Negative equity is where you owe more money on your car than it’s worth. A number of factors contribute to a car’s value, including the condition, mileage, age and depreciation curve. If you are thinking of getting a new car, the negative equity in your current vehicle can be an issue, particularly if you are wanting to trade-in or sell privately.
Negative equity on car finance is common, especially with new cars where the car loses a lot of its value during the first year of ownership. As such, if you buy a car on Personal Contract Purchase (PCP) or Hire Purchase (HP), it is common for you to be in negative equity during this period, even where a high deposit has been paid. Over the duration of the finance agreement, the depreciation slows down, meaning that equity in the car is gained, although this doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you will be in positive equity at the end of the finance agreement.
Read more: Car finance options explained
If you purchased a car through PCP, negative equity can be more complicated to calculate compared to if you were to finance a car through a loan.
With PCP finance, you often pay an initial deposit, followed by monthly repayments for a fixed term, and an optional balloon payment at the end of the agreement to purchase the car. If the car is worth more than the balloon payment, you are in positive equity and can either buy the car or use the equity in the vehicle as a deposit towards a new vehicle.
On the other hand, your car might have depreciated in value faster than expected, meaning that you are in negative equity as the car is worth less than the balloon payment. Whilst you could choose to pay the balloon payment to own the vehicle, there is also an option to hand the car back to the finance company and walk away.
Read more: Personal contract purchase explained.
If you have a change of circumstances midway through your agreement, you may need to sell the car part-way through your finance agreement. However, this can cause problems where the amount owed is higher than the value of the car, meaning that you are in negative equity. Where this is the case, you will need to make up the difference before you can terminate the agreement.
Negative car equity can also be an issue where a car is written-off during an accident or stolen. Often insurance companies will only pay out the current market value of the vehicle, which could be lower than the amount owed. If this is the case, you could be in a position where you must pay the difference in the market value and the amount owed. Some motorists opt for GAP insurance to cover the difference between the insurance payout and the amount owed.
Read more: Is my car a write-off?
The best way to avoid ending up in negative equity is to get a good deal from the seller. If you are able to knock down the price at the time of purchase, you are borrowing less that won’t need to be accounted for when you come to sell the car.
You could also pay a larger deposit, which reduces the amount you are borrowing from the finance company. This is particularly important when buying a new car that is likely to depreciate at a faster rate than a car that’s already suffered the steeper initial depreciation.
When buying a new car, you should consider the optional extras that are added to the vehicle that won’t necessarily increase the resale price of the vehicle. These extras may add thousands to the initial price, but minimal additional value when you are selling, which increases the risk of ending up in negative equity.
Some dealerships will still allow you to trade in your old vehicle when it is in negative equity. However, this usually results in the debt being added to your new finance agreement, therefore increasing the risk that you’ll be involved in negative equity again at the end of your new agreement. As such, it is advised that you settle any outstanding finance before taking out a new agreement.
If you want to terminate your PCP or Hire Purchase agreement part-way through your agreement, you could be eligible for voluntary termination. Through voluntary termination, you are able to return the car to the finance company providing you have paid 50% of the total amount owed - this includes any interest and balloon payments.
If you haven’t yet paid 50% of the total amount owed, you can still give the car back to the finance company by making a one-off payment to reach the 50% figure.
Read more: Cancelling car finance early.