By the time the she noticed the empty parking spot, the Jacksonville woman’s car was long gone.
She called police about 7:30 a.m. Tuesday to report it stolen — only to find it had been towed hours earlier, one of more than a dozen involuntary repossessions across the city this week alone.
It could be just the beginning. Largely related to pandemic layoffs, the number of past-due auto loans is on the rise, according to consumer credit agency TransUnion. It estimates about 7% of car loans are either overdue or in a payment deferment plan.
Although some financial institutions are working with loan-holders, it’s not required. In many states, whoever holds the loan can repossess the car after just one missed payment.
Les McCook, executive director for the American Recovery Association, told kgw.com he has not seen a time like this in his 50 years in business.
“I’m almost certain the number of repossessions are going to increase,” he said.
At the start of the pandemic in Illinois, auto repossessions were prohibited by executive order of the governor.
“The repossession of vehicles is contrary to the interest of preserving public health and ensuring that individuals are able to engage in permitted travel while limiting their use of public transportation and maintaining social distancing,” according to the order first signed into place in March and extended several times.
The ban was lifted in late August.
Because repossession is a matter of civil law, police rarely get involved. They will usually get a call to make them aware of what’s happening, though.
That’s what happened at least 14 times overnight Monday and Tuesday.
Monday, six involuntary repossessions of autos were reported, as well as one voluntary vehicle repossession and the repossession of one personal item.
There were six more involuntary repossessions of autos Tuesday.
“I would assume it’s because of what is going on,” Carmody said of the pandemic, loss of work and people not being able to keep up with finances.
Once a loan is considering in default, most states permit the creditor to repossess a car at any time, without notice, and to go onto someone’s property to do so. But they cannot use physical force, threats of force or remove a car from a closed garage without permission. They must also return any personal items inside the auto.
And police cannot help them.
“Usually we get a report that there will be a repossession, so that way it isn’t reported stolen,” Morgan County Sheriff Mike Carmody said.
“We don’t help with the repossession, we’re there just to keep the peace,” he said.
Almost 85% of the 116 million new car sales in the U.S. last year were financed, creating $1.4 trillion in auto loans, according to capitalcounselor.com.