"I bought a new 2014 Chevy Sonic in March of this year and the payments are getting a bit tough for me to make every month," a reader told me in an email. Here's the scary part: "I owe about $8,000 more than the car is worth. What should I do?"
This reader contacted me because I wrote a post about what do to when you are under-water on your loan. What I did not anticipate was someone being $8,000 underwater on a new car loan! I knew the Sonics depreciate fairly quickly, but there was no way it could drop that much in such a short amount of time.
So I asked the reader how much they paid for the car and what their payments were.
When I bought it the car was for $17,890 but I financed $24,350. I've been making payments on it since April for the amount of $383.
Right now most of you are asking, "How does one buy an $18,000 car but get financed for more than $24,000?"
Some dealerships are going to get you financed for as much as they can so they can add on a bunch of up-charges, or "payment pack," your loan. That means more money for them.
In this case I imagine the buyer put no money down, so they had to finance the tax title and tag fees. Then the dealer probably talked them into some extended warranty or service plan. All of this combined makes them underwater before they even drive off the lot.
Every month we get rosy reports of record-breaking new car sales numbers from automakers. What happened to this Sonic buyer is one of many ugly stories behind those glowing numbers.
According to a recent Detroit Free Press article, most experts are concerned with the growth of car buyers that are taking on longer loans and the increase in the number of leases. Cheap loans and record sub-prime credit approval means that more buyers are risking being underwater on their car loans.
"The longer the car loan, the longer it takes to build equity, said Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education at Credit.com. "If you need to get rid of the car you may find yourself having to write a check just to get rid of it. Or even worse, you may be stuck in a scenario where you roll over that balance into another new vehicle loan" possibly at a higher interest rate.
But the concern should go beyond just longer loans and higher interest, the more buyers that enter the marketplace that may have been shut-out due to stricter lending the more people that get taken for a ride by stealerships who can smell someone that doesn't know math a mile a way.
Perhaps my partner Tavarish is right and that there is a sizable population of car buyers maybe shouldn't finance a new car and instead spending some cash on cheap reliable transport. Longer loans make sense if you have done your budgeting properly and are sure you can make the payments. But when I get emails from one reader who is $8,000 underwater on a brand new $18,000 car or a note from another person who makes less than $900/mo who wants to finance a car for $250/mo...I get a little worried.
We've already seen what happens to an economy when too much credit is handed out too freely to buyers who shouldn't be receiving it and can't handle the payments. Even in the midst of a recovering economy and booming car sales for automakers, it seems too many people — and too many lenders — are eager to repeat the mistakes of just a few years ago.
My job is to give you advice on how not to get ripped off...your job is to make sure you understand your finances so you don't get in over your head.
If you have a question, a tip, or something you would like to to share about car-buying, drop me a line at AutomatchConsulting@gmail.com and be sure to include your Kinja handle.