And here's where car title loans get dicey.
Just like their cousins — payday loans — car title loans impose triple-digit annual interest rates on consumers. And when you combine very high rates with very short repayment periods, it's a recipe for financial disaster. Borrowers who can't repay the entire loan on time typically wind up rolling these loans over month after month, incurring additional "rollover" fees and interest.
For those who can't pay and who don't roll over their loans, the lenders repossess their cars — a potentially disastrous scenario for those in or approaching retirement, and for individuals who rely on their cars to get to work, medical appointments and other places.
A 2013 joint study conducted by the Consumer Federation of America and the Center for Responsible Lending found that the average consumer takes out a car title loan for $951 and renews the loan eight times.
With an average annual percentage rate (APR) of about 300 percent, consumers end up paying about $2,142 in interest alone, according to the study.
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And one in six loans ends in repossession of a car, costing added fees of $400 or more, the study found.
Due to the many potential pitfalls of car title loans, lawmakers and consumer advocates have rallied to stem their use.
While high-interest title lending is banned in more than half the states, the industry continues to thrive. That's because several states have loopholes that allow vehicle title lending to continue unchecked.
In one state, Virginia, business is especially booming, thanks to a 2011 change in state law that allows car title companies to offer loans on cars titled out of state.
Now consumers from border areas, such as Maryland and Washington, D.C., flock to Virginia for car title loans.
According to the Virginia State Corporation Commission, car title lenders in Virginia issued more than 161,500 loans worth about $180 million in 2012, up from nearly 128,500 loans worth more than $125 million made in 2011. Of the more than 132,000 individuals who received those loans, 20 percent of consumers were 60 days or more late with payments and more than 13,000 vehicles were repossessed.
As an alternative to car title loans, consider borrowing money from family members or your church, Speer says. "You can also cut back on expenses, ask your employer for an advance on your salary if you're working, or even ask the power company to give you more time to pay your bill," says Speer.
It's best to avoid these loans — no matter how badly you need the money.
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