4 Steps to Getting the Best Deal on a Car Loan

Many people shop backward for their vehicle loans: First they find the car or truck they want, and then they ask the dealer for a good deal on an auto loan.

That is a mistake. Once you’re hooked emotionally, the dealer has little incentive to give you a good deal on financing. You’ve lost the opportunity to save perhaps thousands of dollars by comparison shopping on interest rates and terms.

Now that you know the downside, here are some things you can do to keep more money in your pocket — and out of the dealer’s hands.

1. Figure out what you can afford

Before you do any shopping, add up all expenses of owning a car. These include:

  • Insurance
  • Maintenance
  • Delivery charges
  • Registration fees
  • Tax
  • Lender charges like the origination fee, document fee and loan preparation fee
  • Any add-ons you buy from the dealer, such as an extended warranty, stolen vehicle recovery insurance or fabric and paint protection

Doing this exercise will help reveal how much car you can afford.

2. Shop for financing

Get preapproved for loans from several lenders. This step also should take place before you begin shopping for a car.

Include credit unions and banks in your shopping as well as auto dealers, so you can compare interest rates and fees available to you.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website offers a set of tools titled “Take control of your auto loan” that helps you see the total cost of your purchase and lets you compare several loan offers.

3. Focus on the total cost

Fixating on the amount of your monthly payments can blind you to the actual cost of the loan, and how long it will take to pay it off. Shorter loans are cheaper — even though the payments probably will be higher — because you will pay fewer fees and less interest. Longer loans often carry a higher interest rate.

Getting into a long loan in which you owe more than the vehicle is worth puts you in a jam if:

  • You total the car in a wreck. Insurance covers only the vehicle’s market value, leaving you to come up with the cash to cover the remainder of the loan.
  • You need emergency money but can’t sell the vehicle.
  • You become bored and want a new car or truck.

4. Learn the value of your old vehicle

Don’t depend on a dealer’s estimate of what your trade-in is worth. Instead, use Kelley Blue Book to find the potential value.

Also read want ads, dealers’ used-car ads and Craigslist to learn what people are paying for similar vehicles in your area. This way, you’ll know if you would come out ahead by selling your old vehicle yourself and applying the money to the purchase.

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