When preparing to purchase a new or used vehicle, many consumers spend weeks researching the best value for the lowest price, or the ideal mileage per gallon.
However, if you were to ask them about shopping for the best car loan, you would probably get a blank stare. If you don’t have financing in place when you visit the car dealership to buy, you’re leaving yourself vulnerable to whatever terms the dealer offers, which may have a much higher interest rate than you could get elsewhere.
Here are several tips and strategies to help you protect your bottom line and give you better mileage for your dollars.
[Related: Improve Your Credit Worthiness]
Be realistic about your finances. Before you float into a car you can’t afford and get unwittingly ‘taken for a ride,’ be realistic and calculate the amount of car payments you can actually afford. Ideally, you should be able to pay off the car in three years and allow yourself some economic stability. Balance the loan’s total cost against the monthly payment you can afford. Check out www.bankrate.com to see the current average loan rates nationally. Enter your ZIP code, to see offers tailored specifically for your area.
Focus on the annual percentage rate (APR) when comparing loans which varies from day to day. A lower rate can produce significant long- term savings. For example, if you borrow $15,000 at a 6.5% APR for 36 months, your monthly payment will be $460, and the total interest will be $1,550. The same loan stretched out to 60 months would lower the monthly payment to $293, but increases the interest by $1,060 to a total of $2,610. And that doesn’t even take into account that longer loans often have higher interest rates.
Keep the length of the loan as short as you can afford. This can significantly affect both your monthly payment and the total cost of your financing. A shorter term means higher monthly payments but less money paid overall, and costs far less overall than a five-year loan.
Take advantage of re-sales or trade-ins: If you’re financing the purchase of a new car, make every effort to sell your old car and make a down payment of at least 15% of the total cost. If not, trade-in your old one and use the cash towards the current car.
Call your local credit union or bank for a pre-approved loan. Banks generally have very specific, conservative loan policies and often give preferred rates to those with stellar credit, but they do offer very competitive loan rates. It’s worth your while to start your financing search at your personal bank where you already have a relationship. Don’t forget to also conduct a search online to check various banks’ current loan rates. When you make a decision, be sure to stop by a branch office to speak with a bank officer who may help you to leave with a better-than-expected interest-rate offer. Local credit unions lend only to their members and offer competitive lending rates. No search is complete without a stop here.
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