"A smart man makes a mistake, learns from it, and never makes that
mistake again. But a wise man finds a smart man and learns from him how to
avoid the mistake altogether."
Roy H. Williams
Donna has definitely allowed herself to be backed into a corner. But she has
plenty of company. The average car loan is now 70 months (source:
That's just shy of six years!
And, because Junior either didn't have sufficient credit or his credit was too
bad to get a loan Donna had to put her credit on the line. Taken together, it
was a financial accident waiting to happen.
So what can Donna do? She has very few options. None of them are very good. Her
best financial option would be to find someone to take over the car and the
payments. But finding that person will be tough. Most people would rather make
an extra four payments and get a brand new car instead of one that's used.
Donna could go for a voluntary repossession. She would return the car to the
loan company and hand over the keys. They'll sell it. Donna would still owe them
the amount of the loan minus the selling price. She can expect that to be about
25% of the purchase price of the car. And, the loan company will come after her
for payment. If she doesn't have the money and can't work out a payment plan,
she'll face a damaged credit score and perhaps even bankruptcy.
Another option would be to sell her current ride. It's possible that she could
sell her car for enough to cover the outstanding loan on it. That would leave
her with only one car and one set of payments. Granted, it's not the car she
wanted and would commit her for nearly six years. But it does have the advantage
of protecting her credit score (which will be important if she ever wants to
borrow money again).
Her best option? Tell Junior to suck it up and act like an adult. He obviously
wanted this car. He agreed to make payments to Mom for the next six years so
that he could get it. Now it's time to live up to his promise. To do anything
else would be irresponsible.
Making those payments will probably mean Junior needs to adjust his lifestyle.
He might need to get a second job. Or reduce a class load to get a full-time
job. The changes will probably be painful to him. That's unfortunate, but simply
the way it is.
If Mom lets Junior off the hook and tries to solve the problem for him she's
only delaying the inevitable. It won't be long before he's having other debt
problems. He'll be unable to keep up with credit card minimums. Or he'll buy
another car that he can't afford. Junior will be well down the path to financial
In a way Donna is faced with an opportunity. She can help her son become a
responsible adult by expecting him to live up to his commitments. If that
happens any inconvenience to Junior's lifestyle will be worthwhile.
Financially Donna doesn't have many good options. They were taken off the table
when she agreed to take on a six year loan for her son. But, hopefully we can be
like the wise man who learns from Donna's trouble. What lessons are there for
Don't sign an auto loan for your children. If reputable lenders aren't willing
to give them a loan, you shouldn't either. The chances are too great that you'll
end up making the payments for them.
Children need to build up their own credit score. The best way to do that is to
start small and demonstrate an ability to make promised payments. Getting an
auto or home loan is the last thing you do. Not the first. And, getting Mom or
Dad to co-sign the loan isn't the way to do it, either.
Secondly, a six year auto loan is too long. No one knows what their life will be
like in six years. Circumstances change. What you need in a vehicle will likely
change, too. It's much easier to trade rides when yours is paid for.
The only reason to extend from a four year to a six year loan is to reduce the
monthly payments. The dealer will be willing to do that. But, there's another,
better way to get affordable payments. Find a cheaper car.
Hopefully Donna and her son will get through this financial crisis and be much
smarter the next time they go out to buy a new car.
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner who currently edits
The Dollar Stretcher.com website and
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