First things first: Yes, it is definitely worth trying to get the best interest rate possible. While one percentage point might not seem like much, applied to a five-year loan it can be significant. For example, on a $20,000 auto loan at 9 percent for five years, according to the Edmunds.com loan calculator you would pay $415.17 a month. But if you financed the $20,000 at 7 percent, you would only pay $396.02 a month a savings of $1,149 over the five-year period. And because of the way car lease payments are calculated, they have a greater impact when leasing than when buying.
Clearly, a low interest rate is important. To accomplish this, make sure your credit report is up-to-date and all black marks have been removed. Those things that can negatively affect your credit include the following:
- Late payments
- Non-payment of bills
Any financial blemishes will lower your score with the most commonly used credit ratings agencies: Experian, Trans Union and Equifax. These companies generate a rating which, for most people, falls somewhere between 330 and 850, and are called "FICO scores" named after Fair, Isaac & Co. Over 800 is considered perfect. Below 800 may put you on a lower credit tier. In the 600s you find yourself in the "sub-prime" area and will pay inflated interest rates. Higher interest rates are justified by lenders who say there is a risk the person will default on the loan. (Visit the FICO Web site for a more complete description of how credit scores are interpreted.)
Auto dealers rely heavily on FICO scores in setting your interest rate when you buy a new or used vehicle. Therefore, it's in your best interest to know your credit score before you visit a dealership. Otherwise, it may come as an unpleasant surprise in the finance and insurance room when you set up your loan.