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There Is No Magic Solution To Your Underwater Car Loan

Illustration for article titled There Is No Magic Solution To Your Underwater Car Loan

It’s unfortunate that some people get buried in debt. I frequently get emails from folks underwater on their car loans and most are hoping for some solution that defies the laws of mathematics. Here’s the real answer: there is no real answer.


I’ve been getting emails like this one at an alarming frequency:

“ I have a problem. I owe roughly $24,000 on my car and the most I’ve been offered for a trade in is $16,300. I wanna get into a truck but want my payment to stay roughly the same and that’s 431.07. “


Millions of people are driving around in cars that are worth far less than their loan balance. There are any number of ways they could have gotten themselves underwater, and now isn’t the time for judgment and finger-pointing.

However, it is time for the cold hard truth. And it doesn’t take an advanced degree in mathematics to figure it out, just a calculator.

If the loan balance is $24,000 and the best offer you got on a trade was $16,300, that is a whopping $7,700 in negative equity. I wrote a while back that you could lease something cheap with heavy incentives and break the underwater loan cycle. But typically banks will only let you do that if you are only a few grand underwater.


Once you get in the negative equity range of $7,000 or more, the lenders are less likely to take that risk. The second caveat to rolling negative equity over into a lease is you have to have good credit. All too often, people in these underwater loan scenarios are well under the 700 FICO mark.


Since leasing is not an option, you could buy something and roll the balance over into a loan. This is not recommended with such a deficit, and again if your credit isn’t great a bank might not approve it.

Of course, there are lenders willing to take risks on these kinds of loans and saddle people with massive debt, but we already know how that usually turns out.


Hypothetically speaking this is how it would work if you wanted to roll over $7,700 and hit a payment of $431.07, the first step is to fire up a handy-dandy loan calculator and divide $7,700 over a loan term of five years and assume a five percent interest rate. That comes out to $145 a month.


We then need to subtract that $145 from your target goal of $431 and we get $286. So, if you wanted to keep the same payment and roll over all that negative equity you need to find a truck that would give you payments of $286 a month.

A little backward math on the loan calculator with the same five-year term and five percent interest rate reveals that you’d need to buy a $15,000 truck. Now you’re exclusively in the used car realm, which makes it even more unlikely that a lender will roll $7,700 into your next loan.


So what should you do? There are really only two options that will keep you in a decent financial situation. The first option is to bring a lot of cash to the table in order to eat away some or all of that negative equity. The second choice is to keep driving what you have until your loan balance either reaches an equilibrium with your balance or even better wait until you have some equity for your trade in.

Sorry to crush your dreams, but don’t blame me. Blame the math.

Tom is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs He saves people money and takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. (

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Dear Tom,

I wish to be three inches taller, 500% richer, 50% stronger and smarter, 44% better looking and 50% younger. However, I want to be 1000% lazier. How can this be done?