Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The ghost of the blue Toyota

In August of 1982, I bought a 1976 Toyota Corona for my then-girlfriend Sarah. I think I paid $2,200 for it. It was the first time in my life I had bought a car on my own, and the first time I sat across from a bank loan officer to finance a purchase. This was the bad old days, when banks actually cared about credit, and though I had a good job with a good company, I hadn't had it that long, so got the Riot Act read to me about making darn sure I paid that loan back. That conversation alone could make for a good blog post, but the one sentence version is that from then on, no matter how dire my finances were, I made darn sure never to miss a payment on anything, and can now brag of a spotless credit history.

The car itself served us pretty well for the next five years. It got her back and forth to college, it got us to our wedding, to her first full-time permanent job, to nursing school every day, and I occasionally used it for the carpool to and from my own work. We didn't junk it, either, selling it to some kid for I think $750 to be his own first car.

But here I am, 31 years later, still paying on that car. How? First, I paid for that car with the bank loan, of course. I made payments on that 15% interest loan over the next year or so, paying it off early, in fact, but part of the payoff was actually the proceeds from another loan with better terms, now that I had a year or two of solid work experience. That loan, in turn, was paid off early a few years later when I consolidated that and a couple of Sarah's school loans. Years after that, as part of a home equity loan after we bought the house, that loan was replaced.

Through that whole time, we've had some sort of debt. In a way, then, we never did fully pay off the blue Toyota. Some fraction of the outstanding balance of every loan payment over the last 30 years was derived from that unpaid balance of $800 from the 1982 car loan. Until now, that is.

Next month, we will make the final payment on all that legacy debt, and in so doing, finally bury the ghost of the blue Toyota. Maybe someday I will figure out the fraction of each loan payment, and the interest from each -- it shouldn't be difficult, since I kept all the loan records -- and total up what that car really cost me over the last 30 years. Factor in inflation, and I'm sure it's an enormous sum in today's dollars. A dollar in 1982 is over $2 today.

In any event, I will be happy to be *almost* debt-free. Almost! Because I still owe a five-digit figure on a car!
Our 1976 Toyota Corona at SUNY Geneseo, May 1983.