A car repossession can stay on your credit report for up to 7 years and the negative impact can be devastating if not dealt with. But a repossession does not have to ruin your financial future. In fact, you have more options than you think. This article explains why a credit report is important, how to get a free report, and steps you can take to remove negative marks like repossession from your record.
Written by Attorney Serena Siew.
Updated September 23, 2021
A car repossession can stay on your credit report for up to 7 years and the negative impact can be devastating if not dealt with. But a repossession does not have to ruin your financial future. In fact, you have more options than you think. First, you will have to get a free copy of your credit report and dispute any wrong items to minimize the damage.
This article explains why a credit report is important, how to get a free report, and steps you can take to remove negative marks like repossession from your record. After repairing your credit, you’ll also want to start building new credit to replace the old.
What Is a Credit Report and Why Is It Important?
Credit reports and credit scores can be pretty confusing. You don’t get your credit score on your overall credit report. They are related yet separate. A credit report is like a report card of a student who is constantly being graded. Missed payments on a credit card could be reported as a “C.” Late payments on an auto loan can show up as a “D.” Repossession could be an “F.” Anything that’s not an “A” hurts your credit score.
Unlike a report card, a credit score is like a grade point average. It’s a number that summarizes all your credit activity to date. You may have some negative marks weighing down the overall number. A repo is a huge one. The math involved in calculating the score is dizzying. FICO score and VantageScore are the most widely-used systems, but it’s pretty clear that a repo on your credit report will be a drag on your credit score.
Being numbers-driven, most borrowers tend to focus more on their credit score. You can get your credit score from a bank or credit card company. But only three designated credit bureaus can issue a report. We discuss how to hit them up for a free credit report below.
Both credit scores and reports are important. But a credit report is more comprehensive and shows what’s helping and what’s hurting your credit.
“Good” Versus “Bad” Credit
Depending on the situation, either a credit score or credit report can be useful. For most things, a score will do. For other things a credit report is necessary. This is what lenders look at when deciding whether to issue you credit or approve a loan. Bigger ticket items like auto loans and mortgages require good credit. Having “good” credit is having a history of paying back loans. Having “bad” credit means that defaults like late payments, missed payments, a foreclosure or repossession appear on your credit report.
Having “good” credit is like having a good reputation. You want to protect that. When lenders see a good payment history, they are more likely to let you borrow money in larger amounts and at lower interest rates. A good payment history shows the lender that the borrower is likely to pay back the loan. Accordingly, they will extend borrowers more credit that they can repay with little to no interest.
Compare this to a credit report with a lot of “Fs.” Failing marks do not inspire confidence. Auto lenders that read them may not be as generous with terms. Banks may be less likely to offer a loan or raise the person’s credit limit. Knowing the borrower has a shaky history of paying back loans, lenders will also ask for much higher interest rates or even require a co-signer. A high interest rate means you’ll end up paying much more than the original amount. That’s why it’s so important to take action to improve your bad credit as soon as possible after a repossession.
How To Request Your Credit Report for Free
The first step is knowing how to get your free credit report. The three main credit bureaus responsible for issuing them are Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. You don’t need reports from all of them. But once a year, you can request a free report from any of them directly or through an agency called Annual Credit Report (ACR). ACR will furnish you with the report from one of the three bureaus.
Here are three easy ways to contact the ACR:
Call (877) 322-8228
Send a request form to P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
But you have to actually ask for your credit report. But it’s worth the effort to make sure that everything is accurate. Having your full credit report means you’ll know what negative information to dispute. Everyone from landlords to car dealerships check credit reports, so it’s really the key to your financial future. Monitor your financial health so it doesn’t limit your life further down the road.
How Does Vehicle Repossession Affect My Credit?
Credit scoring agencies other than FICO and VantageScore calculate scores differently. But vehicle repossession is damaging to your credit score across the board. This is because all systems count more than just the repo. In calculating your score, they will also deduct points for the following:
Multiple months of missed loan payments
Late fees charged with interest
Towing fees to move your repossessed car
Storage fees while your car sits in the lot
The outstanding balance you still owe after repossession
Deficiency balances that you owe after your car is auctioned
Deficiency judgments entered against you by creditors
These additional costs could lower your credit score by 100 points or more. Knowing that the average credit score is between 300 and 850, that’s a lot to lose. A 100-point loss is bad news for any borrower. A low credit score means fewer financial options and higher interest rates. Plus car repos can stay on your credit history for up to seven years, holding you back a long time into the future.
How Can I Remove Repossession From My Credit Report?
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires that negative marks like repossession be true. For example, if your account was sent to a collection agency because of a misspelled address or because of fraud, it should not appear on your report. Only real past-due accounts can be listed. And they can only appear once, not twice. If the repossession was an error, you should dispute it right away.
Dispute the repossession with a credit bureau.
You dispute a negative item on your credit report as you would a credit card charge. All three credit reporting agencies have online options to help clients file a claim. If you’re writing a letter, explain why the item is incorrect and include supporting documents. Make sure you send it by certified mail and request that the agency sign a return receipt that will be mailed back to you.
Once you file the claim, the FCRA requires that credit bureaus to investigate by contacting the source of the error and resolve the claim within 30 days. If they don’t, you can contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC is the agency responsible for protecting consumer rights.
Follow up with all the credit bureaus.
If one credit reporting agency is reporting the repo, odds are that it’s appearing on all three of your credit reports. So if the repo was an error, make sure it is removed from all three credit reports, not just one. Check with Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion to find the best way to dispute the repo. If you decide to send a letter, make sure to include the account number and your personal information, including your Social Security number. Also include any documents supporting your claim.
Remember to use certified mail with the return receipt requested. Send the packet to:
Experian Dispute DepartmentP.O. Box 4500Allen, TX 75013
Equifax Information Services LLCP.O. Box 740256Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
TransUnion Consumer SolutionsP.O. Box 2000Chester, PA 19016-2000
Contact the lender.
Not all lenders have to report repossessions to credit bureaus. This means you can negotiate with your lender and work out a deal that works for both of you. Some may allow you to refinance or trade in your car. Others are willing to accept delayed car payments or more favorable payment plans.
You can also return your car to the dealership when you know you can’t make future payments. This is known as a voluntary repossession. When you force lenders to come after the car, it’s an involuntary repossession. If you speak to the right person, you may be able to make an agreement with the lender where you agree to pay back enough of the outstanding balance in exchange for the lender agreeing not to report the repossession.
When dealing with lenders, it’s critical to speak to someone with the authority to strike such a deal. It’s possible to do so by phone, in person, or both. But it will take time and persistence. Just ask whoever’s available who can make that happen and hopefully, that person will know.
One last - but important - tip, remember to get any agreement in writing.
Hire a credit repair professional.
Finally, you can call in the experts. They do all the hard work for you. For around $100 a month, credit repair services can help you dispute inaccurate entries, handle negotiations with creditors, and remove errors from your credit report. But beware of scammers. The FTC warns consumers about fraud among credit repair and debt settlement agencies.
For more options on how to remove a repo from your history, consider speaking with a credit repair lawyer. Consulting a qualified legal professional is also safe. Finding a legitimate lawyer is also safer than responding to the first online ad promising to repair your credit.
How You Can Improve Your Credit Report After Repossession
Checking your credit report regularly can help avoid long-term damage. Remember you can dispute incorrect information. This often happens when one credit account is listed twice or if there has been credit card fraud. When you get your free credit report, make sure there are no duplicate accounts or charges you didn’t authorize. Clerical errors and identity fraud are more common than you think.
You can also start repairing credit yourself by taking out new, small loans that you can repay on time. This is especially useful for people who have just filed for bankruptcy. While they may be the most hesitant to borrow again, borrowing small amounts with a manageable monthly payment is a great way to rebuild “good” credit. A secured credit card with a low monthly limit also adds positive credit to your history.
Over time, the new positive history will replace old negative items and poor marks on your credit score become less important. Remember, your credit report is always changing, so it’s important to start including some “good grades” that show you’ve improved. As you become more consistent in paying debts on time, you inspire confidence in lenders. In return, they will extend you more credit.
Maintaining “good” credit is essential because “bad” credit will end up affecting your quality of life. Not just for a few days, but long-term. Repossession leaves a scar on your credit report and can lower your credit score by over 100 points. Combine that with the negative payment history leading up to the repo and you’ll face higher interest rates and fewer chances of getting future loans.
But even if you’ve had a repossession, all hope is not lost. You'll want to be proactive in rebuilding your credit. You can try dealing with lenders and credit bureaus yourself or hire a professional credit repair company to help repair your credit. You can also begin improving your credit history by replacing the negatives with positives. Consider taking out a small secured loan or a secured credit card with lower limits to start.