Auto Finance Guide & Car Loan Tips

This section of AutoCheatSheet.com provides you with the best auto finance tips on how to better understand the automotive finance process and how to avoid the tricks of the trade a car dealership uses to scam you out of your money.

"You do not have to finance a car through the dealership"

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There's a lot of car buyers out there that believe they must finance a vehicle at the dealership they buy it from. Car dealers want you to believe this, but it's NOT TRUE!

The truth is financing automobiles was an afterthought of car dealers. Dealer's didn't even have finance departments until a few decades ago. Recognizing an opportunity, finance departments were added to dealerships to bring in much needed profit to their business models.

Another misconception is assuming a car dealership actually finances the vehicle. The dealer does not approve or deny you for a car loan, they don't actually finance the vehicle. All they do is arrange financing for you with the many banks and lenders they're partnered with. The lender is the one that ultimately determines if you will be approved for a car loan and at what interest rate.

CAUTION - If you solely rely on a car dealer to arrange financing on your next new or used vehicle. You're guaranteed to lose money!

When you finance a vehicle with a car dealership you are in reality dealing with a middleman. You're also vulnerable to some of the most costly car dealer scams out there. The good news is you have several alternatives to financing a vehicle with a car dealership to protect yourself.

How Dealers Make Money Financing Cars

Car dealers do a great job negotiating the price of the vehicle, but they do their best job when they get you into the finance office. After you've agreed to the price of the car, you'll be turned over to the finance department. This is where you will be offered several finance options, warranties, additional insurance products and eventually sign all of your paperwork for your car. The finance department is a very high profit center for a dealership and it is not the time to let your guard down.

The individuals in these departments are highly trained professional salespeople. Their job is to up sell you high profit backend products such as extended warranties, pre-paid maintenance programs, GAP, and other insurance products.

Another highly overlooked way dealers make money in finance is by increasing the interest rate lenders charge the customer and then pocketing the difference. This is called "finance reserve" and most dealers will charge up to 2.5% in additional interest, although there are times they will raise the rate by as much as 7% or more.

Auto Finance Reserve Example

Example: You finance a $25,000 car for a 48 month term and qualify for a 4% interest rate. However, unknowingly to you the dealer bumps up your interest rate to 6%. The 2% bump allows the dealer to put an additional $1,087 in their pocket.

Now let's add to the example above and say you decide to purchase an extended warranty, GAP, and credit life insurance. Below is why you should not let your guard down when financing with a dealership.

Backend Finance Profit Example

$1,087 = Finance reserve of 2%
$1,200 = Extended warranty profit
$1,195 = GAP and credit life insurance profit
$3,482 = Total backend profit

Now the dealer's made $3,482. That's an additional $72.54 a month added to your monthly payment before interest on top of any profit from the vehicle itself. Dealer's have years of experience on how to get this additional money out of you and make you believe your getting a good deal while they're doing it..

Auto Finance Dealer Tricks of the Trade

Common tricks of the trade car dealers may attempt while you're in the finance department:

How Your Credit Score Will Affect Your Interest Rate

When you shop for a car loan you have several options, but what those options will cost you depends on your past credit history and more importantly, your credit score.

Dealers know the majority of car buyers are unaware of their current credit history and have no idea what their personal credit scores are. Not knowing this information makes it very easy for a car dealer to take advantage of you.

If you don't know what's been reported to your credit report and have no idea what your credit score is, the Internet has made it very easy to acquire this information. Read my section on how to get your credit reports and scores.

Get a Pre-Approved Auto Loan Before Contacting a Dealer

If you plan to finance your next new or used car, one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself is to obtain a pre-approved car loan from an outside lending source before contacting a car dealer. This is actually very easy to do and more people are starting to take advantage of this method.

If you are prepared, you will be confident, and will do the job. - Tom Landry

Arranging your financing upfront creates you a "golden parachute" in the case a dealer cannot get you a better deal. You'll already know the amount you're approved to finance and you will already know the interest rate (APR).

You will also have the upper hand when it comes to negotiating a better APR with the finance manager. The F&I manager will not be able to play any games with you. If for any reason the finance manager is not able to beat your interest rate or get you approved for an auto loan, you can use your pre-approved car loan (golden parachute) to buy the car.

The Internet makes it easy to apply for an auto loan before contacting a car dealer. Applying with online auto finance companies such as myAutoloan, LightStream and Auto Credit Express is quick, easy, and best of all, free. MyAutoloan not only allows you to apply for a pre-approved loan online, they also provide you with up to four loan offers so you can compare and choose the best one for you.

There are two types of car loans, good credit and bad credit. Pick the one below that will best fit your needs to learn how to get free pre-approved car loan quotes online.

My detailed guide on how to get a pre-approved car loan online for people who have middle of the road to excellent credit. I also cover the benefits to getting pre-approved upfront, the best online lenders available, and how to find the lowest possible interest rates online.

All because you have bad credit doesn't mean you're a second class citizen. I show you how to find low interest bad credit loans online, what to expect if you have bad credit, and even how to increase your chances of being approved.

Common Auto Finance Mistakes

Mistakes made when financing a new or used car are very common. Some mistakes are made before ever walking into a car dealership. If you rely on a car dealer to arrange financing for you. You will end up paying for it dearly!

money down the driain auto finance mistakes | AutoCheatSheet.com

Many people tend to relax and let their guard down believing once they've negotiated the price of the car, the hard part is over. When in reality only half the battle is complete.

The finance department is one of the highest profit generating departments in the dealership and they're ready to take your money.

I've listed some of the most common car buying mistakes when financing a car below so you can keep from making one of these costly mistakes yourself.

Not Comparison Shopping Interest Rates

You should never put all your eggs in one basket when it comes to acquiring an auto finance loan. Just one additional point of interest on a $20,000 car will cost you plenty. Online companies such as myAutoloan are great because they provide you with up to four auto loan quotes for you to choose from and there's no obligation or charge for their service.

Each lender has its own underwriting guidelines. One lender may not approve you but another may approve you at a better rate. Always comparison shop auto loan providers to see which one will provide you with the best interest rates and terms. Visit my section on how to get a pre-approved auto loan here.

Never Buy a Car Based on Monthly Payments Alone

Walking into a dealership saying, "I want to buy a car but I can only afford $400 a month," is a huge mistake. A slick salesperson will take you to the most stripped out vehicle on the lot and tell you that's what you can get for $400 a month. Of course you will not want it and start bumping yourself up in payment to get the vehicle you want. Always negotiate the vehicle's invoice price and/or trade difference, never cash down or payments.

Don't Tell the Dealer You're Pre-Approved too Early

You should not tell the car salesman you have a pre-approved car loan in place. Don't say anything about it until you've been presented the dealer's financing options. If you tell the car salesman you already have your financing arranged, he will tell his sales manager. The sales manager will most likely not be as flexible with the price if he knows he is not getting a shot at you in the finance department.

The idea is to catch the finance manager off guard. Once he presents his options to you, then you can decide if the dealerships financing is better or not. You can now bring up that you're approved for XX% for $XX,XXX amount. Turn the tables on the finance manager and ask him if he can beat it. If not, go with your pre-approved car loan. It's really that easy.

Buying Extras and Accessories from a Car Dealership

Car dealers have a lot of extras and accessories to up-sell you along with your new or used car. Items like rust proofing are already on the vehicle when it comes from the factory. If you see these types of "extras" on your paperwork, just cross them out and refuse to pay for it.

Fabric protector is another one you can do yourself for just a few dollars. Vin-etch is a common extra dealers will pre-install on their new cars and trucks. They can mark this up anywhere from $50 to $500. You can get these kits online from Vinshield and apply them yourself for much less.

Always read your paperwork and have the cars total price itemized so you can see if there is any unwanted extras or accessories added to the price.

Signing or Agreeing to Something You Don't Understand

Some salespeople are very good at manipulating and glossing over information when presenting it to you, only touching on the positive aspects of the car deal and not the negatives. Slow them down and make sure they explain every section on the paperwork until you do.

Remember this - "There is no such thing as a stupid question" when it comes to spending thousands of your hard earned dollars buying a car. If you don't understand something, make sure it's explained to you. If you still don't understand, have them explain it until you do. Especially before you sign anything!

Not Getting Copies of Your Finance Paperwork

Never leave the dealership without first getting copies of your contract and paperwork. If you don't receive copies of your paperwork before leaving the dealership, you may be spot delivered. Use caution, this means the dealer doesn't actually have your car loan approved at the time you take delivery. You can read more about the spot delivery in our car dealer scams section.

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My Recommended Sites for Car Shoppers

MyAutoLoan and LightStream are the quickest way to get a pre-approved low interest auto loan online. These sites will provide you with free, no-obligation quotes and the interest rates quoted are normally very good. You can also use these quotes to negotiate an even better interest rate with a dealership.

Share Your Tips - If you have any auto finance advice or tips that will help other car buyers save money. Please tell us about it in the comments below, so we can share it with everyone.

Continue to our section on how to get a pre-approved car loan online >>

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Did You Know?


The most popular auto loan terms in the United States are 48 and 60 months. A longer term allows you to purchase a higher priced vehicle and still have a lower monthly car payment that convienently fits into your budget.

Before you sign, calculate what the longer term will end up costing you, interest and all. A longer term plus a higher interest rate equals more money out of your pocket.

My advice, as well as several financial advisors, is to finance a car for only 48 months and never consider financing a car longer than 60 months.

Visitor Comments

I didn't know interest rates could be negotiated, thanks for the insider tip! - Paula A.

The finance guy could not beat the interest rate I was pre-approved for. I gave him a chance, glad I was already approved - Mark B.

Once you understand how a dealer's finance department works, you know how to win against the dealer. Thanks for the insight - Daniel K.

Let me know what you think >>

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Auto Finance Tip

Always include an additional $10, $20, $50 or $100 to your monthly car loan payment. Note the additional payment is to be used towards the principle amount of your car loan.

The additional money will add up over time reducing interest charges, build equity faster and pay off your vehicle that much quicker.

Most reputable lenders do not have early payoff penalties. Make sure you read your contract to confirm this information.

Recommended Sites
apply with lightstream
Get a free car loan quote from auto credit express