When people are struggling to keep up with bills, they often prioritize basic needs and move car payments to the bottom of the list. Yet it’s important to not lose sight of the long-term effects that skipping payments may have on your credit. Eventually, you will want to have your credit in good shape to apply for a place to live, a loan, another vehicle or even a job. But how can you do that when times are tough?

Edmunds’ experts offer their advice on what to do if you’re unable to make your car payments. Above all, call your lender. Lenders may be able to offer reduced payments or give you an extension. This communication is important to show that you are committed to paying the loan and keeping the account in good standing.

Deferred payments

Many lenders, especially the captive finance companies owned by the automakers, have enacted policies specifically for people who have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic. Loan deferment is the most common relief option.

Loan deferments are an agreement between the lender and the customer that allows the customer to delay his or her car payments for a specified period of time. The skipped month or months are then added to the end of the loan, effectively increasing the length of your loan. For example, if you have a 60-month loan and defer your payments for three months, you’ll actually finish paying off your loan after the 63rd month.

The length of time you can defer a car loan depends on your situation and your lender’s deferment policies. Also keep in mind that interest will typically continue to accrue during the deferral period, so you will generally pay more in interest over the length of the loan.

Automakers’ finance arms from BMW and Mini, Ford and Lincoln, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, Mazda, Nissan and Infiniti, and Toyota and Lexus prefer to handle the requests on a case-by-case basis, so their benefits are a little unclear in terms of the specifics. We recommend that you contact your lender directly and explain your situation.

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Other auto lenders are more specific in their options and deferment limits. Acura and Honda have offered up to 60 days of deferment. Kia and Maserati  offered 90 days. Hyundai offered up to six months of payment relief. Check with your lender for the latest options.

Also make sure your lender approves a loan deferment before you stop making payments. Deferment is not the same as delinquency, and your credit will not be affected so long as you and your lender are on the same page. Some lenders will also require proof of job loss, such as unemployment insurance documentation.

Lease options

If you’re leasing, you may still be eligible for a payment deferral. Check with your lender to see if it’s willing to do this. And if you’ve locked in a particularly good low monthly rate and your lease is ending soon, ask for a lease extension, which may buy you some time until you’re back on your feet.

Another option might be to take a look at peer-to-peer lease exchange websites such as Swapalease or LeaseTrader. The premise is simple: A person who needs to get out of a lease posts a vehicle on the site. If a shopper likes the terms, that shopper can take over the lease provided that the bank allows it and the shopper qualifies. Not all lenders will allow a lease exchange, but if you can unload your car this way, you’ll be off the hook for future payments.

This story was provided to The Associated Press by the automotive website Edmunds. Ronald Montoya is a senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds.