4 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Leasing or Buying a Car

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When you’re looking for a new car, it can be difficult to decide whether buying one outright or leasing one for a period of time makes more sense. It’s true that cars only go down in value the longer you own them, but there are still some solid arguments for owning one outright rather than essentially renting one.

Car-related decisions can be stressful, and there’s a lot you need to know before buying or renting, but don’t worry. If you’re in the market for a new car and aren’t sure which way to go, you can use the following questions to help you make the best decision for your situation.

Question 1: How Much Will I Be Driving This Car?

If you only need a car for weekend adventures and plan to use public transportation or to carpool during the week, then leasing might be the better option for you, if you can get a good deal. Most lease contracts come with stipulations on how many miles you can put on the car while you’re using it, but if you’re only using it for a few quick trips each week, you likely won’t come close to hitting that mileage mark. Still, you’ll want to pay close attention to that number if you do end up going for a lease. Always ask what happens if you go over the mileage count, since the penalties can be steep. On the other hand, if you have a lengthy commute to get to work and you need a reliable car to get you there—or you just aren’t interested in tracking miles—buying might be better for you.

Question 2: What Do I Plan to Use It For? 

You probably wouldn’t go into a car purchase intending to rough up the car, but stuff happens, so you’ll need to decide what you plan to use your car for to know if leasing is right for you. If you lease a car, the dealer generally allows normal wear and tear upon return at the end of your lease, but you’ll be charged extra if they think the car has been more weathered. Be sure to get the specifics from the dealership on what exactly they consider “normal” wear and tear, and if that doesn’t match your plans for the car—if you plan to off-road in the Colorado Rockies on most weekends, for example—it might be better to buy.

Question 3: How Long Do I Plan to Keep It?

One appealing thing about leasing a car is that most car leases end after three years—so you have the opportunity to upgrade to a new model every three years if you’d like. Of course you could buy a car and upgrade that way, but it can be harder to deal with the sale of a car than it is to just turn your lease back over to the dealer.

Question 4: How Much Can I Afford to Put Down?

Most lease agreements will come with lower down payments than buyer agreements have. In some cases, if you lease a car, you may even be able to negotiate with the dealer to skip a down payment altogether. (Keep in mind, though, that this will likely result in higher monthly payments.) Either way, if you really need a car now, and you don’t have the cash for a decent down payment, then going with a lease may put you in the driver’s seat faster than if you waited to buy a car.

Buying a car is a very personal decision, and whether you lease or buy will be determined by a number of factors. At the end of the day, buying a car is almost always the cheaper option if you need a car for the long term, but signing up for a short-term lease can be a solid option depending on your needs. Putting in a little bit of extra thought before searching for your next ride can ensure you make the right decision.

Whatever move you decide to make, be smart in how you approach car buying or leasing. Don’t forget that having good credit will improve your car-buying experience, so before you make car-related decisions, check your credit and see where you’re at. You can always check your credit for free at Credit.com.

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How to Deal with an Underwater Car Loan When You Can’t Sell

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According to experts at the automotive website Edmunds, a new car loses up to $7,419 of its value during the first year on the road. Over the next three years, new cars lose an average of $5,976 in value, mostly due to age and wear and tear.

This shows just how quickly a fancy new car can depreciate in value—and how quickly it can become worth a lot less than what you owe. After all, if you financed that new car without a down payment, the average car owner would have to pay $7,419 in principal payments the first year just to keep up with rapid depreciation.

But what if you want to sell your car and your loan is underwater? Unfortunately, this is a real issue, and one that happens all the time. If you’ve financed a car and can’t afford the monthly payment, if you need a different vehicle to fit your family or job, or if you just want a do-over, it may be difficult to find a solution without taking a loss.

If you’re underwater on your car loan and can’t sell, here are some potential solutions and why they may or may not be a good fit for you.

1. Trade in Your Car

According to another study from Edmunds, 32% of all automotive trade-ins were underwater during the first quarter of 2016. Car owners who owed more than their cars were worth had an average of $4,832 in negative equity before they traded up to something shiny and new.

This just goes to show that if you owe more than your car is worth, you’re in good company. But that doesn’t mean trading up is good for your wallet. The dealership you work with may be able to wrap your debt into your new loan, but unfortunately, you’ll remain underwater, even with the new loan.

If you’re trying to get out from under an oppressive car loan, this isn’t the solution. The only time to consider this option is when you need a different car to accommodate a changing life situation, such as with your job or your family.

2. Make Extra Payments

If you’re tired of being underwater and just want to sell your car, some experts advise making extra payments on your loan to pay it off faster.

However, if you’re struggling to come up with cash, you may want to consider halting your investment or retirement contributions to free up cash, notes Joseph Carbone of Focus Planning Group. According to Carbone, while it might sound over the top to stop investing for a while, this strategy might be the best choice, especially if the interest rate on your car loan is over 10%. Once you pay down your car loan and sell your vehicle, Carbone says, you can resume investing as usual.

Another option is to go on a limited-time spending freeze, says Texas financial planner Matt Adams.

“If cash flow is an issue, then it is time to tighten your budget and/or find a way to earn some additional income to pay the note down,” he says. This might be a good idea if you want to free up cash without changing your investment strategy.

3. Refinance Your Car Loan

While it might seem counterintuitive to take out another loan, refinancing your loan can make sense in certain situations, says Anthony Montenegro of Blackmont Advisors.

If you’re struggling to keep up with outrageous payments, for example, a new car loan could help you score a lower monthly payment, so long as you’re willing to extend your repayment timeline. It can also make sense to refinance if you have a high interest rate and you’ve improved your credit enough to qualify for a new loan with a significantly lower rate.

Before you refinance, make sure you look around for auto loans with no or low closing costs. Also, read the fine print on your new loan to make sure you understand your new payment and when the loan will be paid off.

4. Use Your Car to Make Money

Consider using your car to earn some extra cash. One way you can is with Turo.com—a website that lets you rent out your car. Alex Whitehouse of FinHealthy.com says that Turo.com is like “Airbnb for your ride” and notes that according to Turo, “hosts can typically cover their car payments by renting out their cars just nine days a month.”

If you have some spare time for a side hustle, you could also start driving for a rideshare company like Uber or Lyft. Financial planner Charles C. Scott says that you can “let your car work for you” this way. And since this side gig is flexible, those extra hours can fit nicely into your regular work schedule and social calendar.

5. Keep Your Underwater Car

Whatever the reason for wanting to ditch your underwater car loan, keep in mind that your alternatives may not be perfect. Sometimes it makes the most sense to just keep the car and pay it off the slow and painful way, says Ryan Cravitz of Milestone Wealth Management & Insurance Solutions.

If you’re able, paying your car off at a regular pace would eventually put you in an enviable situation—being free from car payments completely. The challenge at that point would be to avoid trading in your paid-off car and starting the whole process over.

The Bottom Line

The next time you find yourself itching for a new car, try to avoid a situation where you’re buying more than you can afford. According to Steven Rocha of Define Financial, “If possible, take your time and save money for a larger down payment,” and “doing so will make the purchase feel more real and might make you reassess just how much car you really want.”

Regardless of how you deal with an underwater car loan, keep in mind that you could easily make this mistake again if you’re not careful. Car dealers are more than happy to sell you one overpriced car after another, and you could spend most of your adult life owing money on cars that depreciate at lightning speed.

If you find yourself stuck in a pattern of underwater loans, or if you just want to get better at managing your debt, you can find more information online that may help. And before you buy another car or make any other big purchase, take a look at your credit report. You can see your credit report for free at Credit.com.

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Should I Buy or Lease My Next Car?

Gas can make summer road trips expensive, but the right credit card can earn some of that spending back.

One of the most common questions I am asked as a financial planner is “should I lease or buy my car?” Leasing commercials on the radio make it sound like leasing a car is the only cheap, intelligent choice. However, it really depends on how you define “cheap.” If it means a lower monthly payment, then leasing is usually cheaper. If it means what you pay long term, though, leasing is usually not the best option.

What’s the Process of Buying a Car?

Buying a car is a relatively straightforward process. Essentially, you negotiate the price of the car at the dealership and you secure financing. After providing a down payment, you’d finance the entire remaining value of the car, usually through a loan from a bank or credit union. You would then make payments that include both principal and interest for a specified period of time. Once your contract is complete, and the loan or other financing is paid off, you’d own the car outright.

At that point, you could decide to keep it or sell it. If you sold it, you’d have to negotiate the sale to get the price you want. One disadvantage of owning the car is that thanks to regular wear and tear and other factors, you have no guarantee of what the car will be worth at the end of the financing period.

How is Leasing Different from Buying?

Leasing is a bit more complicated, but it’s basically just another method of financing a car. The difference is you aren’t financing the entire car—just the use of the car during the first few years of the car’s life. The payments you make would still consist of principal and interest, but only for the portion of the car’s life you’d be using up.

The biggest difference is that unlike buying a car, you don’t own anything once a lease is complete—and if you still needed a vehicle, you’d have to acquire another one. Typically, you can purchase the car for a pre-set price (known as the residual value) once the lease term is over, or you can give the car back to the leasing company and decide to either purchase or lease another vehicle.

Do You Have to Pay Extra Fees to Lease a Car?

Many advertised leases also require a down payment. If you’re short on cash, you can skip the down payment, but your monthly payment would be higher because you’d be financing more of the car. Also, keep in mind that you’re still responsible for the condition and mileage of the cars you lease. When you turn the car back in, if it isn’t in good condition or if you’ve driven more miles than your lease allows (around 12,000 miles per year), then you’ll have to pay extra.

When Is It Better to Lease Rather Than Buy?

Before you decide to lease or buy, you’ll also need to determine how many miles you drive per year and how long you like to keep your cars. If you are a high mileage driver (say, more than 15,000 miles per year) or you like to keep your cars for three years or more, you are most likely better off purchasing the car. If you don’t drive much and you prefer driving new cars, then leasing may be a better option for you.

Regardless of whether you lease or buy, you’ll need good credit to qualify for a low interest rate. So before you shop for a car, see where you stand: check your credit score for free at Credit.com.

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Can I Get a Car Loan If I Have No Credit?

buy a car with no credit

Yes, lenders have auto loans for people with no credit, but getting one is not guaranteed. It will depend on the lender’s flexibility, the down payment you can afford, and the kind of car you want to buy. It may even depend on how you ask.

Phil Reed, senior consumer advice editor for the consumer auto site Edmunds has some good advice on how to get a car loan with no credit. He says a surprising number of people simply walk into a dealership and say, “Hi, I have no credit, and I want to buy a car.” He doesn’t recommend this approach. Instead, he offers these five tips for people who need a no-credit car loan.

1. Get Pre-Approved

If you have no credit or a thin credit profile, you should try to get preapproved for a loan before heading to the dealership. This will let you compare rates with any loan the dealer may offer. It may also give you a bargaining chip when negotiating the final deal.

If you have a relationship with a bank or credit union, you should start looking for financing there. Reed recommends making an appointment to meet with your bank’s loan officer in person.

“Make a case for yourself,” he says. That means bringing your pay stubs and bank account records with you. You should also check your credit reports, if they exist, and credit scores. You want to know as much about your credit profile as a lender would. If you don’t know your credit score, don’t worry—you can check your credit score for free every month on Credit.com.

If you can’t get a loan from your financial institution, you may be able to find a no-credit auto loan online. Just make sure it’s from a reputable lender. Credit.com can also help you find auto loan offers from trustworthy lending institutions.

2. Negotiate a Good Price

A dealership could beat the offer you get from your bank or credit union. However, if you know you’re already approved for a loan, you can focus on comparing rates and prices instead of worrying about financing.

Reed says that it’s important to be wary. You don’t want to feel so indebted to the dealer for “giving” you a loan that you fail to negotiate the price of the car. And if the dealer’s financing isn’t better than the bank’s, at least you still have an approval in your pocket.

Having a good down payment or trade-in can also help your case. A trade-in would reduce the amount you’ll need to borrow, and a larger down payment would show the lender some commitment on your part. Edmunds recommends putting at least 10% down on a used car, so start saving now.

3. Choose the Right Car

Be sure the car you’re buying is affordable for you, even if it’s not the car you’d choose if you had more money and better credit. “If you have no credit, it’s not the time to get your dream car,” Reed says. “You have to choose the right car and the right amount [to borrow].”

You want reliable transportation you can afford. Making regular, on-time payments won’t just pay down your load, it will also build your credit, so don’t get a loan that requires higher payments than you can comfortably make.

Sites like Kelley Blue Book, Cars.com, and Edmunds can help you find information on the cars that match your budget. When you’re at the car dealership, remember your budget and don’t spring for optional add-ons you don’t really need.

4. Don’t Let Interest Rates Scare You Off

Reed cautions that when you get a loan with no credit, the interest rates you’re offered may seem appallingly high, but that’s part of the cost of having no credit history.

When you don’t have a credit score, lenders can’t assess how big of a risk they’re taking by giving you a loan. To protect the money they’re lending, they will likely treat you as a high-risk borrower, which means the loan will have a higher interest rate.

As you make payments, you’ll establish a pattern of reliably paying back money. Over time, you can improve your interest rate by refinancing. Reed says that, according to a dealership employee, a customer once lowered his interest rate from 13% to 2% in two years’ time by improving his credit and refinancing.

5. Give Yourself Some Credit, Not a Cosigner

Reed advises against cosigning—a process that involves checking someone else’s credit and using that score to qualify for a loan. It might get you a lower rate and help you get approved, but Reed says that if you bite the bullet and pay a higher interest rate rather than get a cosigner, you’ll have the opportunity to build credit.

In addition, having a cosigner will tie that person’s credit to yours, and the way you repay your car loan will influence their credit. Reed says if you’re going to do it, do it only as a last resort, and make sure the cosigner is a relative.

Bottom line, though, as Reed explains, “It’s asking a lot.” It’s better to finance the car yourself, pay on time, and build your credit. That way, the next time you need a loan, you won’t have to worry about whether you’ll qualify.

Good credit doesn’t just help you get reliable transportation: good credit can make a huge difference in improving your financial security and the peace of mind that comes with it. Start tracking your credit for free today at Credit.com. Your new car will get you moving around town, but your new credit score will get you moving up in the world.

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My New Car Is a Piece of Junk. Can I Return It to the Dealer?

My Car Is a Piece of Junk. Can I Return It to the Dealer?

Once upon a time, you loved your car. You loved it so much that you agreed to the payment terms and drove it home from the dealer or, dare we say, a private seller. But now, that love has grown cold and you wish you’d never laid eyes on it. And to make matters worse, you’re bound to its existence and monetary depreciation—thanks to that sweet-little-pain-in-the-butt payment book. Or at least, that’s what you’re afraid of.

If you’re wondering if you can return your unwanted car without any more financial obligation, read on. We’ll discuss whether it’s possible and what you can expect.

Can I Return My Car?

Readers have asked us if they can just “give the keys back” and get a car that is reliable and without unanticipated problems—specifically, a vehicle they can confidently drive with their family, friends, or pets in tow. The short answer is yes, but there’s a variety of potential repercussions and unseen problems.

Before you do anything, find out the following:

  1. If you purchased your car through a private seller, does your state have a “lemon law”?
  2. If you purchased your car through a dealership, does the dealer have a return policy?

If you can answer “yes” to either of these questions, look into these options further to see if your circumstances apply and what you’re entitled to.

However, if you have no recourse under your state’s lemon law and your situation doesn’t qualify for a dealership’s return policy, returning the car is going to be a little tricky and could have credit implications—which you’ll want to consider, especially if you plan to lease or purchase another car once you give the other one back.

Returning the Car to the Dealer

Despite how liberating and freeing a car return may feel, giving the vehicle back to the dealer won’t erase your debt. In fact, the consequences could be just as frustrating as the junk car itself.

“Technically, if you give the car back, it is the same as a repossession,” Matt Briggs, co-founder and CEO of RentTrack, explains. “Keep in mind you have a legal obligation to pay the terms of the loan and the car dealer is typically not the finance company who holds the loan (unless they are ‘buy here pay here’). Either way you cannot simply ‘give back’ the vehicle to a dealer and walk away.”

So look at it this way: to simply give the car back is to consent to automobile repossession—meaning the car would be sold at auction, and you would be responsible for the difference in what the car brought at auction and the amount you still owe on the car.

Plus, you’d be on the hook for expenses involved in this process, such as repossession, towing, title and sale, and storage. So if you leave the car at the dealership, you still owe the debt—which could total to more than the dang clunker is worth—and you’re out a working vehicle.

Concerned about what could happen to your credit score? According to Experian, a car repossession stays on your credit report for seven years—even after the original account goes delinquent. You can see how your debt has affected you by getting a free credit report summary on Credit.com, which will explain what factors influence your credit score.

Car Debt and Bankruptcy

There is a way, however, to force a dealer to “eat steel,” says Eugene Melchionnne, a Connecticut bankruptcy attorney. To do so, you can surrender the car and discharge the debt in bankruptcy—but then you’d have to apply for bankruptcy. “There is also a process for ‘cramming down’ the debt to the value of the car in bankruptcy, and in a Chapter 13 case, you can spread the balance owed over an extended period of time,” he says.

“For example, if the car loan is for $20,000, but the car is worth $10,000, the loan can be reduced to $10,000, and if there are, say, four years left to pay at $500 per month, the payments can be spread out to a maximum of five years on the lowered balance, resulting in $330 or more a month savings,” Melchionne explains.

Selling or Trading the Car Instead

With all that said, it might be simpler and cheaper to sell the vehicle yourself or trade it in for something else, which is what Matt Briggs suggests you do.

“[At] most repossession auctions, the cars sell for a much lower price than the retail value, so you may end up owing more than you would if you sold it [as a] private party (using a website like AutoTrader, eBay, or Cars.com) or if you traded it in on a different vehicle.”

The Bottom Line

For most of us, simply driving the car back to the dealership and handing over the keys, however tempting, is not a workable strategy. So after you dig yourself out of this mess, do as much due diligence as possible before you buy next time.

“Bottom line,” Briggs said, “you have a legal obligation to pay the car loan in full, so make sure you are getting a good deal before you sign on the dotted line.”

 

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10 Things You Need to Know before Buying a Car

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Buying a new or used car can be an intimidating experience. Many car salespeople may pressure you to leave the lot with a purchased vehicle, so it’s crucial you’re armed with information about the cars you are interested in, the budget you can afford, and the value of your trade-in—if you have one. With these details, you have all the tools you need to negotiate properly.

Here are 10 tips and strategies for making sure you get the best-quality vehicle at the lowest price.

1. Think about Financing

Prior to visiting any dealership, have a sense of what kind of deposit you can put down and what monthly payment you can afford. It also helps to do some research on available auto loans to get a sense of what you qualify for. Or try a service like AutoGravity, which allows you to select rates and terms that fit your budget and then obtain offers from lenders.

2. Check Your Credit Score

Knowing your credit score can be helpful as well. Justin Lavelle, chief communications officer for BeenVerified, says, “Having a good idea of your credit report and credit score and the interest rates available can help you negotiate a good deal and save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.”

3. Shop Around

Research the cars you might be interested in before you head to a dealership, rather than going in unprepared. To determine what kind of car you want, use resources like US News Best Cars, where you can search anything from “best cars for families” to “best used cars under 10k.” Another resource is Autotrader, which can be used to search new and used cars in your area by make, model, price, body style, and more.

4. Compare Prices

Lavelle also stresses getting detailed pricing info in advance: “Price the car at different dealerships and use online services to get invoice and deal pricing.” A reliable tool is Kelley Blue Book. Use the site’s car value tool to find out the MSRP and the dealer invoice of a car as well as a range of prices you can expect to see at dealerships. TrueCar is also helpful to use. You can search for and request pricing on any make, model, or year of car. You may get a slew of phone calls, emails, and texts from dealers immediately after, but having information from different dealerships can help you negotiate prices. You should also visit dealer sites to look for rebate offers.

5. Research Your Trade-In’s Value

If you have a trade-in, don’t wait for the salesperson to tell you what it’s worth. On Kelley Blue Book, you can get a sense of the value ahead of time so you know if you’re receiving a good offer. Or try the Kelley Blue Book Instant Cash Offer feature, where dealers will give you a guaranteed price for a trade, eliminating complicated haggling at the dealership. 

6. Test Drive Potential Purchases

You may want to pass on the test drive if you’re familiar with a particular make and model, but Lavelle recommends taking the time to do it anyway. “It is a good idea to inspect the car and give it a good test drive just to make sure all is working and there are no noticeable squeaks, rattles, or shimmies that could cause you headaches after your purchase,” he says.

7. Look at Car Histories

Before selecting dealerships to visit, search for consumer reviews so you can avoid having a bad experience. However, Lavelle warns that just because a car sits on a reputable, well-reviewed lot does not necessarily mean that the car is issue-free. So he recommends digging deeper, especially for used cars. “Services like CARFAX represent that they can tell you about the car’s life from first purchase forward, so that might be a good place to start,” he says. He also recommends checking the title, which you can do online via the DMV.

8. Find Repair Records

In addition to checking the repair history on the specific car you are interested in, Autotrader suggests looking up the repair record of the make and model. “Check J.D. Power and Consumer Reports reliability ratings to see if the vehicle you’re considering is known to be a reliable one,” the site states. It also recommend Internet forums and word of mouth.

9. Spring for an Inspection

Autotrader also suggests telling the seller you require an inspection from a mechanic before purchase to ensure there aren’t any problems. “While a mechanic may charge $100 or more for such an inspection, it can be worth it if it saves you from thousands of dollars in potential repairs,” it recommends. Some sellers may try to dismiss a mechanic’s inspection. Don’t give in—the seller could be covering up a serious issue with the car. Insist an inspection is done, or rethink your purchase.

10. Know Your Rights

For any new or used car, take the time to get familiar with the warranty package and return policies. Do you need to supplement the warranty? Is there a lemon law in your state? Currently, there are only six states that have one, so be sure to check.

Shopping for a car can be frightening, but with the right research and preparation, you won’t have any regrets. Use the tips and resources above, and snag a free credit report from Credit.com so you know what kind of financing you can expect.

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5 Steps for Getting a Car Loan

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When you are looking to buy a vehicle, the first thing you should do is apply for a preapproved loan. The loan process can seem daunting, but it’s easier than you think. Here are five steps for getting a car loan.

1. Check Your Credit

Before you shop for a loan, check your credit report. The better your credit, the cheaper it is to borrow money. With a higher credit score, you may be entitled to lower loan interest rates, and you may also qualify for lower auto insurance premiums.

Review your credit report to look for unusual activity. Dispute errors such as incorrect balances or late payments on your credit report. If you have a lower credit score and would like to give it a bit of a boost before car shopping, pay off credit card balances or smaller loans.

If you’re credit score is low, don’t fret. A lower score won’t prevent you from getting a loan. But depending on your score, you may end up paying a higher interest rate. If you have a low credit score and want to shoot for lower interest rates, take some time to improve your credit score before you apply for loans.

2. Know Your Budget

Having a budget and knowing how much car you can afford is essential. You want to be sure your car payment fits in line with your other financial goals. Yes, you may be able to cover $400 a month, but that amount may take away from your monthly savings goal.

If you don’t already have a budget, start with your monthly income after taxes and subtract your usual monthly expenses and how much you plan to put in savings each month. For bills that don’t come every month, such as Amazon Prime or Xbox Live, take the yearly charge and divide it by 12. Then add the result to your monthly budget. If you’re worried you spend too much each month, find simple ways to whittle your budget down.

You’ll also want to plan ahead for new car costs, such as vehicle registration and auto insurance, and regular car maintenance, such as oil changes and basic repairs. By knowing your budget and what to expect, you can easily see how much room you have for a car payment.

3. Determine How Much You Can Afford

Once you understand where you are financially, you can decide on a reasonable monthly car payment. For many, a good rule of thumb is to not spend more than 10% of your take-home income on a vehicle. In other words, if you make $50,000 after taxes a year, you shouldn’t spend more than $500 per month on a car. But depending on your budget, you may be better off with a lower payment.

With a payment in mind, you can use an auto loan calculator to figure out the largest loan you can afford. Simply enter in the monthly payment you’d like, the interest rate, and the loan period. And remember that making a larger down payment can reduce your monthly payment. You can also use an auto loan calculator to break down a total loan amount into monthly payments.

You’ll also want to think about how long you’d like to pay off your loan. Car loan terms are normally three, four, five, or six years long. With a longer loan period, you’ll have lower monthly payments. But beware—a lengthy car loan term can have a negative effect on your finances. First, you’ll spend more on the total price of the vehicle by paying more interest. Second, you may be upside down on the loan for a larger chunk of time, meaning you owe more than the car is actually worth.

4. Get Preapproved

Before you ever set foot on a car lot, you’ll want to be preapproved for a car loan. Research potential loans and then compare the terms, lengths of time, and interest rates to find the best deal. A great place to shop for a car loan is at your local bank or credit union. But don’t stop there—look online too. The loan with the best terms, interest rate, and loan amount will be the one you want to get preapproved for. Just know that preapproved loans only last for a certain amount of time, so it’s best to get preapproved when you’re nearly ready to shop for a car.

However, when you apply, the lender will run a credit check—which will lower your credit score slightly—so you’ll want to keep all your loan applications within a 14-day period. That way, the many credit checks will only show as one inquiry instead of multiple ones.

When you’re preapproved, the lender decides if you’re eligible and how much you’re eligible for. They’ll also tell you what interest rate you qualify for, so you’ll know what you have to work with before you even walk into a dealership. But keep in mind that preapproved loans aren’t the same as final auto loans. Depending on the car you buy, you’re final loan could be less than what you were preapproved for.

In most cases, if you are preapproved, you shouldn’t have any problems getting a final loan. But being preapproved doesn’t mean you’ll automatically receive a loan when the time comes. Factors such as the info you provided or whether or not the lender agrees on the value of the car can affect the final loan approval. It’s never a deal until it’s a done deal.

If you can’t get preapproved, don’t abandon all hope. You could also try making a larger down payment to reduce the amount you are borrowing, or you could ask someone to cosign on the loan. If you ask someone to cosign, take it seriously. By doing so, you are asking them to put their credit on the line for you.

5. Go Shopping

Now you’re ready to look for a new ride. Put in a little time for research, and find cars that are known to be reliable and fit into your budget. You’ll also want to consider size, color, gas mileage, and extra features. Use resources like Consumer Reports to read reviews and get an idea of which cars may be best for you.

Once you have narrowed down the car you are interested in, investigate how much it’s worth so you aren’t accidentally duped. Sites such as Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds can help you figure out the going rate for your ideal car. After you’re armed with this information, compare prices at different dealerships in your area. And don’t forget to check dealer incentives and rebates to get the best possible price.

By following these steps, you’ll be ready to make the best financial decision when getting a car loan. Even if you aren’t ready to buy a car right now, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. Start by acquiring a free copy of your credit summary.

Image: istock

The post 5 Steps for Getting a Car Loan appeared first on Credit.com.

What Credit Score Do I Need to Buy a Car?

What Credit Score Do You Need to Get An Auto Loan?

If it’s time to purchase a new vehicle, you may be wondering about one obstacle that could get in your way: your credit. Maybe you’re unsure how good your credit is and you don’t know what credit score is needed to buy a car either.

Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to this question. No matter your credit score, you can probably find a way to finance a car loan if you absolutely must buy a new vehicle. The real question is what your credit score will cost you when you make the purchase. The better your credit score, the better your chances of getting a cheaper rate.

So while there’s no minimum credit score for a car loan, your credit history can make a big difference.

Bad Credit Scores Mean Much Higher Interest Rates

According to data from Experian Automotive, the difference in interest rates on a new car loan for someone with excellent credit versus someone with very poor credit is over 11 percentage points. In fact, 2.84% was the average interest rate someone with a super-prime (excellent) credit score paid in the first quarter of 2017, while those with deep subprime (very poor) credit paid an average interest rate of 13.98%.

To illustrate this difference, consider that you apply for a 60-month loan on a car that costs $25,000. With a 2.84% interest rate, the total cost of your car would be $26,847 with payments of $447 per month. Not too shabby.

For the same loan but an interest rate of 13.98%, your car loan would cost you $34,887, and you’d pay $581 per month. That’s more than $8,000 extra! Clearly, poor credit can result in you paying a lot more for your new vehicle.

The difference was even starker for those financing used cars. Those with super-prime credit paid an average rate of 3.56%, while those with deep subprime credit paid an average of 19.62%—more than 16 percentage points higher.

Average New Car Loan Rate by Credit Score (Q1 2017)

  • Super-prime (781–850): 2.84%
  • Prime (661–780): 3.77%
  • Nonprime (601–660): 6.60%
  • Subprime (501–600): 11.05%
  • Deep subprime (300–500): 13.98%

Note that the credit labels above represent Experian’s credit ranges. Other credit reporting agencies use different scales and labels.

Average Used Car Loan Rate by Credit Score (Q1 2017)

  • Super-prime: 3.56%
  • Prime: 5.29%
  • Nonprime: 9.88%
  • Subprime: 16.48%
  • Deep subprime: 19.62%

The dealer may also evaluate your credit using another type of credit score called VantageScore. VantageScore, which was developed by all three of the major reporting agencies, assigns different weights to different parts of your credit history, such as on-time payments, balances, and utilization. Some people may benefit from a lender using their VantageScore, while others may be at a disadvantage.

Where to Start If You’re Unsure

If you’re nervous about letting a car dealer check your credit—but even if you aren’t—it’s helpful to check your score yourself in advance. You can check your credit report for free to make sure you don’t have any surprises and to find mistakes.

Note that the credit score an auto lender uses may be a slightly different because it will be tailored for an auto loan. Still, it’s a good start—if your general credit score is strong, you can also bet that the score the dealer uses is strong.

We also recommend that you try to get pre-approved for a car loan from a bank or credit union before setting foot in the dealership. With a set interest rate in hand, if the dealer can offer you a better rate, perfect! If not, you’ll be prepared to pay what your bank approved you for.

A Word of Caution

Credit inquiries related to auto loans made within a short time frame (usually 14 days, or 45 days depending on the credit score model being used) are supposed to count as a single inquiry. However, some of our readers have found their credit scores dropping after multiple car dealers sent credit inquiries for financing. This is another reason why getting pre-approved before going to the dealership is a good idea.

If you still have questions about how your credit score can affect your car-buying decisions, check out our auto loan resource center, or visit one of the links below.

Here’s What Else You Should Know about Auto Loans:

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Looking for Auto Insurance? Here Are 6 Things You Need to Know

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Let’s get one thing out there: no one is especially psyched to get car insurance. You get it because it’s a financial safeguard against damage to your car or injury to you or others (and maybe because it also happens to be legally required in some form nearly everywhere in the US). Car insurance is complicated, and drivers often don’t know what to expect from the process.

Let us break down the basics so you’re better able to find the right coverage for you. Here are six things you need to know.

1. What Car Insurance Is 

As a licensed insurance agent, I find that many people I talk to don’t quite understand what insurance is or why they need it. I get it. After all, insurance is rather abstract—it’s not a physical object you buy at a store. Further, if all goes well for you, you won’t ever have to use the coverage you paid for. So it’s often hard for people to see the value.

In the simplest terms, insurance is a promise from an insurance company to support you financially in the event that something unfortunate occurs and causes you financial loss or other damage. You pay an insurance company money (your premium) for a policy that details your coverage (who/what is protected and to what dollar amount), and the insurance company is responsible for paying if something happens and you incur a loss (damage to your car, a broken leg, etc.). Insurance companies do this by pooling risk among all the people they insure, collecting premiums from everyone and using those funds to pay claims for those who need it.

Of course, there are many other details that go into the whole system, but we’re keeping it simple.

2. What Different Insurance Types Cover

The type and amount of coverage each person needs varies, but these are the coverage basics you should know.

Liability coverage is legally required for drivers in almost every state. It covers the other driver in a crash you cause, and it includes injury and property damage. If you see numbers like 25/50/10 or 30/60/25, that shows the liability coverage limits for (1) bodily injury per person, (2) bodily injury per accident, and (3) property damage—each in thousands of dollars. For example, 25/50/10 means your coverage will extend up to $25,000 per individual injured in an accident, $50,000 for all persons injured in an accident, and $10,000 for property damage.

In no-fault states, you are required to carry coverage (normally personal injury protection or PIP) for your injuries regardless of who caused the accident.

Collision coverage, which covers damage caused in a crash, and comprehensive coverage, which covers damage from other events including weather (fire, flooding, etc.) as well as theft, are often collectively called full coverage.

Other coverages include uninsured motorist coverage, which protects you and your vehicle from damage caused by people who don’t have insurance, and medical payments coverage, which covers select costs for injuries you and your passengers sustain in a collision.

3. How to Get Car Insurance

You can easily go online, call a company or two, or even walk into a local insurance agent’s office to talk to them about getting coverage. But how do you know which company to contact?

Insurance companies spend billions of dollars every year on advertising, so you could probably rattle off a few big car insurance brands you’re familiar with. But it’s important for consumers to know that not all insurance companies are the same—in fact, they all have different ways of pricing policies, and many look for certain types of customers with certain risk profiles to do business with.

This is why it’s more important than ever to compare car insurance quotes from as many companies as possible. Getting multiple opinions and understanding the market will help you find the best rate around.

4. Why You Pay What You Do

Insurance companies determine what you pay for insurance based on dozens of “rating factors”—all having to do with who you are, where you live, what you drive, and other details of your history, both on and off the road. Everything is about statistics, and insurance companies assign certain levels of risk to each of these factors to gauge the likelihood that you will file a claim.

For example, teens are considered high-risk drivers because they have so little experience behind the wheel and are statistically likelier to be in an accident—and thus file more claims—than older drivers, so they often pay much more for their premiums.

Other risk indicators include some obvious ones (like your driving record) and some less-obvious ones (like your ZIP code). There are also certain factors, like your credit score, which only some states allow to be used in determining your rate (it’s prohibited in California, Hawaii, and Massachusetts).

5. How to Lower Your Risk and Your Rates in the Future

You can’t change certain insurance rating factors, like your age, but you can make a few changes to reduce your risk in other areas. Here are a few tips:

  • Drive safely and maintain a clean driving record.
  • Consider sharing a policy with someone you live with.
  • Bundle your renters or homeowners policy if you can.
  • Pay your premium in full at the start of your policy or sign up for auto-pay.
  • Maintain insurance coverage with no lapse between policies (even for a day).

6. When to Get Insurance 

The obvious time to get car insurance is when you’re getting a car, but it’s critical that you don’t have a lapse in coverage between insurance policy terms. I highly recommend shopping around for car insurance before you begin the car-buying process. Shopping early also allows you to account for your premium in your car-related expense budget.

Other times to switch insurance could be if you get married, move, or have another big event in your life; if your rates increase for no apparent reason; or if you need to add a new teen driver to your policy.

Additionally, it’s important to compare rates every six months to make sure you’re staying up to date on any changes that might occur if you move, get a speeding ticket, or even have a birthday.

Once you’re ready to start your insurance search, you can use Credit.com’s comparison tool to get a car insurance quote and compare rates.

Image: istock

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Shopping for a New Car? Use the 20/4/10 Rule

auto car driving drive

Imagine you’re in the market for a new vehicle. Where do you begin your car-buying process? Do you already have a dream make and model in mind? What’s your budget? Are you already browsing the interwebs for the car you want? If you are, you’re already starting off on the wrong foot — at least according to the 20/4/10 rule.

What is the 20/4/10 rule?

The 20/4/10 rule helps car shoppers figure out how much car they can actually fit into their budget before falling in love with a vehicle they can’t afford. It emphasizes calculating what you can afford before you set out shopping.

The rule might seem obvious — before you buy something, you should make sure you can afford it, right? — but it gets tricky when it comes to financing, and many don’t take the time to include annual ownership costs. If you don’t, you could end up with monthly transportation costs that could force you to live paycheck to paycheck or take on more debt.

Follow the 20/4/10 rule, and you might avoid accidentally biting off more than you can chew.

Rule #1: Put down at least 20%

A vehicle is a depreciating asset. The experts at Carfax estimate a new car loses 10% of its value the moment you drive off the lot. And the depreciation continues from there. Edmunds.com estimates a new vehicle loses over one-fourth of its value in the first year alone. For that reason, you should be prepared to put down at least 20% of the purchase price. If you do this, you’ll finance payments for the vehicle’s actual estimated value when you leave the lot instead of the full purchase price, which the vehicle isn’t worth anymore.

Take this example: You finance a new car for its full purchase price of $34,000, then lose your job the next day. Now, you might need to sell your new car, but you can sell it for only $30,600 — because the car already lost 10% of its value once it left the lot. Since you put $0 down at financing, you’ll still owe $34,000 after the sale. On the other hand, if you’d put down at least $6,800, you could sell the car that day for its estimated value and only lose out on half your down payment.

You might not be able to estimate exactly how much car you can afford, but if you are able to put down at least 20% of the purchase price, you should be in an OK financial position. On top of that, you’ll have smaller payments and possibly finance it for a shorter period.

Rule #2: Finance the vehicle for no more than four years

The longer your financing agreement is, the more you’ll pay in interest over time. So don’t be swayed by dealers or lenders who try to sell you on a lower monthly car payment — chances are your payment is so low because the term of your loan is long.

You can use the MagnifyMoney loan calculator to see this rule at work. If you borrow $25,000 to purchase a car (at a 4% APR) and agree to a six-year financing deal, you’ll wind up paying $3,161 in additional interest charges by the time you pay off the loan.

If you agree to a four-year loan instead, you’ll pay just $2,095 in interest — a savings of over $1,000. Of course, that shorter term loan also comes with a higher monthly payment — $564 versus $391 — but you are saving more over the long term.

Think of it this way: If you can’t afford the monthly payment required to pay off the car in four years or fewer, it’s probably outside of your budget.

Rule #3: Keep your total transportation costs under 10% of your monthly income

This last part is where it gets easy to overspend. You should try to keep your total transportation costs — your car payment, insurance, gas, and maintenance — under 10% of your monthly income.

So, if you earn $5,000 per month, your total transportation costs shouldn’t cost more than $500.

How to save on the cost of a new car

Try these tips to keep your overall transportation costs low.

Get pre-approved for financing

Avoid financing your vehicle through the dealer, and get pre-approved for financing at a lower rate before you show up at a dealership. Financing your auto loan at a lower rate can reduce your monthly loan payment. If you walk onto the lot with a pre-approved auto loan rate from a bank or credit union, you can use that as leverage for negotiation.

However, if you let the dealer find the loan for you instead, you’ll lose negotiating power, and there won’t be a way for you to tell if the dealer’s loan rate is the best offer you can get. Avoid making these other common mistakes when searching for a car loan.

Buy used

More people are purchasing used cars than ever before and saving a bundle in the process, according to Edmunds. Over 38 million vehicles sold in 2015 were used, a year-over-year increase of 5.6%.

When you buy used or certified pre-owned vehicles, you avoid financing a larger balance, and could even skip financing altogether if you’ve got enough cash on hand. If you buy used, avoid engine trouble by having the vehicle inspected by an independent mechanic before you sign off. You can use a resource like Car Talk to find a mechanic in your area.

Buy a car that holds its value

Depreciation is a car owner’s largest transportation expense during the first five years of ownership, more than fuel, maintenance, and even insurance.

A car that holds value well will depreciate less over time compared to the average vehicle, so you may not lose out on as much in depreciation costs if you sell the vehicle after a few years. Carmakers like Honda and Porsche are known for building vehicles that hold their value well over time according to Kelley Blue Book.

Lease instead

Leasing a car will usually result in a lower monthly payment, and you’ll likely save money with a lower down payment and lower tax fees over time. However, you could be subject to extra charges if you ding up the vehicle, or drive more miles than stated on the lease agreement. It doesn’t always work for everyone, so consider your personal needs first.

On the plus side, you’ll upgrade to a new vehicle every few years and won’t need to deal with the hassle of selling a car.

Look for gas savings

Gas isn’t always an unavoidable expense. You can make a few changes to your fueling habits like filling up before you hit “E” or signing up for a gas rewards credit card to save money. You could also cut down transportation costs by cutting back how often you drive or by carpooling some days to school or work. Learn more ways to reduce your gas spend here.

Comparison shop

Don’t get lazy with must-haves like maintenance and insurance for your vehicle. Comparison shopping is the best way to save on costs like these that may differ from provider to provider. Insurance companies have made it easier to compare quotes with online comparison portals like this one from Progressive. You could also try going through your bank or credit union for discounted rates with select companies.

Don’t just take the first estimate you get for a repair. Mechanics are known to pad the bill with unnecessary repairs from time to time. After you figure out what’s wrong with you vehicle, get an estimate from a few different mechanics in your area. That way you’ll make sure you’re getting the best value before paying for maintenance and repairs.

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