After you default on your car loan and the lender repossesses the vehicle, the lender will usually sell the car, either through a private sale or at a public auction, to recoup what you owe. In many cases, the sale proceeds aren't enough to cover the remaining balance on the loan plus the lender's costs in repossessing the car. If that happens, you'll owe the difference, called the "deficiency."
In most states, the lender can try to collect the deficiency from you. Some states restrict the lender's ability to collect a deficiency under certain circumstances. Those circumstances rarely apply in car repossession cases, though. If you don't pay, the lender can sue you. If you don't have a defense to the deficiency, the lender will get a judgment against you. Once the lender has a judgment, it can use various methods to collect it, including garnishing your wages or taking funds from your bank account.
You have several options for dealing with a deficiency, even if you don't have any defenses to it. You can pay the deficiency in full, make payment arrangements with the lender to pay the debt over time, or negotiate a settlement. In some cases, it might be best to do nothing; in others, you might want to consider bankruptcy.
Generally, if you don't have any defenses to the deficiency, you have the following options.
If you owe a deficiency and have resources available, you may choose to simply pay the full amount you owe. This option is potentially a good course of action when the deficiency is relatively small, and you have access to enough money to cover the balance. Sometimes, it makes sense to obtain a low-interest loan from a bank, credit union, friend, or family member. This option allows you to pay the lender in full now to avoid stressful collection activity and added interest charges.
Many lenders are willing to set up a reasonable payment plan to allow you to pay off the deficiency balance over time. The lender might require you to set up automatic payments from your bank to ensure you make your scheduled payments. Some lenders will ask you to sign a legal agreement in which you agree to pay the full amount of the deficiency according to the agreed-upon payment plan.
Many lenders are willing to settle the deficiency debt for a percentage of what you owe. Some lenders will ask for proof of financial hardship before agreeing to settle. You might be able to show financial hardship if you're unemployed, laid off, or disabled, or by providing a tax return or pay stubs and a list of living expenses to show the lender why you can't pay the debt in full. The settlement will likely need to be made in a lump sum, and many lenders will expect payment within ten days to two weeks.
The disadvantage to this option is that you'll have to come up with a lump sum of money. But the benefit is that you might be able to eliminate between 20% to 75% of the debt, on average. Also, keep in mind that you might have potential tax consequences if the lender agrees to forgive a portion of the debt you owe.
If none of the above options is a valid option for you, doing nothing might be your best choice. While your lender could be entitled to collect the deficiency from you, it might not attempt to do so for some time, if ever. You might want to wait until the lender starts actively pursuing the debt before you decide on a repayment option.
If your lender is actively trying to collect the debt, but you're judgment-proof, meaning you have little or no income or assets that your lender can take, you might not need to take any action at all.
Finally, if the deficiency isn't the only debt troubling you, filing for bankruptcy might be a good option. Most of the time, you can discharge a deficiency after a vehicle repossession along with your other unsecured debts.
If you need help dealing with how to repay a deficiency, consider talking to a debt settlement lawyer. If you're thinking about filing for bankruptcy, consult with a bankruptcy attorney.