How Much Will a Car Repossession Hurt My Credit Score?

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In most parts of the country, having a car isn’t optional. Without your own vehicle, it can be extremely difficult to get to work or provide for your family, but at the same time, car ownership can be a challenge.

If you find yourself having trouble making your car payments, you could end up losing your vehicle. That can cause all sorts of other problems, which a Credit.com reader recently asked about:

“How much does a repossession affect your credit?” —kc

Having your car repossessed can certainly cause credit problems, but the actual repossession is only one of them. Car repossessions are reported to the major credit bureaus, and as a result, will impact your credit scores.

“A car repossession is considered a negative payment event by the FICO Score,” Can Arkali, principal scientist at credit scoring company FICO, said in an email. “All else held equal, the impact of a car repossession is comparable to the impact of a collection account.”

Jeff Richardson, a spokesman for credit scoring company VantageScore Solutions, said how much a repossession affects your credit really depends on the scoring model you’re talking about, as well as other factors in an individual’s credit history. In general, a repossession is considered a derogatory event, like collection accounts, civil judgments and tax liens.

Credit Problems Leading Up to Repossession

Of course, repossessions generally don’t happen in a vacuum. Someone’s car is usually repossessed because they haven’t made their auto loan or lease payments on time, which likely would have already hurt their credit.

“Avoid it,” Richardson said, adding that people should avoid any derogatory events “at all costs.” According to VantageScore, it will take longer to recover from a derogatory event like a car repossession than it will to recover from a series of delinquencies. So even if you’re behind on payments, bringing that account to current status and avoiding a repossession may also help you spare your credit from further damage.

The Aftermath of Repossession

A repossession can remain on your credit report for 7 years from the date you initially fell behind on the loan. The loan status will change to “repossession” (it would have previously said how many days delinquent the payments were), and it will have a seriously negative impact on your credit, though that impact will lesson over time.

Rod Griffin, director of public education at Experian, said there’s no specific amount of points your credit score will drop after a repossession. Given that a series of delinquencies tends to precede repossession, someone whose car is taken back likely already has a poor score.

“Typically it’s not a unique element of the history,” Griffin said. There are probably other negative things happening, and that repossession is going to dig them in deeper.”

That’s often not the end of it either. Losing your main mode of transportation could seriously compromise your ability to get to work and make money to pay your other bills. The potential domino effect of a repossession is just one of many reasons to try to avoid it.

A voluntary repossession — giving the car back rather than having someone come and take it — will hurt your credit score just as much as a forceful repossession, Griffin said, though it could help you in the future to maintain as good a relationship as possible with an auto lender or dealer. But as far as credit goes, it won’t help.

Finally, after the lender repossesses your car, they will sell it in an attempt to recoup their losses. If the sale doesn’t cover the entire balance of the loan, you can expect to get a 1099-C for that tax year. The Internal Revenue Service treats canceled debt as income, and you may need to pay taxes on it, which can further strain your finances.

If you do go through a repossession, Griffin recommends focusing on what you can do to improve your credit while you wait for the repossession to age off your reports. That includes actions like paying down your revolving credit balances (credit card debt) and bringing current any other delinquent accounts you may have, because payment history and debt use have the greatest impact on credit scores. You can see how your score changes as a result of a repossession and your efforts to improve it by getting two free credit scores every month on Credit.com.

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Image: skynesher

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