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Guy gets ripped off, is embarrassed

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Here’s an email I got just now (names changed).

I need a little help. Well actually a lot of help. My friend got suckered into a TERRIBLE car deal. I mean bad. I don’t know all the details but I know he has a contract for 6 years on a $20,000 car with a APR of 17.something%, and that 1/3 of this monthly income will be spent on this car. Basically I have 2 problems.

1. My Friend is an IDIOT, and not just because he got suckered into a bad deal, that happens, but because he is too embarrassed to do anything about it. He thinks he will just trade it in to the same car dealership and get a cheaper car.
2. I don’t know enough about buying a car (I don’t own one because I cannot afford it right now) and am not familiar with possible legal recourse.

I am a pretty dedicated Ramit follower and have read your site for awhile. I told John (my moron friend) to contact a lawyer, and since I can’t do that for him, I am emailing you. He cannot afford to make these payments and to lose $15,000ish on interest (did I do the math right?) is ridiculous. This is highway robbery, and those car dealers are swine. They made him think when he was signing the papers that he could bring it back in 24 hours if he had second thoughts, and then when he did (I made him) they wouldn’t take the car back, saying that “That wasn’t what we meant”.

I know you don’t have time enough to solve everyones problems and you are not some kind of inexhaustible free resource, but if you can help, please let me know. I would be happy to return the favor in any way I can.

We have exchanged emails a few times in the past. Even if you don’t remember, I did follow through with your advice. It was prolly 6 months ago, and I should have followed up with you. Lesson learned. Now I follow up.

Three things:

Every paragraph has something super-interesting in it.

I find it interesting how we get embarrassed by our money mistakes and we don’t want to talk about them. I’m not pointing fingers–I’ve done it before, too. Rationally, in this case, it would make sense for this guy to ask for help. In fact, it could save him thousands of dollars. But the social pressures to appear knowledgeable exact a surprisingly high cost.

Finally, does anyone have any advice for him? I have no idea, so I just suggested that his friend see a lawyer ASAP.

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  1. I’m only responding because I got suckered similarly… I was just out of college, no credit history, needed a car, and didn’t read the fine print. I think I was paying over 19%, but luckily it was only about an $8000 car. The good news is that he should have some options, assuming that he’s not locked into some crazy scheme where there are pre payment penalties.

    What I did was find a generous family member who took my loan over at a more reasonable (for the time) 8%. While that’s not ideal, it’s better than 17%. When I got my feet under me, I was able to get a credit card at 0% for transfers for a year, which I was able to pay the family member off with. The 0% transfer fee scheme is dangerous, and requires great attention to detail, but I can proudly say that I haven’t paid a dollar in interest on any of my debt since I bought that car. And I have paid off upwards of $50k in debt (mostly school loans). I also have over $100k in available credit, which while overexcessive, looks good in the credit to debt ratio of my credit score.

    I’m not saying this is the way to go for everyone, but if you can get approved for a decent amount of credit and can transfer the balances and just sign up for another one when the 0% time runs out, you should be able to drive the car long enough to pay it down to the point where you can break even on a trade in. Obviously we should all buy cars with cash, but seriously, how many people can actually do that?

  2. He can hire a lawyer to see if there’s any way he can renounce the contract, but it’s going to have to be for something more substantive that that the dealers are “swine” with 17% APRs. If he was legitimately promised a 24 hour return period, and then had that denied him when he tried to exercise it, that would be grounds enough. Also, if it’s still within 30 days of purchase there may be state laws that grant him various consumer-protection rights. But a lawyer would need to look more closely at the facts.

    Assuming he can’t have the purchase voided, he’ll need to decide what he wants to do going forward. Does he want to keep the car or get rid of it? If he wants to keep it, he needs to go to a bank and get a proper auto loan at a respectable rate, and payoff the dealership loan. If he can’t qualify for an auto loan from his bank, he probably ought to take that as good evidence that he can’t really afford the car.

    If he’s going to get rid of the car, he could consider selling it, but needs to understand he’s likely going to have to eat a several-thousand-dollar loss to do so. How’s his credit? If his credit isn’t great, and he isn’t particularly interested in protecting it (which is a bad option, but could possibly end up being the least-bad option), he could just return the car to the dealership (just leave it on the lot if necessary), and tell them he’s not making payments. (And then ignore any bills he recieves in the mail.) Their only recourse is repossession of the car — they can’t garnish his wages or anything — and the car will already be back in their possession. His credit will take a major hit, but in some circumstances that could be less bad than losing thousands of dollars to an unaffordable auto loan. If he’s young, and he begins using credit modestly and responsibly, his credit will have plenty of time to recover.

  3. The same thing happened to my husband when he was 19. He bought a 16,500 truck at 19.9% interest for 6 years. He purchased the truck through a reputable dealer and got financed through GMAC, the primary lender for all GM vehicles, he was told that he could only buy brand new due to his lack of credit history. He paid payments on time for a year and then he got 3 months behind. They worked with him and he got caught up on payments. He made payments on time again for the next 4.5 years then he fell a little over a month behind, we called and they said that it was fine and to try to catch up when we could. We woke up one morning, my husband went out to get into his truck and go to work and it was GONE! We called the police to report it stolen and were told that it had been repossed (Yes after paying 20,000 on the truck and only 5 months until it would be paid for!) The towing and storage fees that were charged were more than we owed on the truck, we contacted a lawyer and were told that the lender can take a vehicle at any time for any reason, so don’t EVER be late on payments because they don’t have to give you any notice, and it takes an act of god to figure out where they have taken the vehicle and it is even harder to get it back. My advice for the young people is to drive an old junker and save your money to work your way up to a nice car because we were told that basically a lender can do whatever they want as long as they can get you to sign that you agreed to it. I know that everyone wants to do things on their own, but there are some places you should ask a parent or another experienced person to go with you, the guy in the email will just have to cut his losses and hopefully some other people don’t get talked into making the same mistake that he did.

  4. He definitely needs to see a lawyer as soon as possible. A simple letter from an attorney might be able to get him out of this situation without wasting more money.

  5. Uh-huh. Suuuuure it’s his “friend.” 😉

    In all seriousness, there is little this guy can do unless he has something in writing saying he could bring the car back in 24 hours. That said, while there may not be anything the legal system can do for him, he could always start a blog about his experience and become the #1 Google ranking for that dealership. It probably wouldn’t take much if it’s a small-time operation.

  6. I wish the social pressure was to gain knowledge rather than to appear knowledgeable, but that’s just me.

    My only advice would be to get some kind of math and finances education to avoid this kind of stuff in the future.

    For the current problem, he could also try contacting the Better Business Bureau for his area.

  7. Can’t he just finance the car through someone else and pay up the bad contract?

  8. I’m in the UK and have done something similarly stupid myself (in fact, it was also a car deal and the numbers involved are almost identical). I was able to take a loan from another source at a much better rate, and immediately pay off the high-interest finance deal with it, though it cost me the equivalent of about 1800 dollars in admin fees. Not smart, but it got me out of a particularly bad deal and I’ve paid it off now, so no harm done and lesson learnt. I don’t know if that’s a n option here though, since I don’t know if you have different rules about early repayment in the US.

  9. Most states have a 3 day “buyer’s remorse” period where you can return a vehicle with no questions asked. The dealerships aren’t always upfront about it and you might have to force their hand though. If this guy’s three days are passed then he probably needs a witness that will say that he really did try to return the vehicle within the period or it will just be his word against the dealer’s (and we already know this dealer is slime). Some states may have different periods or may not even have this law, but it doesn’t hurt to check. DAMHIKT…

  10. If he’s going to do something he better do it fast–if there IS a grace period it may be fairly short (as little as 3 days it appears from a couple minutes of googling).