CINCINNATI — If you lost pay last year due to the pandemic, you may be able to get help from unemployment insurance, the CARES act, and other government programs.
These pandemic aid programs are helping many people stay afloat, including apartment renters, people struggling with student loans, small business owners, and more.
But one area it missed: auto loans. And thousands of people falling behind, and losing their cars, are now pleading for some sort of help.
Cheryl Cooney is among them.
The Cincinnati woman headed out to her dental assistant job the other morning only to discover her car had been towed from in front of her Oakley home overnight.
"I went out to work at 6:45 a.m., and my car was gone," she said.
Her 2015 black Honda Civic now sits locked up at a repo lot.
"I feel like I have been invaded," she said.
US PIRG reports a spike in car repossessions since the pandemic began, as auto loans, unlike student loans, got no relief from the CARES act.
Cooney says she lost three months of work when COVID shut down her dental office.
So she asked Honda for a break, explaining that she was a front-line health care worker who lost thousands of dollars in income.
"I called Honda to let them know what was going on," she said. "They told me to go ahead and make payments as I can."
But she found it impossible to catch up, with her unemployment benefits taking months to kick in.
She was behind on three $400 payments, for a total of $1,200, which triggered the repo man to hunt down her car in the early morning hours.
We went to the lot to see what it would take to release Cooney's car, but were told that's up to Honda Financial, the lien holder.
So we contacted Honda Financial, where a spokeswoman said she cannot discuss Cooney's case publicly, but "will reach out to the customer to discuss it further."
What you can do
So don't let this happen to you.
The Federal Trade Commission says if you are falling behind on car payments:
- Contact your creditor before you miss a car payment, not after.
- Ask for a grace period of a few months due to the pandemic.
- Ask for a "revised payment schedule," lowering your monthly rate and spreading it out over a longer period of time.
As a last resort, you can request a "voluntary repossession," to avoid repo and towing fees, and avoid a black mark on your credit report.
Cooney says she can't afford the $2,000 plus in payments, penalties and fees the lender now wants. And if she doesn't claim her car by March 4, it will be auctioned off.
"I have that money as a nest egg, not to get my car back," she said. "You just don't treat people this way!"
But car financing is a business. And there is no pandemic aid for people struggling with auto loans, even front-line health care workers like Cheryl Cooney.
So ask for a break before you fall behind, so you don't waste your money.
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