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My credit is in the low 500s and I was unable to get a car loan. My mom cosigned for me and I've now had a beautiful car for three months. I've been making on-time payments, the registration is in my name, and the insurance is in my name as well. The loan was made in a Honda dealership for a used Kia and I paid a $500 downpayment.

My mom recently totaled her car and is unable to get approved for a car loan because she makes too little per month. Her solution to the problem is to take my car and not give me a say.

What are my options? I can't save up more than another $500 for another downpayment and there is no way I can get approved for another used car by myself and I don't have anyone else to help me.

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    How old are you? And, where do you live? (The tone of the question indicates that you live with her, but your icon implies that you're married.) – RonJohn Jun 29 at 5:47
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    Is she expecting for you to continue paying for it? – vsz Jun 29 at 14:28
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    a) Whose name is on the title? (not the loan, not the DMV registration, not the insurance - the title). b) What does "take my car and not give me a say" mean? She wants to borrow it some days/times of day/on-demand? take it permanently, all the time? Can you guys work out a fractional car-sharing arrangement, with your schedules? (and/or take public transport some of the time, e.g. one person drop/pick up other from transit stop) – smci Jun 30 at 20:40
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – GS - Apologise to Monica Jul 1 at 14:59

12 Answers 12

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The registration (title too, right?) is in your name, the car is yours. You need to decide how to politely tell her this.

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    Only the title matters, the registration has nothing to do with ownership. – wjl Jun 30 at 0:46
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    @wjl registration is the one police tend to look at first (since it’s part of what they ask for when they pull someone over), but if you report a vehicle stolen a good number of jurisdictions will only accept a title as proof that you actually own the car you are reporting stolen. – Bakna Jun 30 at 1:05
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    @Bakna, maybe if you live in a state where the registration has your name on it. Here in Minnesota, for example, the registration is just a sticker on your license plate and is only proof that someone (not necessarily the owner) paid the taxes for it to be legal on public streets. The title shows ownership. – Seth R Jun 30 at 2:19
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    I guess this is more a question for interpersonalskills.stackexchange.com than for money.stackexchange.com. – Guntram Blohm supports Monica Jun 30 at 8:11
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    @GuntramBlohm IPS would be for "How do I tell my mother to stop using my car?" (hint: having family co-sign is almost as bad as loaning money from family). This question here is "Can I stop her?" – Machavity Jul 1 at 13:31
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"Her solution to the problem is to take my car" - i.e. THEFT. If you are on the title, it is your car. A cosigner has no right to the item purchased - all he did was guarantee the loan in case the signer does not pay. Anything between the signer and the cosigner is a civil matter (i.e. the cosigner could ask for damages if the signer does not pay). But the item is bought for the signer who actually also holds - in case of a car - the title. Given that you still have to pay the car (you are the signer, so not paying is a violation of your promise to pay) she is actually hurting you financially.

As such, legally, your mother executes theft. Now, your family situation may be different than mine, but when my mother was still alive, I would have called the police. But then, we were not on talking terms - so she would never have cosigned to start with.

She should never have cosigned for anything resembling value. You can get a pretty run down car for quite low funds - enough that your down payment already is significant in terms of value.

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The car is yours, your name is on the title, and you are insuring it based on you being the driver (not her). You are responsible for parking tickets and toll evasion. Any arrangement you might do must account for these facts.

Legally, you don't have to give her the car, and can report it stolen if she takes it.

Socially, if your family is close enough that you cosign for each other's cars, you need to take family needs into account.

Done wrong, here's an example: Back when there were exemptions, a student could take his own exemption (and save $200 off his taxes) or his parents could take him (and save $1500). The greedy child always wanted the $200, but cost the family $1300 to get it.

Life is hard; it's harder when you're stupid. - US Marines

What I'm saying is, don't be stupid. Take egos and personal greed out of it, and think about/discuss what option will put the family in the best situation overall.

That's what it means to be family. Notice they were there for you: you be there for them. If you are not willing to be there for them, then you should not have asked your mother to co-sign. Cut ties entirely, sell the car and pay it off, get something much more modest, and make your own way in the world. If that doesn't work, well, that's no surprise; people are stronger together.

That said, if you really want to cut ties, come on back here and ask about how to exit the situation where you have a 500's credit score and not $500 in the bank. That is not normal -- well, it's normal for the financially stressed, but it's not healthy at all. As things are, you need them, which means you need to soldier up.

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    Thank you for emphasizing the important of family and discouraging the OP from being unwilling to help. – jpmc26 Jun 30 at 9:14
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    This is ultimately the correct answer. The legal matters are kind of secondary to the social implications. – Mark Rogers Jun 30 at 22:12
  • @MarkRogers Please consider my answer as it offers additional details. – Randy Zeitman Jul 1 at 1:33
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    I agree with the intent of this answer but I feel like it's worded a bit strongly given the lack of clarity on the OP's situation or intentions. We don't really know if the OP is actually unwilling to help or not. All we know is the mother intends to take the car "without giving her a say." – dwizum Jul 1 at 13:41
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    It's worth noting her co-signing means your car loan is counting against her credit. It is "your car", but you admit you couldn't have gotten it without her and now that favor is potentially costing her the ability to get a car loan for herself. It definitely sounds like there is an obligation to help/compromise. – TemporalWolf Jul 1 at 18:48
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From a legal standpoint this is your car and your mother is committing something in the direction of theft.

From a human standpoint your mother helped you by cosigning and you owe her a favor.

So my advice would be, to make it clear to her that it is your car, but she can borrow it if she asks you first to be sure you don't need it at the moment. (It might help, if you keep the key somewhere out of reach of your mother like in your jacket or handbag.)

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"and I've now had a beautiful car for three months"

The option is to go to the car place and switch the loan to two less beautiful cars in your name with the same total payments --- or even add a few thousand to the loan because your payments would increase by what, $50-$75?

And if you do that you want a better rate for the two loans.

Ideally they should be exactly the same car so she gets it doubly that you're making a big sacrifice and not asking her to drive a far lesser car.

You do not take her to the car place. You do not give her any choices about the model ... because they're both the same (ideally) ... or the same model and a little different years and milage.. you get the better one.

You simply make the deal, then tell her you got the car, and bring it to her.

If, crossing fingers, she's not 10000% grateful then you have a 'special' mother on your hands and you should get your beautuful car back, without her name on it, give her $100 in bus tokens, and tell her to ask someone else in the family to get a new car with her name on it.

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    Welcome to Money.SE, Randy. Thank you for posting today. – JTP - Apologise to Monica Jun 30 at 21:54
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    A fair first effort. I agree with getting identical cars. Me, I'd get two clean $500 econobox beaters (Mazda 323 size things) and a $1000 tool chest, but that's me lol. I happen to like cars with transmissions you can lift with one hand. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jul 1 at 1:38
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    Wait, are you saying you think a dealer is going to accept a returned car after three months? I can't think of any situation where the dealer will accept such a return, at least without a huge loss of the original payment. I can't see this answer as anything more than a pipe dream. – Rich Jul 1 at 13:12
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    This cannot possibly work. There are not enough assets or credit in this picture to be able to originate multiple additional loans with any reputable dealer. Trading in a used Kia neither party can afford and trying to roll its nonexistent equity into two rustbuckets (one of which may not even be wanted sight-unseen by the recipient) is going to leave all parties stranded on the side of the road in short order. – Ivan Jul 1 at 19:09
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    It's been 3 months. Even considering that the car was previously used, it will still depreciate, especially considering OP probably drove it during those 3 months. And even if the dealer is somehow fine with all this, the banks will definitely not be willing to finance a loan of greater or equal value without a new cosigner. – Rich Jul 1 at 19:59
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This isn't really a personal finance question, you should ask either on Law@SE or Interpersonal@SE. However:

The car is registered in your name, therefore it is yours. Your mother's cosigning is only a promise to foot the bill for the car if you are nowhere to be found. She has very little legal basis for taking your car. If she tried to take it anyway, you could in theory call the police who will treat the matter as theft. Of course, you probably wouldn't really call the police on your mom, which is why I say "in theory".

As far as prudent advice: I don't know how your relationship is with your parent, but if mine was left without a car I would happily offer to let them borrow mine. In a sense, it's only proper, since she helped you get it in the first place (and she IS your mom). I wouldn't transfer legal ownership without a very compelling reason, since that has nothing to do with providing access to transportation. Just add her to your insurance and give her a spare key. Note: If you put her on the insurance, she can technically driver the care wherever she wants, and can in effect use it as her own car - she can do almost anything with it short of actually selling it. Since you sound like you have some disagreements, maybe work those out before letting her drive yours, if that's what you're planning to do.

Also, last time I was shopping for cars, there were some used cars for even less than $2000. These are very old, the ones in decent shape are very barebones in terms of accessories, but if you're careful (many cheap used cars are lemons - but not all) you can get one that will get you fairly reliably from point A to point B. If her finances are not the best, maybe that is an option? You can help her out here by driving her to the car sellers.

  • Reinforcing a point: It's an interpersonal issue to allow your mom to borrow your car vs. your mom taking your car away. As a financial matter, do aim to pay off that car loan properly, so she can't hold the loan against you. – Codes with Hammer Jul 1 at 21:03
  • If Mom has recently wrecked her own car, then putting her on the insurance would likely be very expensive...doubly so if insurance covered replacement of the vehicle, which I would insist on in such a case. Mom may be a bad risk to allow to come anywhere near the car. – CCTO Jul 2 at 20:40
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I agree with the other answers that the car is legally yours, and your mother cannot just take your car.

The Short Version of My Answer Is: Look into what her insurance company will pay your mother. It may be enough to buy a serviceable used car.

Insurance on your mother's car. Even if she was at fault in the crash (as your wording implied), if her car was insured, she may be due something from the insurance company. If she is at fault, the deductible will reduce the amount, perhaps substantially. And, as @Ben Voight said in his comment:

If there's a loan involved, the insurance company will pay the lender, with probably nothing left over.

Furthermore, if there is no loan involved, your mother is not required to carry insurance that covers damage to her own car.

Nevertheless, investigate what you might get from insurance rather than assuming it will be nothing.

If your mother was not at fault, then the insurance company of the person who was at fault owes your mother and/or her lender if she has one, up to the current market value of her car. Drawing on my experience of last month, when my car was totaled by An Idiot, this will not happen instantaneously (sp ??). But it will happen faster if you, yourself, get the police report.

Going beyond the legal question, you may want to help your mother by giving her rides in your car for important errands, and, if she buys a used car, and if you are mechanically handy, doing maintenance on her car that is within your capabilities. I strongly suggest that you do not let her drive your car -- she has totaled one car, don't risk your car -- and, if you choose to lend her money (bad idea), lend it with the realization that she may never repay it.

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    "Even if she was at fault in the crash (as your wording implied), if her car was insured, she is due something from the insurance company" is most likely incorrect. If there's a loan involved, the insurance company will pay the lender, with probably nothing left over after paying off the loan. And if there's no loan, then only liability coverage is mandatory, which would pay for other cars involved in the accident but not the policyholder's own car. Collision coverage is only required when there's a loan. – Ben Voigt Jun 29 at 20:33
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    @Ben Voight Never having had a loan, I neglected that possibility. – ab2 ReinstateMonicaNow Jun 29 at 20:57
  • The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Not only might it have been a loan, but mom might've violated Harper's Law and owed money on a car that's out of warranty. Engine/tranny problem; game over. And that's how you get a 550 credit score. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jun 29 at 21:08
  • I don't know the situation in Florida, but where I am, you are only legally required to carry liability insurance on a car - it pays out for harm you cause to other people/property, not your own. If you only have liability coverage, there are a variety of ways your car can get totaled and you get nothing from any insurer - if you're at fault, if it's an unidentified hit-and-run, if an uninsured driver was at fault, if a tree falls on it,... Someone of modest means might have chosen to minimize insurance premiums by skipping all those other coverage options and exposing all those risks. – Anthony X Jun 30 at 21:40
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    @AnthonyX The law only requires you to carry liability, but most lenders require you to carry full coverage if your car has a loan. – reirab Jul 2 at 6:24
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This is a tough situation. You CAN force your mother to give you your car back (untake it from you) but that would form a long-term rift between you. She co-signed your loan, and while that does not give her the legal or moral right to use your car as a backup for her needs, you will probably need her help on something in the future (not to mention a potential future inheritance).

She probably considers taking your car to be the ideal solution based on need. She needs a car (of course I don't know what her specific needs are) and commandeering yours is the only solution she can come up with. Families are supposed to help each other out (doesn't always happen) and this is her expectation. No, it's not fair.

Probably the best you could hope for, without making an enemy of her, is a compromise. She uses it when she needs to and you use it when you need to. If you both need a car to get to work, and go in opposite directions, of course this is not going to work. In any case if she is going to do most of the driving she should (and is probably already planning to) pay most of the expenses. I myself wouldn't worry about her piling up tickets and making late payments and sticking you with the cost. (If she needs a car that bad she's not going to let it get repossessed.)

Like I said, this is tough, and it's not fair. But you gotta go with what works.

  • That's all good, but I'd give some hard thought about full insurance here, covering not only liability but also totalling the car. If she totals the car again, hard feelings will get even stronger. – gerrit Jul 1 at 14:41
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If yours is the only name on the vehicle ownership documents, it's legally your car, your responsibility, and your choice who gets to use it. If all your mother did was co-sign the loan, she guaranteed to the lender that you will make all the required payments; all she has done is vouch for you; she has no legal rights to the car.

Who was at fault when her car was totaled? If she was deemed "at fault", you might use that as part of a rationale to deny her use of your car, but really, your car your choice, her car her problem.

No matter how the conversation goes or how you choose to justify your position, it's your choice to make and she has no legal say in the matter. The fact that she is asserting a claim on your property is making for an awkward situation and you may feel a moral obligation, but it has no legal basis.

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There are two Very Different answers here. When you are living at home you are in a completely different relationship with your parents compared to living on your own and you really have to take that into consideration in this case.

If you are living with your mother you will probably be unable to make the payments if you leave, therefore you must figure out some way to negotiate. You can take the car back but she can kick you out. Do you really want this fight? Plus she needs to go to work to keep the house. If you didn't offer to share the car you are being selfish and immature--I can't fault her for being frustrated and taking it.

On the other hand, if you are already completely self-supporting and making payments, the way your mother approached this was absolutely theft. Co-signing gives her no rights to this car--and being a parent gives her no right to force you to do this. The fact that she thinks it does is terrifying. You really must re-define your relationship--one self-sustaining, independent adult does not do this to another! I'd probably call the police in this case and report a theft. Treat her as you would any other adult until she gets the idea. Believe it or not, there is a good chance this will improve your relationship in the long run (although it might be rocky for a bit).

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Your mother has credit, but not enough income to pay for a car note. She also feels that her signature alone entitles her to drive cars beyond her means.

This makes her a good candidate for a vehicle lease. She can drive all the newest cars for less than the cost of a monthly payment. Steep deposits though.

To be honest, given the timing and sentiment this whole situation stinks of a failed attempt at insurance fraud. You drive a better car than she does thanks to her own intervention. Three months later her own car ends up totalled. Where's the money from the insurance payout? There wouldn't be any if she forgot she dropped comprehensive coverage when she slammed it into a tree in an at-fault state. Or if she spent it already.

The worst things you can possibly do right now are to try to trade it in or sell it. That road will only lead to repossession and continued financial difficulty for one or both of you. Painful and inconvenient as it is, ride it out for a few years until you're no longer underwater (which you most assuredly are, having bought a used Kia from a dealership with poor credit and $500 down). At that point you can consider selling or transferring ownership to her, but in the meantime figure out what your mother's plans for becoming mobile again are that don't involve her undermining your responsibilities. If she can't afford any car to her liking now, what's going to change in a few years?

I suggest you share the car but strongarm her into helping you pay down the principal balance as quickly as possible (don't offer to split the payment-- for this to work you need to DOUBLE it, and apply half directly to the principal). Keep records of her payments because she will inevitably challenge you on her financial stake in the car later on (partners in any such transaction always do), when you sell it and split the proceeds proportionately. You'll each get a fair amount of money which can be put towards more substantial down payments and interest rates for both of your next cars. You can be free of this situation with no strings attached in 2.5 years.

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If you don't want to get the law involved, and you don't want to have a physical fight over the car keys, one option would be simply to sell the car for cash.

Don't use the cash to pay off the loan, use it to buy another car that is loan-free and yours.

Then stop payments on the loan your mother co-signed, and let her pick up the tab - if she can afford it. That might hit your credit rating a bit in the short term, but time will fix that.

Alternatively, buy a wheel clamp or a steering lock.

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    I understand the sentiment, but how is someone supposed to sell a car with a loan still on it when - as far as I know - at least every US state has a system in place where the loan is recorded with the state and cannot be transferred to another party without release of the loan? Selling it to someone for cash without taking care of the loan means you defraud them, and with your own name all over it that's a pretty quick trip to jail. – BrianH Jun 29 at 14:27
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    Wait, why would she want to make her mother pay the rest of the loan? As a revenge for wanting to take her car? – Moyli Jun 29 at 15:02
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    This could be turned into a less controversial answer by suggesting the OP offer the car to the mother for OP’s initial down payment and sum of past monthly payments with the explicit agreement the mother takes over future payments. This however still leaves the OP with no way to acquire a replacement car. – rrauenza Jun 29 at 15:45
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    This is even worse advice than calling the police on your mother. – DJClayworth Jun 29 at 20:17
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    This has to be one of the worst pieces of advice I have seen on this site – Dashi Jun 30 at 14:37

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