What Legal Action Happens When You Can't Pay a Rent to Own Place?

Written by James Hirby | Fact checked by The Law Dictionary staff |  

"Rent-to-own" stores are a novel feature of the American urban landscape. While vendors have sold durable goods on credit for thousands of years, the scale of the typical rent-to-own operation is staggering. The individual outlets of national rent-to-own chains like Rent-a-Center and Aaron's occupy prominent lots in many outdoor shopping centers. Meanwhile, their corporate parents bask in multi-million dollar revenue streams and mount relentless expansions across the country.

Unfortunately, these businesses have earned their success by taking a hard line with their customers. Typical rent-to-own customers have poor or nonexistent credit and can't rely on traditional means of financing to make large purchases. Many lack checking accounts and meaningful stores of savings. With some notable exceptions, they tend to carry significant amounts of debt and may habitually use revolving credit facilities like payday loans to make ends meet.

As such, rent-to-own businesses keep close tabs on their customers. While each company is different, well-run national brands usually begin making attempts to contact late-paying customers within two weeks of the missed payment's due date. These initial attempts take the form of once-daily phone calls. After three weeks, these calls may become more insistent. Some companies may supplement them with official-looking letters or e-mails.

In spite of their hard-nosed approach to lending, rent-to-own businesses tend to empathize with customers who fall on hard times. If you've ceased making payments on your rent-to-own purchases, don't avoid further interaction with your vendor. If you ignore their attempts to contact you, you'll increase their suspicion that you're willfully avoiding them. In short order, they'll begin taking steps to repossess your purchases. You won't be able to reason with the third-party repossession specialist who shows up on your doorstep to take your refrigerator.

Instead, keep your rent-to-own vendor abreast of any changes in your financial circumstances. If you've seen your working hours cut or received an unexpectedly large hospital bill, talk to their financing department about extending your repayment period or deferring payment until you're back on your feet. In some cases, they may be unable or unwilling to help. In others, they may exhibit surprising flexibility.

If you continue to avoid contact with your vendor, they'll take action to repossess your equipment. If you choose to delay the inevitable by changing your address or hiding your purchases with a complicit relative, you may open yourself to a lawsuit that further damages your credit rating.

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