Thursday, February 5, 2009

Help is on the way, but money would be better

Quick, throw a stimulus plan against the wall and see if it sticks.

That's what it looks like Washington is doing, but even the best sounding ideas have problems when you try to apply them real life personal finance.

Take the $15,000 home buyers tax credit for which the Senate voted Wednesday. It's a much sweeter deal than the current plan - twice as much money and you don't have to pay it back. But if you are out of work or thinking twice about shopping for anything, a new mortgage seems like a no-sale.

Washington is looking for ways to stimulate auto sales too. One idea floating around is a federal tax deduction for the state sales tax you pay on a new car. It would cut maybe $1,300 off the cost of a $25,000 mid sized car. Sounds good until you realize that probably isn't even three payments on a new car loan.

Or there's the cash for clunkers idea. The government issues vouchers to help absorb the cost of replacing your old gas hog with an environmentally friendlier new model. Again, it sounds nifty, but higher financing, insurance, licensing, property tax, depreciation and other costs may make it cheaper just to drive the clunker into the ground.

Another suggestion? Provide federal insurance for car loans to help kick start auto financing again. It sounds like a TARP plan, but with fewer zeros on the potentially bad loans. I think the really interesting question about this approach might be --who do you suppose might do the repo work if a loan went bad?

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