According to Kelley Blue Book, the average price for a light vehicle in the United States was almost $38,000 in March 2020. Of course, the sticker price will depend on whether you want a small economy car, a luxury midsize sedan, an SUV or something in between. But the total you pay for a vehicle also depends on a number of other factors if you’re taking out a car loan.
Get the 4-1-1 on financing a car so you can make the best decision for your next vehicle purchase.
Decide Whether to Finance a Car
Whether or not you should finance your next vehicle purchase is a personal decision. Most people finance because they don’t have an extra $20,000 to $50,000 they want to part with. But if you have the cash, paying for the car outright is the most economical way to purchase it.
For most people, deciding whether to finance a car comes down to a few considerations:
- Do you need the vehicle enough to warrant making a monthly payment on it for several years?
- Does the monthly payment work within your personal budget?
- Is the deal, including the interest rate, appropriate?
Factors to Consider When Financing a Car
Obviously, the first thing to consider is whether you can afford the vehicle. But to understand that, you need to consider a few factors.
- Total purchase price. Total purchase price is the biggest impact on how much you’ll pay for the car. It includes the price of the car plus any add-ons that you’re financing. Depending on the state and your own preferences, that might include extra options on the vehicle, taxes and other fees and warranty coverage.
- Interest rate, or APR. The interest rate is typically the second biggest factor in how much you’ll pay overall for a car you finance. APR sounds complex, but the most important thing is that the higher it is, the more you pay over time. Consider a $30,000 car loan for five years with an interest rate of 6%—you pay a total of $34,799 for the vehicle. That same loan with a rate of 9% means you pay $37,365 for the car.
- The terms. A loan term refers to the length of time you have to pay off the loan. The longer you extend terms, the less your monthly payment is. But the faster you pay off the loan, the less interest you pay overall. Edmunds notes that the current average for car loans is 72 months, or six years, but it recommends no more than five years for those who can make the payments work.
It’s important to consider the practical side of your vehicle purchase. If you take out a car loan for eight years, is your car going to still be in good working order by the time you get to the last few years? If you’re not careful, you could be making a large monthly payment while you’re also paying for car repairs on an older car.
Buying a Car with No Credit
You can buy a car anytime if you have the cash for the purchase. If you have no credit or bad credit, your options for financing a car might be limited. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get a car loan without credit.
Many banks and lenders are willing to work with people with limited credit histories. Your interest rate will likely be higher than someone with excellent credit can command, though. And you might be limited on how much you can borrow, so you probably shouldn’t start looking at luxury SUVs. One tip for increasing your chances is to put as much cash down as you can when you buy the car.
If you can’t get a car loan on your own, you might consider a cosigner. There are pros and cons to asking someone else to sign on your loan, but it can get you into the credit game when the door is otherwise barred.
Personal Loans v. Car Loans: Which One Is Better?
Many people wonder if they should use a personal loan to buy a car or if there is really any difference between these types of financing. While technically a car loan is a loan you take out personally, it’s not the same thing as a personal loan.
Personal loans are usually unsecured loans offered over relatively short-term periods. The funds you get from a personal loan can typically be used for a variety of purposes and, in some cases, that might include buying a car. There are some great reasons to use a personal loan to buy a car:
- If you’re buying a car from a private seller, a personal loan can hasten the process.
- Traditional auto loans typically require full coverage insurance for the vehicle. A personal loan and liability insurance may be less expensive.
- Lenders typically aren’t interested in financing cars that aren’t in driving shape, so if you’re buying a project car to work on in your garage during your downtime, a personal loan may be the better option.
But personal loans aren’t necessarily tied to the car like an auto loan is. That means the lender doesn’t necessarily have the ability to repossess the car if you stop paying the loan. Since that increases the risk for the lender, they may charge a higher interest rate on the loan than you’d find with a traditional auto loan. Personal loans typically have shorter terms and lower limits than auto loans as well, potentially making it more difficult for you to afford a car using a personal loan.
Steps You Should Follow When Financing a Car
Before you jump in and apply for that car loan, review these six steps you should take first.
1. Check your credit to understand whether you are likely to be approved for a loan. Your credit also plays a huge role in your interest rate. If your credit is too low and your interest rate would be prohibitively high, it might be better to wait until you can build or repair your credit before you get an auto loan. Sign up for ExtraCredit to see 28 of your FICO scores from all three credit bureaus.
2. Research auto loan options to find the ones that are right for you. Avoid applying too many times, as these hard inquiries can drag your credit score down with hard inquiries. The average auto loan interest rate is 27% on 60-month loans (as of April 13, 2020).
3. Get your trade-in appraised. The dealership might give you money toward your trade-in. That reduces the price of the car you purchase, which reduces how much you need to borrow. A few thousand dollars can mean a more affordable loan or even the difference between being approved or not.
4. Get prequalified for a loan online. While most dealers will help you apply for a loan, you’re in a better buying position if you walk into the dealership with funding ready to go. Plus, if you’re prequalified, you have a good idea what you can get approved for, so there are fewer surprises.
5. Buy from a trusted dealer. Unfortunately, there are dealerships and other sellers that prey on people who need a car badly. They may charge high interest or sell you a car that’s not worth the money you pay. No matter your financial situation, always try to work with a dealership that you can trust.
6. Talk to your car insurance company. Different cars will carry different car insurance premiums. Make a call to your insurance company prior to the sale to discuss potential rate changes so you’re not surprised by a higher premium after the fact.
Next to buying a home, buying a car is one of the biggest financial decisions you’ll make in your life, and you’ll likely do it more than once. Make sure you understand the ins and outs of financing a car before you start the process.