5 Steps for Getting a Car Loan

This Article was Updated July 5, 2018

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 and getting preapproval prior to going to the car dealer may help alleviate a lot of frustration along the way.

Here are five steps for getting a car loan.

  1. Check Your Credit
  2. Know Your Budget
  3. Determine How Much You Can Afford
  4. Get Preapproved
  5. Go Shopping

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 and secure auto financing. With a higher credit score and a better credit history, 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 your 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 or attempt to secure any other auto financing.

2. Know Your Budget

Having a budget and knowing how much of a car payment 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 $60,000 after taxes a year, you shouldn’t spend more than $500 per month on car payments. 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, your final loan could be less than what you were preapproved for.

In most cases, if you secure a pre-approved loan, 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 and repay the loan if you can’t.

When co-signing a car loan, they do not acquire any rights to the vehicle. They are simply stating that they have agreed to become obligated to repay the total amount of the loan if you were to default or found that you were unable to pay.

Co-signing a car loan is more like an additional form of insurance (or reassurance) for the lender that the debt will be paid no matter what.

Usually, a person with bad credit or less-than-perfect credit may require the assistance of a co-signer for their auto financing and loan.

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 car 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.

It is always a good idea to pull your credit reports each year, so you can make sure they are as accurate as they should be. If you find any mistakes, be sure to dispute them with the proper credit bureau. Remember, each credit report may differ, so it is best to acquire all three.
If you want to know what your credit is before purchasing a car, you can check your three credit reports for free once a year. To track your credit more regularly, Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card is an easy-to-understand breakdown of your credit report information that uses letter grades—plus you get a free credit score updated every 14 days.

You can also carry on the conversation on our social media platforms. Like and follow us on Facebook and leave us a tweet on Twitter.

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What Credit Score Do I Need to Buy a Car?

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

Article Updated July 18, 2018.

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. It is better to educate yourself with the knowledge you need to move forward with the car buying process to help alleviate any frustration or challenges you may find along the way to car ownership.

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 may be of receiving a cheaper and more affordable interest rate and payment per month.

So, while there’s no minimum credit score required for car loans, your credit history and credit score can definitely make a big difference in the car buying process.

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% or higher.

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 in comparison to 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 so the information may differ between each credit bureau.

Experian uses a scoring model of 300 to 850. You will find the prime borrowers on the top of this spectrum, and the deep subprime borrowers are at the lower end of the spectrum.

Even if your credit score doesn’t fall into the average ranks as outlined below, you may still be able to qualify for a vehicle loan with a score of between 600 and 660.

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.

Subprime Auto Loans

If you find that you are ineligible for a traditional car loan because you have a low credit score or less than perfect credit, or your income is below where it needs to be, then you will need to look into a subprime auto loan.

Subprime auto loans tend to be a lot riskier than regular or traditional car loans, and they typically come attached to much higher interest rates and fees, and you are paying for much longer terms.

Subprime lending is also often referred to as near-prime, subpar, non-prime, and second-chance lending. However, instead of using this type of high interest loan, if available, you should instead improve your credit, so it is no longer less-than-perfect-credit. You could also see if you could instead qualify for in-house financing at the dealership, so you do not have to be a subprime borrower and risk putting yourself under even more financial strain.

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 scores an auto lender uses may be 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.

How to Get Pre-approved for a Car Loan

You can apply for pre-approval for a car loan easily online, in person, or even over the phone. The lender will perform a hard credit check to see the state of your credit, and they will then gather all of your financial information such as your monthly income, and they will then have a better idea about whether or not they will provide you with the car loan.

All of these factors will figure into the interest rate, monthly payment, loan amount, and even the length of the loan. There is also something called pre-qualification, but this process will not be as accurate as the pre-approval process because they are not able to take such a close look at your credit.

If and when you are pre-approved, the lender will provide you with an offer statement in the form of a letter, certificate, or another form of proof so you can take it to the car dealership of your choice and begin the car buying process.

Remember, even if you are pre-approved, you will want to set a very realistic budget for yourself prior to looking at cars so you will have a better idea of what you can afford and what you should be looking into.

Getting the Best Auto Loan

Getting the best auto loan is important when it comes to affordability and value. It is recommended that you look at options from different banks and credit unions and other online lenders to make sure you are getting the lowest possible interest rate you can get. Finding a car dealership that offers financing may also prove to be a beneficial idea as well; especially if your credit is less than ideal.

When planning to finance a new or used car, it is always best to take your time and plan it out because it is a big purchase and investment. If you are able and have the time, you should consider working on your credit score to improve your credit, so you are able to lock in a much better deal.

Pull your credit report and look through it thoroughly. Always be on the lookout for any errors so you can dispute them and get them removed. It is also important to make sure you are paying all of your bills on time, your credit balances are low, and you are not opening any new lines of credit except when you actually need to.

You will be presented with better financing options if you can show the potential lenders that you are responsible and can pay your bills on time and maintain good credit.

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 want to make sure your credit is good enough to purchase a car, you can check your three credit reports for free once a year. To track your credit more regularly, Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card is an easy-to-understand breakdown of your credit report information that uses letter grades—plus you get a free credit score updated every 14 days.

You can also carry on the conversation on our social media platforms. Like and follow us on Facebook and leave us a tweet on Twitter.

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

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Leasing a Car: 7 Reasons Why You Should Consider It

7 Reasons Leasing a Car May Be Smarter for You

Would you like to spend less money up-front, drive away from the dealership in a brand-new car, and spend less time and money on vehicle maintenance?

Consider leasing your next car.

What Does Leasing a Car Mean?

Leasing a car is a lot like renting one—but for a much longer period of time. When you buy a car, you own it after you’ve made all your monthly payments. When you lease a car, you make monthly payments, drive it for a set amount of time (usually about three years), and then give it back to the dealer when that time is up.

Then you get to decide what you want to do next with no strings attached—do you want to lease again or buy a car this time?

While leasing isn’t the perfect solution for everyone, it is absolutely worth considering. Here are seven reasons leasing a car might be the better option for you.

1. You Get to Drive Newer Cars

If you’re the kind of person who likes driving a new car, leasing your vehicle may be a better option than buying one. Cars depreciate quickly, so if you buy a new car, you’ll probably owe more than it’s worth not long after you make the initial purchase.

If you lease instead of buy, you can keep driving new cars indefinitely—just trade in your old lease for a new one every few years. That means you’ll have access to the latest features, like better navigation, back-up cameras, or music players. You could even lease an expensive car for an affordable monthly payment.

2. You Probably Pay Less Up-Front

Traditional car loans usually come with somewhat hefty down payments. But if you lease instead, you’ll likely have a lower down payment than you would with a normal loan. In fact, some dealers may not require a down payment at all.

This means you pay much less up-front so you can put that extra money toward home repairs, a vacation, or paying down existing debt.

3. You Get to Drive a Safer, More Reliable Car

When you lease, you’ll probably drive a newer car, which can be safer and more reliable. The newest cars have the most recent safety features and are compliant with current safety regulations that older cars might not meet.

Plus, since a newer car has less wear and tear, it’s less likely to break down and leave you stranded in an unsafe situation on the side of a fast highway or miles away from civilization.

4. You’ll Likely Spend Less on Repairs and Maintenance

Usually, a newer car needs fewer repairs, but when issues do come up, repairs will often cost less if you lease your vehicle. Most of the time, the vehicle you’re leasing will still be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty, so you won’t have to foot the bill for expensive repairs. There’s a good chance that basic maintenance, like oil changes, will also be covered in your lease agreement or car warranty. 

5. Your Monthly Payments Might Be Lower

When you lease a vehicle, you pay for the vehicle’s depreciation during the lease. When you buy, you’re paying taxes, fees, special finance charges, and the full price of the vehicle.

This means that monthly lease payments are usually lower than loan payments.

6. You Don’t Have to Worry about Selling Your Car

Selling a used car can be a hassle. With leasing, you skip it entirely. Instead, you drop the car off with the dealer when the lease is up. Then you’re free to lease a car again or purchase a new one without worrying about trade-in value or an ownership transfer.

7. You May Pay Less Sales Tax

If you buy a car, you pay taxes all at once for the full value of the vehicle. When you lease, you pay taxes on your monthly payment and spread that cost out over time, so there’s a good chance you’ll pay less sales tax.

Things to Remember about Leasing a Car

There are lots of great perks about leasing instead of buying, but it isn’t the perfect solution for every person. If you decide to lease a car, there are a few things you should remember.

  1. You Still Need to Get through a Credit Check

Leasing isn’t the same as a normal car loan, but it is still a form of financing, so a dealer will check your credit to make sure you’re eligible for a lease. In fact, you might need a higher credit score to lease than you would need to buy.

If you have a low credit score, you may pay a higher interest rate or be denied financing altogether. It is always wise to keep an eye on your credit report throughout the year to look for errors or other problems. For the best rates, make sure your credit is in good shape before you apply for financing.

  1. You May Have to Stick to a Mileage Limit

Leases come with mileage limitations. In most cases, that limitation will be somewhere between 10,000 and 12,000 miles per year. If you go over that limit, you pay extra fees for every extra mile—which can be costly.

Before you sign up for a lease, think carefully about how much you drive each year. Your daily commute is probably the biggest thing to consider, but all those little trips to the grocery store can also add up. If you drive more than 10,000 miles in a year, you may want to pay for extra miles or buy a car instead.

  1. You Get Charged for Extra Wear and Tear

Leases require you to keep the vehicle in good condition. If you turn it in with stains, scratches, dents, or dings, you’ll have to pay extra charges. Should you lease a car, take extra good care of it.

  1. You Could Be Penalized for Terminating the Lease Early

Car leases work a lot like other lease agreements. If you terminate your lease early, you may be subject to significant penalties and fees—just like you would be if you broke an apartment lease early.

  1. You Can’t Modify the Vehicle

Lease agreements have strict rules, and if you violate the agreement, you’ll be fined. Modifications will likely violate the warranty or lease terms—even if they’re modifications that you consider upgrades, such as shiny new rims or a more powerful sound system.

Should You Lease or Buy a Car?

Leasing is an excellent option if you’re comfortable with the limitations that are spelled out in the lease agreement. If you’re still on the fence, ask yourself the following questions to determine whether a lease is best for you:

  • How much do you drive each year? If you love going on epic road trips, leasing may not be the best option, but if you just need a car to get to and from work and around town, a lease would work well.
  • How much do you want to spend up-front? If you don’t have a large down payment saved up, you could get into a new car faster by leasing instead of buying.
  • Is driving a new car important to you? If you’re okay driving the same car for the next 10 to 15 years, you should probably just buy one. However, if you want to consistently drive newer vehicles, leasing is one of the easiest ways to do that.
  • Does vehicle maintenance frustrate you? Because leased cars are newer, they usually have fewer maintenance issues. And when those issues do come up, they’re often covered under the manufacturer’s warranty. If you don’t want to think too often about maintenance, leasing might be a good call.
  • Do you have good credit? Sometimes, you need better credit to lease a car than to buy one. If you’re still working on repairing your credit, you may have to purchase a car instead of leasing one.
  • Do you care more about short-term or long-term savings? Leasing is a great way to save on up-front costs. It also usually results in smaller monthly payments, which makes leasing a perfect option if you want to save money right now. However, in the long run, leasing may cost more than buying since you don’t own any property at the end of your lease.

When deciding whether leasing or buying a car is better for you, carefully consider all the various factors. It’s important to take your own needs and preferences into account to determine which is the most reasonable solution. Use the tips above and research local leasing options to ensure you pick the best one.
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