Every state has its own laws that cover vehicle repossession. In most cases, your vehicle can’t be “repo’d” if it is locked in your garage, or even if you protest. However, if you are at risk of losing your car in a repossession, it’s a good idea to remove anything of value that belongs to you from the vehicle and to talk with an attorney so you know your rights should it be taken.

Repossession is one of the most costly options for dealing with a car you can’t afford, as the cost of taking back the vehicle and selling it may be added to your loan balance.

File for Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy can sometimes stop your vehicle from being repossessed. Or, it may wipe out a deficiency debt you owe on a car that’s already been repossessed or given back to the lender. Consult with a bankruptcy attorney to explore your options.

To learn more about managing car loans and how to find the best loan for your situation, read more from our experts by visiting our Loans Learning Center.

  • Carol

    How can I get in touch with a Bankruptcy attorney

    • Gerri Detweiler

      You can search online or you may want to search the directory at the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys website.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Talk with a consumer bankruptcy attorney. If you own the cars outright it could be a problem because they may be an asset that is available to other creditors. If you still owe money on them, however, then you may be able to continue your payments and keep the cars. Again, you’ll want to get advice from a bankruptcy attorney as exemptions vary by state.

  • K williams

    what happen if i filed bk7 and did a reffirming with my car loan . however they still repo the car 2 weeks after the discharge for non payment. but the trustee did not officially sign-off on the documents until 2 months later.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      This is a question for your bankruptcy attorney. Have you spoken with him or her?

  • Jessica

    Hi . My car taking away the bank has the car. I don’t want to do because I can’t afford the car payment and take car back.I don’t know what my next step

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Jessica – Please talk with a consumer bankruptcy attorney who can look at the situation for you and make suggestions (which may or may not include filing).

  • Jan

    My son is a 100% disabled military veteran and has a monthly income of about $3800. He made some poor decisions in the past when buying vehicles and became seriously upside down. This caused higher payments, and he began having difficulty making ends meet.

    More poor decisions followed when he used credit cards and bank loans to provide the cash needed in order to make the payments and still have money for living expenses. About 6 months ago, he received a flyer from a local dealership which guaranteed to get folks into a new vehicle with lower payments than currently paying. He went in thinking this would solve his cash flow problem. Instead, the dealership reported his income to the lender as $6500 per month, which actually raised his payment, putting him even further in debt.

    I have taken over control of his finances And have him on a strict budget in order to reduce his debts. My question to you is what responsibility would this dealership have to right the wrong they committed when they lied about his income? With compromised mental health, was my son taken advantage of?

    Thank you in advance for any guidance you can provide.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Jan – I am so sorry to hear what you and your son have gone through. My first question is whether, with all this debt, he should consider bankruptcy. It may allow him to put these bills behind him and get a fresh start. If nothing else, you may want to meet with a consumer bankruptcy attorney simply to find out what his rights are with regard to the falsified income. If you would consider talking with one, you can visit the website of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. Another option is to file a complaint with the Office of Servicemember Affairs within the CFPB along with your state attorney general.

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  • Meet Our Expert

    gerri_detweiler GravatarGerri Detweiler is's Director of Consumer Education. She focuses on helping people understand their credit and debt, and writes about those issues, as well as financial legislation, budgeting, debt recovery and savings strategies. She is also the co-author of Debt Collection Answers: How to Use Debt Collection Laws to Protect Your Rights, and Reduce Stress: Real-Life Solutions for Solving Your Credit Crisis as well as host of
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