4 Steps to Getting the Best Deal on a Car Loan

Getting financing is the first step to finding the car of your dreams. Follow this road map to discover the best deals.

Many people shop backwards 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

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When considering the cost of a car, before you do any shopping, add up all expenses. 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

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau explains how to budget and figure out what you can afford.

2. Shop for financing

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Before vehicle shopping, get preapproved for loans from several lenders. 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 CFPB tells how to do it, and why:

Then, at the dealership you can focus more attention on items like your trade-in or auto choice. Because you have preapproved loan offers in your pocket, you get to choose whether to stick with one of them, or negotiate with the dealer for the best financing option.

The CFPB 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 total cost

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Getting fixated on the amount of your monthly payments can blind you to the actual cost of your loan and how long it’ll take you 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

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Don’t depend on a dealer to tell you 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.

Here’s the bottom line: If you find yourself stretching too hard to buy a vehicle you can’t really afford, pull back and be more realistic. Buying within your means — especially on large purchases like this one — will help you live a less stressful life.

What lessons have you learned buying cars and getting car loans? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Marilyn Lewis
Marilyn Lewis
After a career in daily newspapers I moved to the world of online news in 2001. I specialize in writing about personal finance, real estate and retirement. I love how the Internet ... More

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