How to Finance an Auto Purchase

When you walk into a dealership, you won’t be there long before a salesperson asks how you intend to pay for your new car.

When the dealer starts in, just explain that you intend to pay in cash. Saying you’ll be paying in cash doesn’t mean you’re going to open up a briefcase with bricks of money inside, it just means that you’re not interested in dealer or manufacturer financing.

In some cases (if you have perfect credit if the car is about to be replaced by a newer model) dealer-sponsored financing might be a good deal, but most of the time it isn’t. You can usually find better deals on car loans at credit unions and banks.

Telling the dealer that you’re not interested in their financing takes away an opportunity for the dealer to pad the deal with an extra profit. Dealers make money on charging you, so they have ways of slipping various extra fees and charges into your financing arrangement. Forgoing dealer financing also allows you to focus on the features and purchase price of the car you want — a far more important and useful task than focusing on the monthly payment figure.

After declining financing, your next task is negotiating the purchase price of the car. Some survival tips:

Resist the temptation to lease. Leasing is basically an extended car rental. When you lease a car, you must return it at the end of the lease or buy it from the dealer at a predetermined price — usually higher than what you’d pay for a similar used car. When you take a loan out to buy a car, you pay down the loan and then the car is yours, free and clear. The only payments you’ll have to make after that are for gas, repairs, and insurance.

Lots of people lease. Smart, respectable people lease. It’s not a terrible thing to do, but it’s not the best way to keep a car because you’re always making payments. Lease a car for three years and, when the term expires, you need to look for a new lease or shell out thousands to purchase the car you’ve been driving.

Consider factory certified pre-owned cars. “Certified pre-owned” is another term for “used.” But these cars do come with extra assurances about the car’s condition. Going pre-owned can be a really smart move because most cars lose 18% of their value in their first year. A certified pre-owned car is one that has been inspected and fixed before it goes on the market, and comes with a manufacturer-backed warranty like new cars do.

Size up your future car loan. Once you decide you want a new car, the first thing you should do is figure out how many cars you can afford. Calculate this amount before you go shopping; don’t let a car dealer influence your decision.

Figure out how big a loan you should get. A good rule of thumb: Your monthly car payment should be no more than 20% of your disposable income. That means that after you’ve paid all your debts and living expenses, take one-fifth of what’s left. That’s your maximum monthly auto expense. Ideally, this number should cover not only your car payment but also your insurance and fuel costs.

Decide how long you’ll give yourself to repay your car loan. A monthly payment is, essentially, the amount of your loan, plus interest, divided by the number of months you have to pay back the loan. The more months you have to pay it back, the lower the monthly payment will be. But stretching out a car loan too long—or any loan, for that matter—will ultimately cost you a truckload more in interest payments.

For example, say you take out a $20,000 car loan at 5%. If you borrow the money over four years, your monthly payment will be $460.59. At the end of four years, you’ll have paid $2,108.12 in interest.

If you borrow the money over ten years, your monthly payment will only be $211.12, but at the end of 10 years, you’ll have paid $5,455.72 in interest.

Keep your loan term to five years or less (three is ideal) and you should be in good shape. If the monthly payments are too much even for five years, the car you’re looking to buy is probably too expensive.

Consider all pools of money. Should you sell investments to pay for the car instead of borrowing at 7%? That’s a tough call; usually, we’d say no. Do not spend any of your tax-sheltered retirement savings (IRAs, 401(k)s), as you’ll pay through the nose in penalties and taxes and rob from your future. As for taxable investments, consider whether cashing out would have tax implications (you’ll pay 15% on capital gains for investments held longer than one year; investments held less than a year are taxed at your ordinary income-tax rate) or whether you may need that money for something else over the next two to three years.

Should you take out a home equity loan to pay for a car, since the interest of those loans is tax-deductible?

Many people think home loans are the perfect way to finance the purchase of a new car. But the length of the term for a home loan — most require payments over at least 10 years, with penalties for early repayment — will send your total costs through the roof, even after the tax savings. Borrow for no more than five years, lease (if you must) for no more than three. If you’re considering a home-equity line of credit to pay for your car, remember that most HELOCs have a variable interest rate, so it’s possible your payments will rise over time.

How to Find the Best Auto Loan

You’re going to show up at the dealer with your own loan, but where should that loan come from?

Begin by getting a sense of the prevailing rate for a new-car loan. Focus on is the APR or annual percentage rate offered by each lender. The APR is the annual cost of the loan or interest rate. With this number, you can cross-compare loans from one lender to another, so long as the duration of the loans is the same.

You’ll probably get the best deal at a credit union— a members-only, nonprofit bank that can offer lower-cost loans than a traditional bank can. But check out rates at traditional banks and online-only car lenders such as AutoWrranty Auto Loans.

Don’t be distracted by dealerships offering rebates or zero-percent financing if you obtain your loan through them. “Zero-percent financing” means you are not charged any interest on the loan. So if you were buying a car that cost $24,000 and you had a 48-month car loan, your monthly payment would be $500, without any added interest. A rebate is a money taken off the price of the car. Rebates are also called cash-back deals.

Here’s the thing about those offers: The money you save via interest and rebates is probably coming from somewhere. If you qualify for 0% interest (and most people don’t, as it’s given only to people with near-perfect credit), your dealer won’t budge on the sticker price. If you take the rebate, you won’t get a rock-bottom or 0% interest deal.

That’s why splitting up the financing and purchasing of your car is a good idea: First, you can shop around for the best credit-union car loan, and then you go to the dealer and focus on negotiating the purchase price of the car. Bundling the transactions can lead to lots of stress and added expense — you may be so focused on financing costs that you the punt on the purchase price — to keep them separate.

If you do choose dealer financing, be extra vigilant about what you agree to, and what you’re signing—it’s not uncommon for dealers to add in various unnecessary fees (rustproofing, extended warranty) that fatten their bottom line. Question everything that wasn’t explicitly discussed during negotiation, and don’t be afraid to walk away.

There are some easy ways to catch a break with your dealer when negotiating the price of your car. Timing can be everything:

Shop early in the week
. Weekends are prime time for dealers. But if you show up on a Monday, a salesman may be more motivated to cut a deal because business will be slow for the next few days.

Shop at the end of the month. Car dealers get monthly bonuses if they move enough metal. If you show up on the 30th and your salesperson is two cars short of a bonus, he or she may cut you a better deal so to make numbers.

Shop for a car that’s about to be replaced/discontinued. Pretty simple logic here: Things that are about to be considered “old” sell for less. If you’re looking at a 2008 Honda Accord and the 2009s are about to arrive at the dealer, you usually can get a bargain. If the 2009 model is completely new and different from 2008, you’ll save even more. (Who wants to be seen driving the old-looking model? Smart, frugal people, that’s who.) And if Honda decides the Accord isn’t selling much anymore and kills it after the current model year? (OK, fat chance, but this is just an example.) Untold riches await. As do potential maintenance headaches — remember, some cars are unpopular for good reason.

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Car Choice Comes Last for Bad Credit Buyers

Here at Autowrranty auto loans, we often receive comments from consumers who are looking for their next car. Typically, people who are looking for an auto loan tend to pick out a car first and look for financing second. This process may work for someone with good to great credit, but for many people—especially those with bad credit—the process works differently.

 

Take this customer who recently wrote to us about finding a vehicle:

“I'm looking for a dark purple car would love to get Camaro but I would be willing to get a different model like Impala or even an SUV but I can't afford a new one…”

To be clear, we are not a car finder or a finance company. We help people with bad credit get connected to local special finance dealers who can help people get the vehicles they need.

Why the Bad Credit Process is Different

Wanting a particular car is one thing, but when you have damaged credit, it's more important to get what you need—or what you can afford—rather than trying to find the exact car you want. This is due to the fact that when you are looking for financing with bad credit, you first have to get an approval from a subprime lender.

Subprime financing is typically needed when you have a credit score around 640 or lower. This type of auto loan is done through indirect lenders who work with special finance dealerships. Not all dealers have subprime lenders, so choosing the right one to meet your needs is important. Once you have found a dealer with a sub prime finance department, you will need to sit down with the special finance manager, fill out an application and submit the necessary documents.

You will need to provide:

  • A valid driver’s license or state ID.
  • Proof of income – your most recent check stub.
  • Proof of residence – a current utility bill in your name.
  • Proof of a working phone – a landline or cell phone from a national carrier, in your name.
  • Six to eight complete references – including names, addresses, and phone numbers.

Once you have completed this process, the dealer will transmit your application and documentation to the lender. The lender will either approve or deny your loan request. If you are approved, the lender will transmit a “payment call” to the special finance manager with the program you qualify for along with any additional requirements.

Choosing Your Vehicle

Once the lender has approved your auto loan request, the dealer will present you with a list of eligible vehicles that you qualify for, based on the information from the lender. Then, you can test drive them and choose the one you like that best fits what you need.

The good news is your choice of vehicles will typically be restricted to those that are less than 10 years old and with less than 100,000 miles. It is also good to note that your loan term can vary depending on vehicle mileage and model year.

As you can see, when you are dealing with subprime financing, choosing a vehicle comes at the end of the buying process, rather than the traditional loan process where you choose your vehicle first, then get financed.

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The Credit Benefits Of Auto Loan Refinancing

 

Auto loan refinancing can have many benefits for your short and long-term financial outlook. But if you keep a close eye on your credit profile, you might be wondering how refinancing is going to affect your credit score.

The truth is, refinancing any loan will invariably have minor, short-term impacts on your credit. They can vary based on your situation. For someone with a long, well-established credit history, these impacts will be minor; however, for someone with little to no credit history, these factors will make a much bigger impact.

Still, in the long run, auto refinancing will generally help your credit as it simultaneously closes out a loan and adds a loan approval to your credit report.

Let’s take a look at three ways an auto loan refinance can affect your credit profile:

1. CREDIT INQUIRIES

The first way refinancing can impact your score is the hard credit inquiries that will appear on your credit report. When a lender checks your credit report to evaluate how risky it would be to lend you money, that shows up as what is called a “hard” inquiry. Typically, these will impact your score by a small amount, typically by five to 10 points. And while they will stay on your credit report for several years, their impact on your actual score will dissipate after several months.

A number of hard inquiries from various types of lenders could be a red flag for prospective lenders. Groups of hard inquiries suggest you were desperate to open new credit, at some point, for some reason. Having too many hard inquiries in too short a period of time could hurt your ability to get good interest rates, or even get approved for a loan at all.

That being said, those same lenders usually understand that when you’re shopping for financing for a big-ticket item such as a home or auto loan, you are likely to get quotes from several sources to get the best rate. Most credit score models will group all hard inquiries made within a 14-day period together as a single unit. While they will be listed individually on your report, they will only affect your score once. For that reason alone, it is important to ask for quotes only after you have finished your research and you are ready to refinance.

2. YOUR CREDIT HISTORY

Another way an auto loan refinance impacts your credit is by altering your repayment history. As you make regular payments on time, your score improves. This demonstrates that you are a reliable person who takes credit obligations seriously.

When you refinance, you are wiping that payment history clean and starting from scratch with a new loan. Because some models will take older loan payment histories into account, but others don’t, your best bet is to just anticipate that this will impact your credit score and plan accordingly.

3. YOUR CREDIT UTILIZATION

Your credit utilization is the total amount you owe your creditors compared to your total available credit. Generally speaking, if your credit utilization is below 30%, you’re in good shape. Any more than that and your score will take a hit.

When you refinance a loan, depending on the new terms, you are changing your credit utilization. If you take out a loan for more than the original — to get cash out, for example — then you are increasing your utilization rate. If you take out a loan for less, you might be lowering your overall total utilization rate. While this shouldn’t be the primary deciding factor when it comes to refinancing, it can have an impact on your score.

You might see a short-term dip in your credit score after refinancing your auto loan, but the effect is typically negligible, and the potential benefits — including a lower payment amount and a lower interest rate — may far outweigh any negatives.

If you are ready to refinance your automobile loan, Autowrranty.com is here to help. When you apply with Autowrranty.com, your dedicated Finance Advisor will work to find you an auto loan that fits your financial and credit needs from one of our 25+ national lenders. Learn more about auto refinancing, try our car refinancing calculator, or apply now.

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Arm yourself with knowledge when shopping for an auto loan

Companies, such as dealerships or other lenders, may offer military rates or discounts to bring you into the showroom, but that doesn’t mean the financing offer is the best one you can get.  We’ve also heard that some companies may inaccurately promise benefits under the Service members Civil Relief Act (SCRA) to military customers. If you move and need a vehicle right away, your circumstances may mean that you  make a rushed decision and not shop around for the best financing. 

  1. Reductions of interest rate under the Service members Civil Relief Act. We’ve heard from service members who were led to believe it was okay to sign for a loan with a high interest rate since they were active-duty and therefore, the SCRA would drop the interest rate to 6 percent. Unfortunately, that  is not true. If you take out a loan to buy a vehicle after going on active duty, the SCRA interest rate cap will not apply – that cap is only for pre-service loans. You can find out more about your rights under the SCRA here. 
  2. Permission from your lender to take your vehicle overseas. If you think you might be assigned overseas, make sure before you sign the auto loan contract that your lender will allow your vehicle to be taken out of the country – many won’t.  If your lender has that restriction and will not waive it, then you should reconsider borrowing from them.  Shipping companies usually require your lender to write a letter of approval before they will accept your car for overseas shipment. Don’t be left with a big problem at the last minute because the fine print of your loan contract says you can’t take the vehicle with you.
  3. Special military interest rates or discounts. If you’re offered a rate or promotion based on being a member of the military and you decide it’s the best financing for you, make sure you receive that rate in the final paperwork. You shouldn’t agree to anything at signing that you didn’t agree to beforehand. If the company tries to change the loan terms at the last minute, you can refuse to sign the paperwork and continue to shop around for the best auto loan for you.  Remember, interest rates and terms are negotiable until the contract is signed.

 

If you’re struggling with a high interest auto loan payment, you may be able to refinance your loan for a lower rate by contacting your loan servicer.  If your current loan servicer can’t help you – shop around! Always remember to stay focused on the total cost when shopping. Lower monthly payments for a longer period can cost you thousands of dollars in interest. 

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