Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Kicking the tires on recession-proof auto financing

Promising to cover your car payments if you lose your job seems at first like the slickest idea automakers have come up with since they began offering cash back a few years ago.

It's probably a better deal for them than for us, though.

Hyundai, which kicked off the plans, offers to cover up to three months of payments and to buy back your car if a financial calamity happens. Ford basically offers to make up to 12 payments at up to $700 a pop. General Motors will pay as much as $500 a month for nine months.

All three plans come with some restrictions. They don't kick in if you leave your job voluntarily or if you lose your job too soon --45 days or so-- after you drive off the showroom floor. And you generally will need to file for unemployment benefits to qualify, according to Consumer Reports.

And unlike cash back offers, the recession-proof financing plans don't seem to cost auto companies much. Hyundai is laying off its potential costs with third-party insurance to cover the $5,000 or so depreciation that can occur when your new car becomes a gently used one. And none of the automakers have actually had to pay much in claims, so far at least.

Meantime, the idea is spreading. Airlines, cell phone companies, clothiers and even the low cost Walgreens in-store minor care health clinics offer versions of the plan, The New York Times reports.

So far, there aren't many takers, though. If your job is shaky enough to potentially qualify, you probably are worried about the parts of the payments that aren't covered by the offers too.

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