You may like shopping for a new or used car, but you will not like paying for it — especially when it comes to arranging the auto loan. The finance and insurance (F&I) office at the dealership is nobody's idea of a good time. How can you keep your time in the F&I office to a minimum? The easiest way is through pre-qualification for a car loan.
Pre-qualification provides a solid estimate of the loan amount that you qualify for and the interest rates you will be charged through that institution. By pre-qualifying with a bank or credit union, you have an independent reference to compare to the financing offer from the dealership.
The dealer will always prefer that you use their financing, because that's the more lucrative part of the auto business. Some car buyers simply agree to dealer financing out of convenience, others because they do not realize that they have alternatives, and still others because they incorrectly assume they can get the best interest rates from the dealership. In fact, rates are frequently higher with dealerships, and the alternatives are fairly simple with a bit of research. Keep in mind that advertised rates at dealers are only available to those with superior credit. If you have poor credit, it is even more important for you to pre-qualify to check your options.
You can pre-qualify through your regular bank or credit union, which may offer you a discount for financing if you are already an account holder. Another option is through online sites such as Up2Drive, BlueHarbor, and Auto Credit Express. With poorer credit, pre-qualification through online sites may be your best option; some cater specifically to borrowers with lower credit scores. You can check your credit score and read your credit report for free within minutes using Credit Manager by MoneyTips.
Armed with pre-qualification, you can ignore the financing element at the dealership and focus on the price, knowing what you can afford to pay. Look for vehicles slightly lower than the loan amount to allow for all taxes and fees.
Dealers may attempt to beat your pre-qualification deal, or add other incentives to sweeten the deal. Be very skeptical of any other offers from the dealership that retain a higher interest rate than your pre-qualification terms.
There are other advantages of pre-qualification aside from negotiation with the dealership. You also have a solid budget to keep you from being tempted to buy a more expensive car than you can realistically afford.
You can go one step beyond pre-qualification with pre-approval. Pre-approval means that you are approved for a loan amount instead of an estimate. This process includes a more extensive credit check and proof of income. If you can pass the criteria, you have an even greater influence with the dealership. You can stand completely firm with the original pre-approval offer, the equivalent of a check in your back pocket.
Pre-approval through a bank or credit union gives you the ultimate in flexibility, since that is good with any dealership. Pre-approval with any dealership limits you to buying at that dealership. If you are going through the pre-approval stage, you should be ready to buy; when you are just exploring options and unsure about a purchase, stick with pre-qualification.
If you have a preferred lender and dealer in mind, check with the lender to see if they have a list of approved dealers, and that your dealer is on that list. For new cars, you simply negotiate the price with the dealer and let them make arrangements with your lender. Lenders may have other stipulations on used car loans, such as a secondary loan limit that applies only to used cars or limits on the age and/or odometer reading. Check on these restrictions if you are thinking about buying a used car.
Pre-qualification/pre-approval is a powerful tool for you to use at an auto dealership. You do not have to settle for the dealer's financing, which is often a worse deal for you. It is a great feeling to go into a car dealership with the upper hand. Consider getting pre-qualified or pre-approved for your auto loan at a bank or credit union, and experience that wonderful feeling for yourself.
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