Money Talk: Don’t Co-Sign for Son’s Car Loan
Question: Our son graduated from college last year and was recently hired as a permanent employee for a company he was contracted with for the past year. He wants to buy a new car but has limited credit history.
He has a credit card he has had since starting college. He uses it lightly and pays the balance off every month. If we are asked to co-sign a loan, will paying for the car positively impact his credit scores?
Answer: Yes, an auto loan if paid on time should help his credit scores, but you shouldn’t co-sign for it.
Many people who co-sign loans somehow miss the important point that they are putting their good credit into someone else’s hands — and that one missed payment can trash that good credit, knocking 100 points or more from their scores.
Your son may be the most responsible 20-something on the planet, but he could still make a mistake. The only time that it makes sense to co-sign a loan is when you are going to make all the payments on the debt.
He shouldn’t assume that his credit history is insufficient to get a loan. He can get his FICO scores, including the auto scores most often used by lenders, for about $20 apiece at MyFico.com. He should then take those scores to his local credit union to see what interest rate he would be offered on a car loan.
If it turns out his credit isn’t quite up to snuff, the credit union may have some kind of “credit builder” personal loan that can help improve it. (Credit unions are owned by their members and tend to have better rates and terms than many other lenders.) Since he hasn’t had an auto loan before, discuss with him how easy it is to overspend on a car when you aren’t paying cash.
The costs of insuring, maintaining and repairing a car, plus the depreciation, can be as much as the monthly payment. In other words, the vehicle is likely to cost him twice what he thinks it will.
Once he sees how much of his paycheck is eaten up by car costs, he might be willing to consider buying a used car instead of a new one or saving up to pay cash.
If he does go ahead, make sure he understands the dangers of being “upside down” on a loan. Owing more than a car is worth leaves you vulnerable if the car is stolen or totaled, since you won’t get enough from the insurer to pay off the loan.
You can buy extra coverage for the gap, but a better approach is to make a large down payment and limit the loan term to three or four years.
Question: I recently retired as a federal employee after 40 years of service. I participated under the old Civil Service Retirement System. My pension is about $85,000 per year. I will be 64 this year.
Twenty years ago, my ex-wife and I divorced after 17 years of marriage. Friends of mine have indicated that because we were married more than 10 years, I am eligible for a spousal Social Security benefit. I thought because I was covered under the CSRS, any Social Security received would be offset against the monthly pension payment.
I think this is due to the government pension offset, which has been in effect since 1983. My Social Security benefit would in effect be zero. Is my understanding accurate?
Answer: Yes. If you’re receiving a government pension based on work for which you didn’t pay Social Security taxes, then the pension offset typically reduces the amount of any so-called dependent benefits you might receive by two-thirds of the amount of that pension.
That reduction can wipe out any spousal or survivor benefit you might otherwise get.
Before the offset, people with government pensions who didn’t pay into Social Security could wind up better off than people who had paid into the system their entire working lives.
Those who paid into the system would get the larger of the checks to which they were entitled — either the dependent check or their own — while those who had pensions outside the Social Security system could get both their own benefit and dependent benefits.
There is a way you could have received a spousal benefit, and that’s if you had put off receiving your pension, said Laurence Kotlikoff, co-author of Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security. If putting off the pension would have increased the amount you received, it could have made sense to do so and take the spousal benefit in the meantime.
There are various other exceptions to these rules, so you should check out the government pension offset information available at the Social Security site, http://www.ssa.gov.
Liz Weston is the author of The 10 Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy . Questions for possible inclusion in her column may be sent by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Distributed by No More Red Inc.