How Do Car Payments Work: Follow This Lane

So you think you might want to buy a car? The thought of buying a car sounds exciting to me, well I should say the thought of having a new car is exciting to me. The thought of actually going through the process of buying the car makes me feel sick to my stomach. I am not exaggerating. It truly makes me feel like I have a rock in my stomach. The process takes so long. I cannot tell you how many times I have spent my whole day at a car dealership. With the technology of today, it just should not take that long.

Car buying seems to be the one thing that has not gotten faster with time. These feelings begin before I even think about the car payments. For me, car buying is a tense and uncomfortable situation. It does not have to be that way. You can be prepared. And you can have your loan in order. You can get in and out of the dealership in a few hours, instead of being there all day. Continue reading to learn some of the tips I have picked up over the years about car buying and car payments.

What Is An Auto Loan?

An auto loan is sort of like a personal loan, but at the same time, it is not. Like a personal loan, you can get an auto loan through a credit union or a bank. Unlike a personal loan, you can also get an auto loan through the car dealership. When you get the loan through the car dealership, sometimes they have their own finance group and it is through them, like Honda. Other times, the car dealership uses a lending source other than themselves. It completely depends on the dealership.

An auto loan is considered a secured loan because the car you are buying becomes collateral. This means that if for whatever reason, you do not pay the loan, the lender can, and certainly will, take possession of the car. The lender technically owns the car until the time you pay off the loan. When you pay it off, you get the title and it becomes yours.

A point to consider when you obtain an auto loan is the lender makes you have full coverage auto insurance. They really do not give you a choice in the matter. If you want a loan through them, you must have full coverage. They want to make sure the car is fully protected in the event of an accident. After all, the lender has a vested interest in what happens to the car as long as you making car payments to them.

If you have a good credit score, you will receive a lower interest rate. Since the car is collateral, the lender is not taking as big of a risk by lending you money. Auto loan repayment schedules are often longer than a typical personal loan. You can take up to seven years, or longer, to pay back some auto loans. This may help to reduce the amount you pay each month. However, that also means you are paying the loan for seven years and therefore stuck with the vehicle.

How Do I Make My Payments?

This could depend on a number of different factors. The main factor being the lender. The lender often dictates how and when you make your car payments. Some lenders want to debit your car payments directly from your bank account. If you are someone like me, this is a great plan. I prefer to have the money come out of my account automatically so that I do not have to do anything. I put a reminder on my phone a couple of days in advance to remind me the money is coming out of my account. This way I can double check my account to make sure the money is there and I am all set.

Now, if you are someone that never has money in their bank account, this might not work for you. I know several people that move most of their money to an interest savings account and pay for everything with a credit card. When it comes time to pay the bill, they move the amount of money they need from their savings to the checking and pay one bill, the credit card bill. This way they are always earning interest on what is in their savings account. They only pay one bill from their savings account. They feel this is a safer way to pay for things. Everything is paid with the credit card. It works for them and it seems like a good system for them. It is not for everyone.

However, this means that they rarely have any money in their checking account. Some bills, or loans cannot be paid with a credit card, so this bill may have to come directly from a bank account. It really depends on the lender. These are details you should determine before you sign any paperwork or agree to any type of loan.

How Does Interest Impact My Payment?

The simple answer is simple, the higher your interest rate means the higher your car payments. The opposite of that is also true, which is the lower your interest rate means the lower your car payments. Your credit score drives your interest rate. You should understand a few things about interest rates first. The amount you want to borrow is called the principle. Lenders added the interest rate on top of the principle amount you borrow. Lenders that see loans as a lower risk are given a lower interest rate. It is better to get good credit auto loans so you can have a lower interest rate.

I will use numbers to illustrate this (keep in mind these are just estimates, not actual numbers):

You want to borrow $30,000 for a car. Due to your good credit, the lender adds 10 percent interest. You lower payments, so you pick a 48 month, or 4 year, repayment period. 10 percent of the $30,000 you borrowed is $3,000. The principle amount is $30,000 + $3,000 interest = $33,000 you are borrowing. Your monthly payments are $687.50. That is $33,000 divided by 48 months.

Now, the same car with bad credit: You are still borrowing $30,000 but your credit is bad, so the lender adds 20 percent interest to your loan. 20 percent interest is really high and equals $6,000. So, you have a principle of $30,000 + $6,000 interest = $36,000 total. Your monthly payments are $750.00. That increases your monthly payment by about $63 per month. For a $30,000 car, you are paying over $700 per month.

Can I Use A Credit Card?

You most likely can use a credit card to buy a car and then you would not have any car payments. Depending on the dealership, they may have some restrictions on using a credit card. They may not let you use a credit card to purchase a car. There is a fee issued to the dealership by the credit card company when you use a credit card. The fee is 1 percent to 3 percent. The dealership may not want to pay that fee. Also the  dealership makes money when you finance a car through them instead of paying for it in full.

A car is expensive, so if you use a credit card, you are putting a lot of debt on it. If your credit card has a high interest rate, you may not be able to afford to pay the balance. In this case, you could receive hefty interest charges. Those credit card charges may be higher than if you applied for an auto loan. If you have a credit card offering 0 percent interest with enough available credit, it could be a good idea to use a credit card. If you cannot pay off the credit card before the special interest ends, you could get all of those interest charges.

Can I Pay Cash?

Well, you certainly could pay for a new car in cash. This would prevent you from making car payments. It may not be the best way to buy a car. You must take a few things into consideration. One is that a car is going to depreciate as soon as you drive it off the car lot. It could end up that if you finance the entire amount of the car because you do not have a down payment, at some point you owe more on the car than it is worth. For this reason, it may make better sense to pay cash for the car so that you own it outright.

However, if you have enough money to pay cash for the car, better use of the money might be to put it in an account where it can earn interest and grow. You could take out a loan and pay the monthly payments with the amount you have in a savings account. However, what might make the most sense is if you take half of the money and put it as a down payment for the vehicle. This way you are only financing half of the cost of the car. The car value is still more than what you owe and you are able to put some money in a savings account and let it gain interest. This also keeps your car payments low.

How Do I Know If I Can Afford An Auto Loan Payment?

This is a fairly important question. It is really important to know if you can pay the monthly car payments before you agree to the loan. You are putting yourself in a terrible position if you do not verify this first. Honestly, the best way to know if you can afford to repay the loan is to look at your budget. What? You do not have a budget. Is that what you just muttered under your breath? My first response is why not? My second response is you should get on that. All joking (not really) aside, you really should have a budget. It is the best way to understand your financial picture and in this case, know if you can afford to pay back a loan.

If you do not have a budget, you can quickly put one together. A quick way to do this is list all your income in one column. Then list all your expenses in a separate column. Add up all of your expenses and subtract it from your income. Hopefully you have a positive number. If you have a negative number, you should stop here. Buying a car is not for you right now. Perhaps you should consider cutting some of your expenses before you buy a car.

Once you figure out your budget, you can use an online auto loan estimator. This helps you determine how much an auto loan will cost you each month. You can input the vehicle amount, the interest, and the length of the loan. Also, you can adjust these numbers and see how they change your monthly payment amount. You can compare this number to what your budget is telling you that you can afford. Hopefully this number is not more than what you can afford. If so, do not buy this car. Find a cheaper one.

Can I Negotiate?

When I was younger, I did not realize things, such as interest rates and car payments, were negotiable. I have since learned that if you are willing to haggle, you just might find yourself a better deal. I have also learned that it is a smart idea to negotiate the terms of my loan. You can negotiate many aspects of your loan, including pre-penalty payment, loan origination fees, and the overall length of the loan, in addition to the interest rate. You are also able to negotiate the warranty and free upgrades. If you are trading in a car, you can negotiate the value of the trade in.

There is a way to negotiate the cost and value of all of these items without being a jerk about it. You do not know what the dealer is willing to give you until you ask. Lenders are not going to give you the best terms outright. Remember, they are in the business to make a profit. The more discounts and deals they give you, the less of a profit they are going to make.

Can I Get An Auto Loan Through A Car Dealer?

Yes, I briefly mentioned early that you can obtain an auto loan through the dealer. Many people often pay for their cars this way. It is a convenient way to get an auto loan. Since you are already at the dealership, you can get the loan there and not have to deal with any other lender. Every time I have bought a car, I did not go into the dealer planning to leave with a new car. It just happened. Since I was not prepared to buy a car, I had not gotten any type of financing for the car. I had to get my financing through the dealer.

This can be a blessing and a curse. It is incredibly convenient to have the car and financing all in one place. Due to its convenience, I never knew if I was really getting the best deal I could find. I did not do an auto loan shopping, so I just took what was offered. Maybe I could have gotten a better deal somewhere else with lower car payments, but I will never know. I cannot go back and change the past, but I know now for any future cars I purchase. You can also learn from my mistakes. Do not take the first option that comes your way. It may be the best deal, but do some research first and find out.

How Does My Credit Impact An Auto Loan?

The short answer is your credit determines your car payments. Of course there is a much longer answer too. Here it is. Unfortunately, your credit impacts just about everything you do in life. It impacts how much you pay for a house, if you even qualify for one. It impacts if you can rent an apartment, or get insurance. In some cases, your credit can prevent you from getting a job. For real, a bad credit score can really hurt your chances at living the life you want.

I will dig a little deeper into credit reports and credit scores to talk about how you can find your credit score and what it means. First, your credit score appears on your credit report. They are not the same thing. People often mistakingly refer to them interchangeably. Your credit report shows a detailed list of all your credit activities. It shows how much debt you have and how you have used it. And it shows how much credit you have been given.

Your payment history, the good, the bad, and the ugly, it shows everything. You cannot hide anything from your credit report. It lists all of your late and missed payments…yes, every single one of them. You can also find information about loans on which you have defaulted. And it shows if you have filed for bankruptcy. It takes a long time to build up a good credit score. But it can plummet quickly with just a few late or missed payments.

A typical credit score ranges anywhere from 350 to 850. Most people have a credit score between 600 to 750. Good credit is between 670 to 800. Anything below 570 is considered bad credit. When you have bad credit, it is much harder to get a good interest rate. You may find it is difficult to be approved for a loan.

What If I Have Bad Credit?

You should prepare yourself now, if you have bad credit, you will have to pay a higher interest charge which means your car payments will be higher. If you already think you have bad credit, there must be some reason why you feel that way. You should pull your credit report. You are entitled to one free copy of your credit report per year.

When you get your credit report, you have a chance to see what your credit score really is. This lets you see what a lender will see to help prepare you for their questions and response. This gives you an accurate picture of your credit score. Maybe what you thought was there really is not. When you know for sure, you are able to make necessary changes. If there are items on your credit report that are incorrect, you can fix them. Just fixing discrepancies could increase your credit score.

It is possible to get auto finance if you have bad credit, however, you may have to work harder for it. You may have to do some research to find the right auto lenders for you. It is important to make sure whatever you loan you take that you can repay it. The worst thing you can do is get a loan that you cannot afford. You just put yourself in a worse place financially. You can check right now whether there is a reputable lender out there who would give you a loan in your situation.

What Is The Process For An Auto Loan?

I have talked a lot about how time consuming it is to buy a car, but I have not told you much about the process itself. Your experience may be a little different from dealer to dealer, but the basic parts remain the same. You can also save yourself time and money by doing some research ahead of going to the dealership. And you can determine if you qualify for a better loan from another lender. You can research exactly what vehicle you want and all the upgrades and features it needs to have. Let us say that you have picked out your exact car and you know that you want to finance it through the dealer.

Most dealers have a finance department that handles the financing right there. The upside to this is someone is always available no matter the time or day. The downside is it may only be one person for the entire dealership, or several dealerships. This is where the time comes in. There is a lot of sitting around for you while you wait. You pick out your exact car and fill out all the loan paperwork. Someone whisks off the car to detail it and check it over one last time. The finance person sits down with you and tells you what he can offer you, including the amount of your car payments. He goes off to work some magic, although it is slow magic. He gets everything processed and hopefully your car is ready to go when you are. That is the basic process of buying a car.

Should I Save The Money?

Saving money is always a good idea. As a general rule of thumb, you should already be saving money. I know someone that saved the money to buy a car and once she bought the car, she took the money she would have spent on a car payment and put it in the bank. When she had enough money to buy a car, she used that money and bought a new car. She did not buy a new car until she had all the money saved. If something happened and she needed a new car before she had enough money saved, she bought the car she could afford with the money saved.

That is one way to handle purchasing a new car. It prevents you from taking out more debt. It prevents you from having to make car payments. If something unexpected happens one month and you cannot afford to save the money, then you do not really lose anything. It may take you a little longer to save, but you are not hurting your credit or your finances. I hate to say there are any downsides here because I do not want to deter any one from saving money.

There are some points to consider. Car prices keep rising, so you have to be careful in the amount you are saving each month to ensure it will be the amount you need. You have to be dedicated to saving the money. Otherwise there may always be something more important that pops up. I think it is an excellent way to save money for a car and certainly could decrease the amount you pay in monthly payments.

Conclusion

I have walked you through the good and the bad of car payments. I do everything I can to avoid car payments, but I realize it is a necessity. Make sure you make smart and informed decisions when it comes to buying your next car.