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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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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The Dark Side of Leasing: What Car Buyers Should Know

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Leasing a car can be the right decision in some cases. You can enjoy driving a new car without putting down a large sum of money or slide behind the wheel of a used car with little investment.

The average lease payment in 2016 was $120 less than an average finance payment on a new car, according to a 2017 report from Edmunds, a car-comparison and research site. For large pickup trucks, the savings were even higher: $206.

Lease contracts also require less commitment because they last an average 36 months, while finance agreements average 69 months, Edmunds reports.

What you need to know about leasing a car

For drivers who are unlikely to exceed a contract’s mileage cap and will take good care of the vehicle, leasing can be a good option.

A growing number of Americans are leasing instead of purchasing, according to the 2017 Manheim Used Car Report. A record-breaking 4.4 million new leases originated in 2016, according to the Atlanta-based provider of vehicle remarketing services. (Edmunds puts that number at 4.3 million, but either way, it’s a new high.) Leases also exceed 30 percent of the new vehicle market for the first time ever in 2016, Edmunds reports.

But there’s a dark side to leasing. Autos were the number one subject of consumer complaints in 2016, according to the Consumer Complaint Survey Report conducted by Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators (NACPI). The report cited multiple complaints about leasing, including used-car leasing.

“It seems like more and more people are not wanting to fork out lots of money for a new car, which makes sense. But it’s very shocking to see a growing number of people lease used cars when they don’t have protection,” says Amber Capoun, president of NACPI.

While the cheaper price tag on a used car lease can be enticing, consumers leasing older cars may lose protection if it is no longer covered by a warranty, says Mark Anderson, a consumer protection attorney at Anderson, Ogilvie & Brewer in San Francisco.

Must-know facts about leasing

If you are considering leasing a car, watch out for these six pitfalls.

1. Credit score hit

When you lease a car, a credit inquiry is conducted, just like when applying for a car loan. Your credit score will fall slightly, but it can be rebuilt by making timely payments.

A lease payment may be less per month than a finance payment, but missing a payment or ending your lease early can further reduce your credit. If you don’t have a strong credit history, you may need a co-signer. However, both you and your co-signer should be aware that late payments can damage both credit scores.

2. High interest rates

At first glance, the interest rate — the amount you pay for borrowing the lease company’s money while you drive their car — may appear lower than the annual percentage rate (APR) you would pay to finance a vehicle. That is because the rate is expressed in the leasing agreement as the “money factor” and is a very small number, like 0.0022. To calculate your lease’s APR, multiple the money factor by 2,400, which would be 5.28% APR.

The interest rates on used cars are usually even higher, since the vehicle value at the end of the lease is difficult to predict. Don’t forget to multiply that low “money factor” to figure out your interest rate. It could make all the difference in your ability to afford leasing a car. Good credit will help you get a better interest rate.

3. Lack of consumer protection

An older car with higher mileage may have exceeded its warranty by the time you lease it, which means you are responsible for repairs that would have been covered under a warranty on a newer car, or a car with lower mileage.

The Consumer Leasing Act requires lessors to disclose certain information, including conditions for early termination, the lessor’s standards for wear and tear, and all fees and taxes before a lease is signed, but a company can take advantage of you if you are unprepared. Consumer protections and lemon laws differ state to state, Capoun says, and can leave drivers on the hook for costly repairs. While all lease agreements allow
for normal wear and tear, contracts vary greatly.

“You are the one who’s responsible if your car breaks down, so it’s very important to read the fine print before signing a lease and know what’s included in the contract,” Capoun says.

Consumers should also be wary of third-party “extended warranty” offers, which Anderson says are far more reliable than automakers in providing services and repairs.

“Lemon law applies to leases, but it won’t protect you if you don’t fulfill your payments. You’ll get hit by some steep fees,” Anderson says. “And people often forget leasing doesn’t mean you own the car. If you miss a payment and the car gets repossessed, you don’t have any rights.”

4. Hidden costs

Anything from a small scratch to ending your lease early could result in a hefty fee. The acquisition and delivery fees (which both range from $300 for compact cars to $900 for luxury vehicles) are some of the largest, and unexpected, expenses.

Upon returning your car, be prepared for the car to be looked over with scrutiny. The dealership wants the car returned in “salable” condition so it can be sold or leased to someone new at its highest value. Any damage or changes detract from that value, and you can be fined. If you want to make alterations to your car, they should not be permanent. You also will be responsible for the majority of the maintenance and repair costs, which add up the longer you lease.

Even leasing new cars can be dangerous, says Stacey Nix, a 52-year-old mother of three in Valdosta, Ga. Nix and her husband once leased a car, but say they never will again after being stuck with extra costs for exceeding the mileage limits stipulated in the leasing contract.

“I felt we were misled and not told all the facts,” she says.

Exceed that mileage limit — even by a mile — and you’ll be hit with another fee. Be sure to know exactly how many annual miles your contract allows, usually 15,000 miles or less, and keep an eye on your odometer. Mileage fees typically range from 15 cents to 30 cents per mile, depending on the vehicle.

5. Lack of equity

Over time you will likely end up paying more than the vehicle is worth, but you haven’t gained any equity toward buying a new vehicle. At the end of a lease, you do not own the vehicle, which means you cannot sell it and take advantage of its residual value and profit off the vehicle. Despite higher monthly costs, when you purchase a vehicle, its cash value is yours to do with it as you wish.

6. Pricey, and limited, exit options

Ending your lease early can result in having to pay anything from a fine to the remaining balance on your lease. No one can predict the future, so it is important to know your exit options, and how much each will cost, before signing your contract.

One exit option is buying the car outright. Each lease has different payoff or buyout options, some of which can be negotiated, but each car’s value varies so it is difficult to predict just how much your car will be worth. You also can trade in your car for one with a cheaper lease, but you will have to pay penalties and fees for ending the other lease early. Finding someone to take over your lease is another option, but yet again, you won’t avoid fees.

Tips for protecting yourself from a bad lease

1. Consider all of your options

Is leasing really for you? Once you sign a contract, you’re bound to that agreement. If you don’t think you will exceed the mileage allowance, damage the car, and have to end the lease early, and don’t mind not building equity, then leasing might be the right decision. The Federal Trade Commission has guidelines to help you decide whether you should finance or lease a car.

2. Remember the old school rules

Taking a car to a mechanic you trust first can prevent you from driving off the lot with a car full of problems. Asking about warranties and what is and isn’t covered by the dealership or the manufacturer can even save you legal trouble, Anderson says.

3. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate

Everything from the overall price to aesthetic changes to a car can be negotiated. Good credit could give you the edge: Lessees had an average FICO Score of 716, eight points higher than new vehicle buyers, according to the Manheim survey. Other smaller fees, like document-processing fees to service fees, can be negotiated if you’re willing to put in the effort. Negotiations also can help save you money in unpredictable situations like accidents or terminating a lease early. Finally, never forget to ask about any leasing specials.

4. Understand your contract, down to the nitty-gritty

Leave with a copy of your lease so you always have the official contract to reference and can hold your lessor accountable to the agreement. You also can use the Consumer Leasing Act’s examination checklist to ensure all of the proper details are disclosed during a lease signing.

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4 Credit Cards That Can Help You Save for a Car

Saving for a car can be much easier when you've got credit cards with major rewards and perks.

[DISCLOSURE: Cards from our partners are mentioned below.]

The more you save up for a down payment on your next car, the better off you’ll be financially when you drive off the lot. A bigger down payment can reduce the amount you need to borrow,  increase the range of cars you can afford and even lower your monthly payments. But saving up for a car can be difficult when you’ve got many other expenses.

Cash back credit cards can help you save by earning money back on your purchases, putting cash back in your pocket.

These four credit cards can earn you cash back and that you can use to help you pay for your next ride.

1. Discover it Card

Rewards: 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter for rotating bonus categories, 1% cash back on everything else
Signup Bonus: Discover will match the cash back you earn in the first year.
Annual Fee: $0
Annual Percentage Rate (APR): 0% for six months on purchases and 18 months on balance transfers, then variable 11.99% to 23.99%
Why We Picked It: Long-term planners can use Discover’s cash back match for down payment assistance.
For Your New Car: This card earns 5% cash back on bonus categories, such as restaurants and home improvement stores, that rotate every quarter. All other purchases earn 1% cash back. Plus, Discover will match all the cash back you earn in the first year. If you have a year or more to save up for your new ride, that bonus can help you make a final push to boost your down payment.
Drawbacks: To get the most out of this card, you’ll have to do the work of tracking and activating spending categories each quarter.

2. Chase Freedom

Rewards: 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter for rotating bonus categories, 1% cash back on everything else
Signup Bonus: $150 bonus cash back when you spend $500 in the first three months
Annual Fee: $0
APR: 0% for 15 months, then variable 15.74% to 24.49%
Why We Picked It: The 5% cash back bonus categories and signup bonus can help you quickly save.
For Your New Car: With 5% cash back on quarterly rotating bonus categories like gas stations and grocery stores, you’ll have plenty of ways to save. There’s also a $150 bonus when you spend $500 in three months, which shouldn’t be too difficult.
Drawbacks: Like Discover it, this card requires a bit more maintenance.

3. Blue Cash Preferred by American Express

Rewards: 6% cash back on up to $6,000 in yearly spending at supermarkets, 3% cash back at gas stations and select department stores and 1% cash back on everything else
Signup Bonus: $150 bonus cash back when you spend $1,000 in the first three months
Annual Fee: $95
APR: 0% for 12 months, then variable 13.99% to 24.99%
Why We Picked It: Multiple ways to earn special cash back rates means you’ll have many ways to save for your car.
For Your New Car: With 6% cash back at supermarkets, 3% cash back at gas stations and certain department stores and 1% cash back elsewhere, there’s no shortage of opportunities for saving. Plus, $150 bonus cash can go right toward that down payment.
Drawbacks: There’s a $95 annual fee, which slightly reduces the potential profitability of your card.

4. Citi Double Cash

Rewards: 1% cash back on all purchases and an additional 1% upon payment
Signup Bonus: None
Annual Fee: $0
APR: 0% for 18 months, then variable 14.49% to 24.49%
Why We Picked It: If you religiously pay off your balance each month, you’ll consistently earn 2% cash back on all purchases. (Full Disclosure: Citibank advertises on Credit.com, but that results in no preferential editorial treatment.)
For Your New Car: With all purchases earning 2% cash back by the time you pay, you can earn a solid cash back rate no matter what you’re buying.
Drawbacks: You’ll have to wait until you pay to earn the full cash back rate.

Choosing a Credit Card to Help Save for a Car

Cash back is the primary way credit cards can help you save for a car. When picking a credit card to help you afford your next ride, you’ll want to choose a card that rewards the way you spend. You can try to find a card that offers special cash back rates on the purchase types you make most frequently. Or, if you tend to spread your purchases around at many types of merchants, a card with quarterly rotating purchase categories or a flat cash back rate on all purchases might be a good fit.

Be sure to check the cash back redemption options on any card you’re evaluating. Some cards will let you redeem your cash back as a deposit to your bank account, while others may only provide a credit to your credit card statement. The latter method can still help you save for a down payment as you’ll have a smaller credit card bill, but it’s something you should keep in mind.

It’s also important to remember that a cash back card works best when you pay off your balance in full each month, especially once any 0% APR period expires. That’s because interest charges will eat into the cash back you’ve earned.

What Credit Is Required for a Card That Helps You Afford a Car?

Cards with strong cash back offers and signup bonuses usually require good to excellent credit. Before you apply, you’ll want to be reasonably sure you can get approved, as a hard credit inquiry resulting from a credit card application can slightly hurt your credit score. You can check two of your credit scores completely free at Credit.com.

At publishing time, the Discover it, Chase Freedom, Blue Cash Preferred by American Express, and Citi Double Cash credit cards are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for this card. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment. This content is not provided by the card issuer(s). Any opinions expressed are those of Credit.com alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer(s).

Note: It’s important to remember that prices for products and services frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms cited in this article may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with the company directly.

Image: BraunS

The post 4 Credit Cards That Can Help You Save for a Car appeared first on Credit.com.

This Woman Fell Into a Used Car Loan Trap — Now She’s Fighting Back

Mary McDuffie, 31, was sued by an auto financing company after she stopped making payments on a used car that had mechanical issues. Now the mother of four, who said she was misled by the company, is fighting their claims in court.

This story is the first in a two-part series on the risky business of buying a car from a used dealer.

In the summer of 2013, Mary McDuffie Morton, 31, needed money to buy a car. At the time, the recently divorced mother of four had a poor credit history. So she was excited to hear she could get a subprime loan at a used auto dealership in Bronx, N.Y.

“It [seemed] too good to be true,” Mary recalls. “As long you have a job, you’re approved. It’s like wow, OK, I’m guaranteed approval.”

Nationwide, customers like Mary owe more than a quarter-billion dollars in high-interest, high-risk subprime auto loans. A recent report by Moody’s Investor’s Service found that Santander Consumer USA Holdings Inc., a major originator of subprime auto loans, has been slacking when it comes to verifying the income reported by loan applicants, according to Bloomberg. This can make it easier for car buyers to take on more debt than they can afford to repay.

But big banks aren’t the biggest problem in auto lending. About three-fourths of subprime auto loans do not originate in banks or credit unions. Instead, they are often signed at car lots like the one in Bronx, N.Y., where Mary was lured by the promise of easy credit.

In many cases, those customers are taken for a ride by predatory dealerships and finance companies alike.

“Their main job is not to care for you. It’s to care for their pocketbook, and that’s all they’re there for,” says Remar Sutton, a former car dealer turned consumer advocate.

“How many of you have seen the ads that say, ‘No credit, bad credit, no worries, we’re the credit fixer’? That is not why those ads are running. Those ads are running because they know if you think you have bad credit, you will pay anything for a car, and they’ll knock a homerun on you,” warns Sutton.

That’s what happened to Mary. To buy a used 2003 GMC Envoy XL, the dealer told her she needed to first borrow roughly $7,000.

“The dealership told me they were going to shop around for lenders for me – and they were going to call one and get back to me,” Mary says.

The dealer selected Dependable Credit Corp. of Yonkers, N.Y.. The interest rate on Mary’s loan was a whopping 24.9% – just one-tenth of a point below the threshold of criminal usury in New York State.

Mary signed the contract, despite an interest rate so high that it was nearly illegal.

“I was scared that if I didn’t go along with that deal, I wouldn’t get a car, ” she says.

The Secret Bonus

Like many lenders that work with auto dealers, to get business from dealers, Dependable offers them a secret bonus. It’s called a “Dealer Reserve Advance,” and it can add an extra two points of interest to the consumer’s loan. The dealer keeps 70% of it as a reward for making the referral to the finance company.

“When you go into that dealership, do you think they’re going to point you in the direction of a cheap loan? Of course not. They’re going to send you to the finance source that will pay them cash up front on the loan,” says Sutton.

Dependable executives did not respond to multiple requests for an interview or comment.

On its website, the finance company claims it does business with 250 used car dealers in seven states – Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and New York – and has financed more than $200 million in loans.

“They’re in hundreds of dealerships because they’re making millions of dollars because people who are poor, people who are worried about their credit, are being taken advantage of by that business,” says Sutton, a co-founder of FoolProof, a nonprofit website devoted to consumer education.

Mary said the vehicle she purchased had mechanical problems that the dealer refused to fix. Sensing that she was being cheated, the former Bronx resident refused to make loan payments until she received a title proving she owned the car.

“They sold me a lemon,” complains Mary. “I knew that the deal was just a big scam.”

A Long Fight in Court

Dependable repossessed the Envoy when Mary’s payments were five weeks delinquent. By the time she received the title, the car was gone – and she was thousands of dollars in debt.

According to records obtained by MagnifyMoney, the finance company sold the vehicle to an undisclosed owner for $4,200 – a price that was $5,000 less than what Mary paid just four months earlier.

Then Dependable sued her in Bronx County Civil Court for a bill packed with extra charges. The tally includes nearly $1,200 in repairs by Westchester Auto Center and more than $1,700 in storage fees charged by Saw Mill River Realty.

The three businesses are located at the same address. State records show that all three share the same chief executive.

Dependable continues to charge Mary 24.9% interest on a loan for a car it repossessed and sold to someone else three years ago. Last year, the company told the court Mary owes nearly $11,000.

“Unfortunately, most places that want to make you a subprime loan simply want to make more money on you,” says Sutton.

With the help of a legal aid group, Mary is countersuing. She alleges she was cheated through deception and illegal business practices by the finance company and the dealer.

In a counterclaim filed by Mary’s attorney, Shanna Tallarico with the New York Legal Assistance Group, in October 2016, Mary claims that the dealer also required her to trade in her 2004 Cadillac CTS in order to purchase the used Envoy.  The dealership agreed to give her just $1,900 for the vehicle, citing “a significant problem with the Cadillac’s engine,” according to Mary’s counterclaim. Days later, she claims the dealership listed that same Cadillac for sale for $9,999. Efforts to reach the dealer for comment were unsuccessful.

Efforts to reach the dealer for comment were unsuccessful. Mary’s case is still pending, Tallarico says.

“I felt like I had just thrown money in the garbage,” says Mary. “The whole experience was a waste of money.”

How to Buy a Used Car Without Being Cheated

Shop for financing before you look for a vehicle: The subprime interest rate a credit union can offer may be half of what a car dealer charges you. Don’t assume that your poor credit history means you won’t have a shot at getting a loan from a reputable lender. It’s perfectly fine to get your own financing outside of a dealer — and, as our story shows, it’s often much more affordable. To make matters better, if you come in with a verified offer from another lender, the dealer has an incentive to try to beat their offer.

Check your credit score yourself. Don’t take a dealer’s word on it when it comes to your credit. Your score may be good enough to qualify for a better rate on a loan elsewhere, but the dealer may not want you to know that. You can check your credit score on a number of sites for free, including the Discover Scorecard. And again, if you shop around for rates before you go to the dealer you will know exactly what rates you deserve — and when they are offering you a bad deal.

Buy a car that works: Bring a mechanic or a knowledgeable friend to check it out before you decide. You can also check the vehicle’s background by getting a vehicle history report through resources such as the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, CARFAX, and AutoCheck.

Buy a car you can afford: If a dealer makes promises, be sure to get it in writing. Go in with a firm idea of what kind of car you want and how much you can afford to pay.

And slow down: Never sign a contract in a hurry. Dealers may be friendly, but they’re not really your friend. To double check a dealer’s reputability, check out their reviews and rating on the Better Business Bureau.

Additional reporting by Mandi Woodruff

The post This Woman Fell Into a Used Car Loan Trap — Now She’s Fighting Back appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

13 Ways to Drive Down Your Car Insurance Premium

If you have a car, paying for insurance is a necessary evil. But you don't need to pay as much as you are now.

Paying for car insurance is a necessary evil. It helps protect you and your property from the cost of accidents. Unfortunately, it can cost a bunch to insure yourself against the unpredictable conditions of the open road.

There are several ways to reduce the cost of your car insurance premium, letting you cruise past high payments. Here are 13 ways to reduce your car insurance premium:

1. Choose the Right Car

In part, your car insurance premiums are calculated using the risk and cost associated with your vehicle. That means the price, the potential cost of repairs, the odds of theft and the safety features of your specific car impact your cost of insurance. Insuring a sports car won’t cost the same as insuring a family sedan. When you’re car shopping, consider the cost of insurance for specific vehicles. (Taking out an auto loan? Brush up on the lingo here.)

2. Maintain Good Credit

In most states, your credit score helps determine your premium. Those with excellent credit can access the best rates, while those with poor credit see higher costs. You get a snapshot of your credit report free on Credit.com.

“The insurance company may not necessarily pull a credit score or credit report, but they will use some type of insurance score that is based on one’s credit score. This varies from one state to another, but generally speaking, the better your credit score, the better your car insurance rate,” said Joel Ohman, certified financial planner and founder of CarInsuranceComparison.com.

3. Install Anti-Theft Devices

Most insurers offer discounts for a having an anti-theft device, which can prevent theft or identify and locate stolen vehicles. You’ll have to purchase the device, but it may save you money in the long run.

“Almost any insurance company approved anti-theft device will result in a discount of anywhere from 5% to 25%,” said Ohman. “For details about whether or not a particular device will result in a discount, it’s always best to verify directly with the insurance company.”

4. Get a Good Driver Discount

Good driver discounts are available at many insurance companies. Each insurer may define good drivers differently, but if you successfully avoid causing accidents and moving violations, you may qualify. Check with your insurer to find eligibility requirements for good driver programs.

5. Choose Higher Deductibles

You can lower your premium by signing up for higher deductibles, which means you’ll pay more out of pocket for repairs before your insurer steps in to cover the rest. Of course, you’ll want to make sure you can afford to cover the deductible before you take this route.

“The fastest way to lower your monthly auto insurance premium … is to increase deductibles. Changing deductibles from $500 to $1,000 saves about $150 annually,” said Neil Richardson, licensed insurance agent at The Zebra.

6. Bundle Insurance Plans

Bundling your car insurance with other types of coverage can save money. For instance, you could bundle your car insurance with homeowners insurance from the same provider.

“Drivers who bundle homeowners insurance save about $110 annually on their auto policies, and even bundling renters coverage saves drivers about $72 each year,” said Richardson.

7. Sign Up for Group Insurance

Many employers, universities and organizations offer group insurance plans from certain providers, which may offer cheaper rates. Check with your employer, current or former educators and any other official groups you’re a part of to see if they offer group insurance.

8. Find High-Risk Auto Insurers

If you have a poor driving or financial history, you may be considered a high-risk customer. Some insurers offer better rates for high-risk drivers than others.

“Certain auto insurance companies specialize in higher-risk drivers. This means that if one has a DUI in their history, many accidents or even poor credit … it becomes all the more important to shop around and compare rates from many different car insurance companies,” said Ohman.

9. Sign Up for Automatic Payments

Like many service providers, some insurers offer discounts when payments are automatically withdrawn from your account every month. As a bonus, you’ll avoid missing payments.

10. Make Bulk Payments

Insurers may offer discounted rates for paying your premium in bulk instead of month-to-month. In this scenario, you’d have to pay your premium for a longer time frame — for instance, six months or a year — to receive a discount. This could save you anywhere from 5% to 11%, according to DMV.org.

11. Eliminate Unnecessary Features

When you first signed up for car insurance, you may have opted for features that are no longer necessary. For instance, many insurance providers offer roadside assistance, but if you’ve since become a member of AAA, which provides roadside assistance, you no longer need the service from your insurer. You can regularly review your plan to make sure you’re only paying for what you need.

12. Find Other Discounts

Car insurance providers offer various discounts, which may include usage-based driving discounts, defensive driver courses for the elderly, mileage-based discounts and student discounts. The odds are good there is a discount available if you hunt around. You can call your insurance provider to find available discounts or look for competing offers. Which brings us to our next point:

13. Shop Around

Many people may sign up for an insurance plan and never revisit their options. But shopping around with providers is the best way to ensure you’re getting a good rate, and there are many online resources available to help with your search.

“Every six months or year, consider shopping around with as many companies as possible,” said Richardson. “Since each insurance company weights rating factors differently (and these change as your coverage needs or lifestyle changes), you won’t truly know if you’re getting the best rate until you check with multiple providers.”

Image: funduck

The post 13 Ways to Drive Down Your Car Insurance Premium appeared first on Credit.com.

5 Lies a Car Salesperson Might Tell You

Handshake between two business people in a car showroom.

Driving a new car home can be a huge relief, especially after going through the stressful process of purchasing a vehicle. In addition to finding the perfect car and getting your lowest loan rate, you’ll ultimately have to haggle with a car salesperson whose main goal is to get you to spend the most money they can.

“[Salespeople] can sense if you come in blind, and they are going to fill in the holes to their advantage,” says Jack Nerad, executive market analyst at Kelley Blue Book. “It’s not that they are dishonest people. It’s not their job to make the best deal for you. It’s their job to make the best deal for the dealership.”

Staying one step ahead of the salesperson by knowing the tricks they use can help you avoid signing a bad deal. Here are a few ways car salespeople might lie to you:

1. “Wait here, I’m going to consult with my manager.”

Nerad says chances are, if a salesperson says this to you, they aren’t talking to a manager. It’s more likely that they are taking a coffee break and trying to wear you down by having you invest more time in the transaction. They may also be trying to keep you on the company’s grounds while they come up with a deal closer to your asking price.

You can beat them in this game. Say you’ll leave while they talk it over. A salesperson knows your chances of coming back are minimal, and they want to make a deal with you that same day. If they are serious about selling you a car, they won’t let you leave the grounds, and they will return quickly with a better offer.

2. “This is our final offer. It’s the best deal you’re going to get.”

This is usually an outright lie. The salesperson always wants you to believe that you are getting the best deal that you can at their price. That’s because most people aren’t confident in their knowledge and are fearful that if they don’t make a deal right now, they won’t get the best deal.

“They don’t just want to sell you a car, they are trying to sell you a car today,” says Nerad. “Don’t fall in love with a particular car. There’s the same kind of car, in the same color, with the same equipment or comparable darn near everywhere.”

His advice is to stand firm and understand what the vehicle is worth to you. Don’t go over your asking price. He says to remember “if you get up and walk out, you’re going to find an equally good deal tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that.”

3. “There’s no need to test drive the car.”

Always test drive the car. You should have access to the car, you should be able to look inside and outside and be allowed to test drive it. It’s a huge red flag if they don’t let you test drive the vehicle for any reason.

The salesperson might say they can’t find the keys or that it’s in a position where it’d be difficult to move. They might also have you test drive a car that’s similar to it. Don’t do that either. You want to test drive the actual car that you are actually considering paying thousands of dollars and interest for.

Rosemary Shahan, founder of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS), a consumer advocacy group for the auto industry, encourages shoppers to go one step further and hire an independent mechanic to inspect the car first. You can use a resource like Car Talk to find a mechanic in your area.

4. “We can’t print out the contract.” or “You can’t take the contract with you.”

A salesperson could say this to get you to go ahead and sign for the purchase, but it could also be a tactic salespeople use to barrel-roll things you didn’t ask for into the contract.

The contract may be presented to you on a computer to sign electronically, but contracts are long and chances are you won’t have the time to carefully read each section before signing. The contract could include extra fees or add-ons like tire insurance that you don’t need and that will inflate the final purchase price and hurt the deal that you’ve worked hard to get. Just say no to most of it, or sign it aware that you’re financing the add-ons for the next few years.

“Insist on a paper contract,” says Shahan. “We believe it is a violation of the Federal Truth in Lending Act for [dealerships] to sell you a car with an electronic contract, because you are supposed to be able to take it physically with you to comparison shop. But if it’s on a screen you can’t do that.”

You should have reasonable time to make up your mind. Take a day or two to check out the contract and shop around until you are comfortable, but keep in mind that they could sell the car in that time. Don’t feel like you’ve spent too much time not to sign the contract if you’re unhappy with the terms. Even if you are in the contract phase, you can still walk out of the door.

5. “We just sold the car you saw online.”

The dealership may have just sold the car that you saw online, but that could also be a lie. Many dealerships may advertise a popular car for a low price as bait to lure consumers. When you show up looking to buy it, the salesperson will say it’s just been sold or out for a test drive and try to sell you something else.The tactic is called a “bait-and-switch.” The idea behind it is, again, your valuable time.

The assumption is that you wouldn’t want to waste this trip to the dealership, so you might as well stay and see your options. The bonus for the salesperson is that they already have an idea of what your price range is and what you’re looking for so they may even have some alternatives conveniently top of mind.

You have two options at this point. You can either stay and let them show you other vehicles, knowing that they may have used a bait-and-switch tactic, or leave and explore your other options. You could also try calling the dealership before you get there to ask if the vehicle is still available. If they really have just sold the vehicle to someone else, it’s unlikely any online resources like a vehicle history report would have been updated already. Cut your losses and see their other options, or find a dealership that does have the car you want.

How to complain about a shady auto dealer

If you feel as though the salesperson is engaging in questionable practices, you should walk away from the purchase. Nerad says to remember that “as a consumer, you have all of the power. You have all of the power because you are a rare commodity. You are someone who can afford to buy a new car.”

Before you leave the dealership, ask to speak with the manger on duty. After you leave, file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission, or the BBB. You won’t be alone. New and used auto dealership complaints ranked 4th and 6th, respectively, of all complaints in 2015.

If you feel as if you’ll need legal assistance, you can find an attorney with experience in consumer law under “Find an Attorney” on the National Association of Consumer Advocates website.

The post 5 Lies a Car Salesperson Might Tell You appeared first on MagnifyMoney.