“Did anyone ever pull a gun on you?” is usually the first question people ask when I tell them I was once a repo man.
Yes, twice. The first time, I heard a shot as I drove away. The second time, I convinced the man to put away the gun he was pointing at us, and calmly explained to him how to get his car back.
Dangerous? Yes. But legally stealing cars in the middle of the night is a lot of fun. Although I wouldn’t do it again, when I was twenty-two it was exciting. So if you’re young, invulnerable and looking for an interesting career or just some extra cash and excitement, read on.
What It’s Like to Be a Repossession Agent
As you probably guessed, and as a recent job posting for a repossession agent in Denver says, “This position is not a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job.” You normally repossess cars in the dark, with midnight to five in the morning being prime time. (Click to tweet this idea.)
Although “repo man” may be the more interesting job title, companies who hire you often prefer that you call yourself an “auto repossession agent” or “collateral recovery agent.” The latter is a nice general title that leaves open the possibility of branching out into other areas, like electric wheelchair repossession.
Repossession laws in each state vary, but usually as soon as a borrower is late on a car payment, the lender has a right to take the automobile back. Most states have “self-help” laws, meaning the lender or agent can take the car without police or courts being involved, and even enter private property to do so, unless that requires opening gates or doors. Some states require that the police are notified after the car is repossessed, and it’s a good idea in any case since the cars you take will sometimes be reported as stolen.
You’ll recover the vehicles either by driving them or using a tow truck. Lenders usually have the “key code” necessary to make a new key for you. If not, they have the vehicle identification number (VIN). Enter that into a key code service website and you can get the code needed to make a key for most vehicles. It’s easier when you have the keys and can just jump in the car and drive away. That makes for less drama than when you have to take the time to hook up a car to the tow truck as young, newly car-less couples simultaneously fight with each other and you. (It’s doubtful they’ll be focused on the savings of having one less car.)
Challenges of the Job
Taking a person’s car often creates some animosity, and these feelings can extend past the owners themselves. On one assignment while my brother and I were repo agents, everyone in a bar came outside to defend their friend’s car from our repossession effort. I ran to a phone to call the police. We were lucky; sadly, a repo man was recently shot and killed in Virginia. Another time, we even had a police officer threaten to beat us up and throw us in jail for trying to take a car in his town; we stopped notifying police in advance after that incident.
However, if you keep calm and treat people with respect, you can talk your way through most situations. Banks will sometimes return a car to a delinquent borrower if he calls and makes up past-due payments and repays the repossession costs. Explaining this and telling the borrower you can report to the bank that he was very cooperative, can defuse a lot of volatile situations.
You’ll also have to build somewhat unorthodox job skills. In addition to developing your “stealth mode” by sneaking around yards at night, you’ll need to learn how to use a “slim jim” to open locked doors. You’ll become proficient at basic “skip tracing” (locating people who have moved) and other investigative work. (When people stop paying their car loans, they sometimes move and often start parking their car somewhere other than at home. You have to find that car using any legal means available.)
What Does a Repo Man (or Woman) Get Paid?
With the average annual wage of repossession agents at just $26,000, you’d better enjoy the work or plan on becoming the boss someday. Occasionally you’ll find a repo company that offers full benefits. Of course, you might just want to earn some extra cash repossessing cars on weekends. So what does it take?
State licensing laws vary, but most do not require licensing of repo agents or even repossession companies. Those that require some form of license do not normally require it of agents, but only for the business they work for.
What else do you need? You could go to a recovery agent school, but many companies will train you on the job. You don’t even need a high school diploma in most cases. Basic tools, like flashlights, tow straps, lock picks and jumper cables are usually provided by your employer. Previous experience in collections or security work is helpful, but not normally a requirement.
What most companies do want is a clean driving record. You also need to be able to talk to people easily, and work with computers. Being a good problem solver and having some basic auto maintenance knowledge helps too.
Where to Find Repossession Jobs
You’ll sometimes see these positions advertised on Craigslist or in newspapers. Monster.com has a dozen listings for repo jobs at the moment, although to find them all, I had to search using several keywords, including “auto recovery,” “repossession agent” and “collateral recovery agent.” Two of the companies hiring say they provide full training for new agents.
RepoMan.com has an online forum for repossession agents with job listings from around the country. It’s also a good place to hang out and learn about the work.
On Repo.org you can search your zip code to locate nearby repossession companies. The site includes phone numbers so you can call to see if anyone is hiring.
As I mentioned earlier, I wouldn’t do it again now that I’m older, but there was a certain appeal to tracking down and taking cars in the middle of the night.
Your Turn: Would you consider being a repo man or repo woman?