In this case, the difference between fair and good credit scores could literally mean more than $10,000 in additional interest.
Perhaps the most important suggestion I can give you, especially if you have so-so credit, is to shop around for your next car loan
The bottom line: If your credit isn’t at least in the “good” range, you may want to spend some time working on improving your credit before you go shopping for your next car. If you notice, the top tier for auto loan APRs is quite bad credit installment loans broad — extending all the way from perfect credit down well into the good credit range.
So ideally, a 720 FICO® Score or better will get you the best rate, but if you’re pretty far from 720, don’t stress. Even moving up a few points can make a big difference if you have a low FICO® Score.
Beware these car loan mistakes
Regardless of whether you have excellent credit, terrible credit, or you’re somewhere in between, there are a few potentially-costly mistakes that are important to avoid.
- Long-term loans. While the industry standard used to be 48- and 60-month loan options, 72-month and longer terms are now common. I’ve even seen 96-month (eight-year) loan terms. Auto dealers use these long terms to lower monthly payments and allow buyers to qualify for more expensive vehicles. The problem: Stretching a loan out can dramatically increase your interest cost. For example, a $30,000 car loan at 8% interest for 60 months will cost you $6,498 in total interest. The same size loan with the same interest rate for 84 months would cost $9,277 in interest. Long-term loans are helpful for borrowers who can’t afford the monthly payments of a short-term loan — but a long-term loan shouldn’t be your first choice.
- The “monthly payment trap.” Car salespeople like to ask you how much you’re looking to spend per month. Under no circumstances should you answer this question. This effectively gives permission to charge you as much as they want in interest (and for the car itself), as long as the monthly payment is within your limit. The price of the vehicle, price of your trade-in, and the interest rate on your loan should be three separate negotiations.
- Rolling your existing car loan into your new one. You may see advertisements that say something like “we’ll pay off your trade, no matter how much you owe.” Well, if the value of your trade is less than the amount you owe, many finance companies will add the difference to your new car loan. This is how people end up with a $35,000 loan for a $30,000 car — avoid this type of situation at all costs.
- Overpriced add-ons. Salespeople, especially in the finance department, love to try and upsell you on these. When I bought my 2013 Chevy Camaro, the dealership’s finance manager offered to sell me an upholstery treatment for $12 per month added to my loan’s payment — that’s a total of $720 on a 60-month loan. I said no, only to learn that it had already been installed in the car, and they were going to give it to me whether I paid for it or not. Needless to say, I’ll never do business with that dealership again.
Many people make the mistake of accepting the first loan offer they get (usually from the dealership). It’s also a smart idea to get a pre-approval from your bank as well as from a couple of other lenders. Online lenders and credit unions tend to be excellent sources for low-cost loan options. Not only are you likely to find the cheapest rate this way, but you’ll then have a pre-approval letter to take to the dealership with you.