Who consumer protection plans benefit

Dublin Ranch Villages, a community of condominiums and townhomes built by Toll Brothers

TEXT OF STORY

Bob Moon: Don't worry, b-u-y happy. Buy happy. A lot of retailers are doing what they can to help you stop worrying about the risk that you might lose your job, just when you've gone out on the limb and made that big purchase. So some big-ticket items are now coming with a guarantee, to keep your payments current. The offers come under such names as "mortgage-protection plan" or "auto-payment relief plan." They're aimed at taking some uncertainty out of these uncertain economic times.

Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman reports.


MITCHELL HARTMAN: You may have heard this ad recently. . .

HYUNDAI AD: Now, finance or lease any new Hyundai, and if you lose your income in the next year, return it to us with no impact on your credit.

Hyundai recently added another sweetener: If you lose your job, they'll cover your loan payments for up to three months. Meaning, you keep the car.

Toll Brothers, the luxury home builder, meanwhile, has just announced that if you get laid off, they'll cover your mortgage payment -- up to $2,500 for six months. Economist Edward Leamer follows the housing market for the UCLA Anderson Forecast.

ANDERSON LEAMER: Relieving the anxieties of buyers is extremely useful because we are clearly under-buying and under-building homes, and it all has to do with fear of the future.

But, Leamer says, the main anxiety buyers face isn't job loss. It's that their new house will be worth less in six months.

LEAMER: I would encourage these firms to offer some kind of price guarantee as well. For most prospective home buyers right now prices are the biggest problem and not necessarily the rise in unemployment.

Leamer suggests that builders promise to cover any price decline for a new home that exceeds, say, 10 percent of the purchase price. And consumer advocate Pedro Morillas of CALPIRG warns, beware of relying too heavily on any job-loss protection program to pay the bills.

PEDRO MORILLAS: When you go into something like this, don't assume that because you qualify for the loan, you qualify for the insurance program that these folks are offering. The devil is sort of in the details.

For instance, Toll Brothers won't pay your mortgage if you're self-employed or own part of the company, or if you lose your job due to misconduct, disability, or hospitalization.

I'm Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

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