Joint truck lease leaves widow in a lurch

To Her Credit columnist Sally Herigstad
Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and the author of "Help! I Can't Pay My Bills: Surviving a Financial Crisis" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). She writes "To Her Credit," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues involving women, credit and debt, for, and also wrote for MSN Money, and, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs.

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Dear To Her Credit,
My husband and I leased a new truck last June. I was placed on the lease since my husband was retired.

On June 26, my husband suddenly passed away. When I notified the car dealership the next day -- three weeks after signing the lease -- I was told basically that I was stuck. I hadn't even made my first payment yet, and we had less than 1,000 miles on the vehicle.

They said I could redo a lease by turning in both the truck and my car, which I own, and I would still have to pay $225 per month for the duration of the lease. I ended up having them sell the truck on consignment, which means it sits on their lot while I continue the monthly payments and insurance, which I can't afford. Is there NOTHING I can do? I mean good grief -- is there no compassion anymore? What alternatives do I have?  -- Paula


Dear Paula,
They want the truck, your car and $225 per month, after you had owned the truck three weeks and driven less than 1,000 miles? That's pretty harsh.

One major problem with vehicle leasing is how difficult it can be to get out of the lease when you change your mind or circumstances change. In some ways, you have greater flexibility when you buy a truck than when you sign up for a lease. If you had purchased a truck three weeks before your husband passed away, at least you would have been able to get objective information about what the truck was worth and try to sell it. With a lease, the value of the truck is not of primary importance. What does matter is your contract, and the provisions in it for terminating your lease.

Another big problem with vehicle leases is that they can be so complex. Even if a person reads the entire lease before signing, which is a challenge, it's not easy to understand. People are tempted to rely on what the salesperson says, who of course emphasizes the easy monthly lease payments and skims over unpleasantries such as termination clauses, over-mileage fees and end-of-lease fees.

In your situation, turning your truck over to the dealership on consignment is one solution -- although I'm not sure why they need your car, too. If the truck sells or leases quickly, you may not need to keep up the lease payments and insurance for long. Otherwise, these expenses at such a difficult time in your life can cause a real hardship. You may need to look at different options.

You've already talked to the dealer. In such extenuating circumstances, my first tactic would be to speak with a manager, as high up the chain as possible. Perhaps they can work out more favorable terms for terminating your lease. You may have to pay something to satisfy the lease, but at least it will be over and done with.

If they resist, you might consider trading in your car and purchasing or leasing another car from them in exchange for being let out of the truck lease. The prospect of a new sale may put a smile back on the representative's face and convince him to let you out of the truck lease with little or no penalty.

Another option is to find someone who wants to lease a truck. If your contract allows, you can let someone else take over the lease. This could be a friend or relative. There are even websites that help put people who want out of their leases together with those who want to assume them; for example,, or Be aware that if you let someone take over your lease and they default, your leasing company will probably still come after you for the payment.

The least attractive option is to just stop making the lease payment. You should only consider this if you absolutely cannot come to an agreement with the dealership, or if continuing to make the lease and insurance payments would jeopardize your financial health. You'll have to turn over the truck, of course, and your credit will be affected. They can take legal action against you, if they choose. If that happens, you may need to seek low-cost legal help in your area.

Signing up for anyone else's debt -- whether it's a husband's truck lease, a child's student loan or a friend's startup business loan -- can sound like such a good idea at the time. What can go wrong? Your story is a cautionary tale, however, for anyone considering taking on financial obligations for someone else, even a spouse. It's usually better to give someone money, if you can afford it, than to sign your name on a debt you cannot pay.

Best of luck to you as you resolve this issue, as well as all the other financial issues surrounding the loss of your spouse. 

See related: Defaulted car lease can lead to wage garnishment

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Updated: 03-26-2019