Money Talk

GAP coverage may not pay off your car loan

Money Talk

Dear Liz: In 2012, I financed a 2008 Honda at my credit union. The car was priced at $16,500. With a trade-in, the loan came to $22,000. GAP coverage was factored into the loan payments, which were $464 a month. Last year, the car was wrecked and deemed a total loss by the insurance company. They paid the "book value" of $8,860 to the credit union. However, $6,000 remained on the loan. The GAP coverage paid $3,000 and now the credit union is saying I owe the remaining $3,000. They said the GAP would only pay a percentage of the balance because the car was "over financed" back in 2012. This seems to be unfair, and I feel like the lender should get the money from the GAP provider (per the contract that was signed when the car was financed). Is it possible for the GAP provider to refuse to cover the whole balance left on the loan? I will be meeting with the loan officer next week to discuss payment options.

Answer: You've discovered one of the many reasons why you don't want to roll debt from a previous vehicle into a car loan to purchase its replacement.

Many people do exactly that, though. When trading in a car for a new vehicle, nearly 1 in 3 people roll debt from the old loan into the new one, figures from car comparison site show. The average amount of negative equity in January was $4,814.50. With used cars, 1 in 4 people with a trade-in roll debt from their old car into the replacement loan, with an average negative equity of $3,595.30.

GAP (Guaranteed Auto Protection) coverage would seem to be the solution, since it's designed to pay the lender the difference between the loan on the car and what the car is worth. Most GAP policies, though, won't cover the debt you brought over from the previous vehicle. That leaves you in exactly the position you thought you would avoid, which is having no car but a pile of debt to pay off.

A better approach to car buying is to make a significant down payment, such as 20% of the purchase price, and keep loan terms to no more than four years. You can't buy as much car that way, but you won't end up owing far more than the car is worth.

Loans to family often become inadvertent gifts

Dear Liz: My cousin borrowed some money from us because he said they were behind on their house payments. It was only a small amount, but we said we wanted to sit down with him and his wife to discuss this. He agreed to meet with us in the evening of the day he received our check, but of course he called and said they couldn't make it. We see them every week at church, and she doesn't act as if anything was happened, while he avoids eye contact. It's been three months and they haven't made a single payment. I can't imagine how I would feel if I found out that my husband was hiding something like this from me, and I don't know if we should press the issue or just consider it a personal loss and lesson for the future. Any suggestions?

Answer: Loans to family and friends often become inadvertent gifts, so you were smart not to hand out more than you could afford to lose.

You already know everything you need to know about your cousin, which is that he lacks integrity as well as financial management skills. It's possible that either or both of these facts would be news to his wife, but chances are good that she already knows. So there doesn't seem to be much point in embarrassing her if you've already decided not to pursue the debt.

Does taking Social Security early make sense?

Dear Liz: My wife will be 62 in November and does not work. I am 55 and have a 401(k) for our retirement. I know you preach waiting to take Social Security. But what about if my wife takes it early and we invest all of the money? Would it then make sense to take early?

Answer: You would need to get returns well in excess of 7% to beat the guaranteed annual return you get from waiting to take Social Security. In today's volatile markets, that would be quite a feat.

You can run the numbers yourself at a Social Security claiming calculator. AARP offers a free one, or you can pay $40 to use one of the more sophisticated options such as

Liz Weston is a personal finance columnist for NerdWallet. Questions may be sent to her at 3940 Laurel Canyon, No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or by using the "Contact" form at Distributed by No More Red Inc.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on February 27, 2016, in the Business section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "GAP may not pay off car loan - MONEY TALK" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe