Improving Your Auto Loan Interest Rate

The auto-lending business is no different than any other form of lending. It is, and always has been about risk. Therefore the loan rate you earn for a major purchase, such as an automobile, is a moving target. The rate you earn partly aligns with your credit score, and partly aligns to other factors, such as income, percentage of other debt, money down, etc. The more you know about how loan-rates are assigned, the better you will be able to equip yourself to earn the best rate when you are ready to purchase a vehicle.

Here’s how you go about getting the best interest rate possible: Put the lender in a position of low risk and you will get a low APR.

Here’s a tale of two brothers who go to a local dealership, each looking to buy a used car. Tom, with a high 715 Beacon score has his eye on a five year-old sedan that will allow him to park the Hemi pickup that never met a gas station it didn’t like. Tom has never missed a payment in his life and has paid off most loans early. Brother Mark, armed with a 640 score crosses his fingers and hopes he doesn’t get his head knocked off with a high interest rate as he tries to buy a one year-old sedan. Mark had some slow pays back in the day, and a couple of medical charges that were paid off just before being turned to collection. Other than that he had a history of paying his current truck off with minor hitches. Tom, the 715, is looking to finance his third vehicle. Both he and his wife have new vehicles-Tom being on both loans. Brother Mark, the 640 score, will be trading in his ten year-old truck (paid for). They both have a similar home mortgages, but 640 Mark has no current auto loans and makes $2000 more per month than Brother 715′s modest salary. Finally, 715 Tom buys the five year-old sedan with a 120% carry (indicating that the loaned amount is 20% past the “book” value of the vehicle), while Brother 640 Mark puts $2500 cash down along with the $3500 trade-in value of his truck, giving him a total of $6000 down-which places his loan, 40% under book value.

Let’s compare: Tom has a high 715 Beacon score, but is asking for his 3rd auto loan. He brings nothing to the table in the way of cash down and needs to borrow 20% beyond the loan value of the vehicle. Finally, he is buying a 5 year old vehicle, which sends a red flag to lenders that there is a good chance he will be spending money on repairs. Brother Mark has a 640 score, but lays out $6000 on a one year-old, low mileage vehicle. His down payment places the loan request at 40 under what the banks deem his vehicle is worth at an auction. Who gets the better interest rate? Brother Mark…take it to the bank.

The lowest credit score I have personally seen, in all my car-selling years, was a deal we not only “got done”, it was a deal in which the buyer received a low interest rate. The main reason was that he purchased his used pickup with a very large down payment, so that the amount the lender loaned was considerably under book value. (He also made a decent wage and had a stable time of residence. If you’re a lender, where’s the risk? The buyer, in this case, could have skipped the next twenty payments while the repo guys chased him all over the country and the vehicle-when they found it-would still be worth more than what was owed.

Here’s some tips on keeping your interest rate low:

High Credit Scores: You think you are safe? Well, let’s suppose your grandpa to four of the sweetest college age kids you could imagine. You’re retired, so your income is fixed, and each kid, one-by-one comes to the well called Grandpa to get a co-signer for their auto loan. Grandpa never missed a payment in 40 years, but as the auto loans pile up, the rates get higher and higher because the exposure to the car loans, when compared to Grandpa’s income, make the loans more and more risky to the lender.

If your score is high, keep a balance to your loans versus income. If you co-sign too many times it may impact your ability to get a good loan.

Middle Credit Scores:

(1) Beware of the dreaded “negative equity” (the vehicle you are trading in is worth less than what you owe)…especially if you are putting no money down.
(2) Consider a loan that is fewer months than you might otherwise have taken. (The average auto loan is around 60 months. Lower that, to say 48 months-assuming the loan is manageable-and the loan becomes more attractive to the lender because the risk just went down.
(3) Consider paying more for a newer vehicle. As mentioned in the Tom and Mark story, most lenders raise interest rates as vehicles get older-due to the likelihood of car payment money being siphoned off to car repair bills.

Low Credit Scores:

(1) Have a large down payment.
(2) If you are on the brink of moving or changing jobs, consider buying your vehicle first, while your loan application shows longer job and residence time. Length of job and residence show stability to a lender, which lowers their risk-and your interest rate.
(3) If you were considering paying cash for a vehicle, consider using that money for a large down payment. Then
(4) pay the vehicle off earlier than the contracted length of the loan. This will place you in a position to lower your interest rate down the road.
(5) Consider paying a reputable company to “clean up” your credit report. Taking off bogus bad marks, and settling minor (negative) hits, could place you in a position to either get a loan that you otherwise might not have earned, or could place you in a bracket that lowers the interest rate you might otherwise have earned.
(6) Consider a co-signer (with good credit). (This won’t always lower your interest rate-especially if your credit is torched, but it may be the difference between getting a loan and not getting one.

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