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Personal Finance Q&A: Why teens shouldn’t drive convertibles

Many convertibles lack protective features that are more common in sedans.
(Carlos Alvarez / Getty Images)

Dear Liz: My son is almost 16 and has his heart set on a used luxury convertible. We have found a few that are priced at about $23,000 with about 50,000 miles. We are debating whether this is the right choice for him. The type he wants is not overpowered (it has a six-cylinder engine), has many safety features and gets decent gas mileage. He has worked hard since he was 8 in our business and has saved about half the money needed. (He invests his money and almost never spends it.) I know that if he had a nice car like this, he wouldn’t be getting the message that he is entitled to it. But is it just too much for a 16-year-old? He goes to a private high school in an affluent area, so he has seen parents buy their kids expensive luxury cars that get wrecked and then replaced only to be destroyed again. He can see that’s not the way to go. He is an excellent driver as well.

Answer: He may be an excellent driver while you’re in the car, but you have no idea yet how he’ll do once he’s turned loose with a license.

Car crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teenagers, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and the death rate for males ages 16 to 19 is twice that of females the same age. Per mile driven, teenagers are almost three times more likely than other drivers to be involved in a fatal crash. And the presence of male teen passengers increases the likelihood of risky driving behavior. Even the most responsible kid can get goaded into doing stupid things. (In fact, goading each other into doing stupid things is a defining trait of adolescence.)

This is why safety factors are key when considering cars for new drivers. Convertibles overall are safer than they used to be, but many lack some of the protective features that are more common in sedans, such as side curtain or “head protection” air bags that deploy from overhead. Some convertibles have an automatic roll bar that pops up when sensors detect an imminent crash or rollover, but most don’t.

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In general, safety advocates recommend bigger, heavier vehicles with lots of safety features for teen drivers. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety maintains a list of good, affordable used cars for new drivers that includes coupes, sedans, wagons, SUVs, minivans and even a few pickups — but not convertibles.

Give your son a few years of practice driving a big, dumb, uncool, underpowered vehicle. You’ll raise the odds that he’ll have many, many years ahead of him to drive the car of his dreams.

Spousal versus survivor benefits

Dear Liz: Your recent article about Social Security claiming strategies may contain some wrong information. You told the woman who is 64 and had a former spouse who died that she could take her own benefit now and then switch to her survivor benefits when reaching 66. I wanted my wife to do something like this (but not the survivor part; I’m still alive), but was told by a few Social Security experts that this scenario is not possible because Social Security deems spouses to be filing for the spousal benefit and their own retirement at the same time. Once they’re deemed to have filed for both benefits, they get the larger of the two and can’t switch later. Please print a clarification.

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Answer: Let’s clarify that you are still breathing and the ex-spouse in the original letter is not. The fact that you’re alive makes a world of difference, not just to you and your loved ones but to the Social Security benefit system.

When you’re alive, your spouse (or ex-spouse) may receive spousal benefits. When you’re dead, your spouse or ex-spouse may receive survivor benefits. Survivor benefits would essentially equal your benefit, while spousal benefits are capped at half of your benefit. Both spousal and survivor benefits are reduced if they’re started before the recipient’s full retirement age (currently 66).

There are other differences. Survivors can remarry at age 60 or later without losing their benefits. They also can switch from their own benefit to a survivor benefit, or vice versa, at any time.

Spousal benefits paid to a divorced person, by contrast, end if that person remarries at any age. Also, there’s the deeming issue you mention. When people apply for spousal benefits before their own full retirement age, they’re deemed or considered by Social Security to be applying for both spousal and their own retirement benefits. They’re given an amount equal to the larger of the two, and they lose the option of switching to their own benefits later, even if it would have been larger.

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Those who wait until full retirement age had the option of filing a restricted application for spousal benefits only, which would allow them to switch later. Congress recently eliminated that option for those who haven’t turned 62 by the end of this year.

Questions may be sent to Liz Weston, 3940 Laurel Canyon, No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or by using the “Contact” form at asklizweston.com. Distributed by No More Red Inc.


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