Auto Financing Basics

Financing Basics

Photo Copyright: Billion Photos/Shutterstock
[Editorís note: This auto financing article has been updated for comprehensiveness since its original posting in May of 2014.]

If you tune into the Car Pro Show, you know Kevin doesnít actually listen, even though he is sitting right there. Nonetheless, he requested I approach the topic of auto financing because a lot of people have been asking him about it. So here are a few things to keep in mind about the financing process.

Finance Departments

Beware: Like every profession, there are good dealers and bad dealers. Many people are taken advantage of in the finance department of dealerships. Over the years, I have seen it all, high-pressure tactics to purchase extended warranties, credit life, and disability insurance, GAP insurance, etc. I have also witnessed downright fraud. Bear in mind, most finance managers are paid on commission, based on what they sell.


The finance experience does not have to be a trying experience. This seems basic and simple, but it is critical that you understand you are signing a contract-a legal and binding document that obligates you to make monthly payments on a timely basis. READ WHAT YOU SIGN. People never ceased to amaze me when I was in the car business. They would negotiate for five hours on a car, then when the most important part cameÖgoing over the final numbers and signing papers, they would almost always want to rush through this part. They would sign everything you put in front of them without asking any questions.

Optional Policies

It is no secret that a dealer makes money on almost every product it sells in the finance departmentRemember all additional products are optional, nothing has to be purchased in the way of optional policies or products. There are worthwhile products offered, like extended warranties and GAP insurance just to name a couple, but they are totally up to you. Nobody will hold a gun to your head and force you to buy anything. Dealers first and foremost provide financing as a convenience to their customers, to help complete the sale under one roof. In many cases, the auto manufacturer offers extra rebates if you finance with its captive finance arm, like Ford Credit, Hyundai Financial, and the others.

Interest Rates

Doing your homework is always a good idea. As far as interest rates go, know what you can get before you go to a dealership. Talk to your banker or credit union to know for sure what interest rate you can get, donít leave it to chance. Know how many miles you drive per year to know which extended service policy to buy.

Get online and calculate what your payment should be. Buying a car and committing to five or six years worth of payments should rank right up there with buying a home, and taken as seriously, especially when it comes to reading and signing paperwork. Once you know what interest rate you can get on your own, give your dealer a chance to get you a better interest rate. They often can. If the dealer can save you a quarter to half a percent on interest, let them have the business and pocket the savings.

One good rule of thumb is to look at every line on the finance contract that has a dollar amount next to it. You will see normal charges for tax, title, and license, but if there are any added items, they must be broken out on the contract itself, so they are easy to spot.

Should You Get Pre-Approved Before Car Shopping?

This is difficult to do actually. You can find out from your bank or credit union the best possible interest rate, but until the loan officer can see the actual numbers on the car you picked out, most lenders will not do that. The lender wants to know how much you want to borrow versus the collateral, the car. In other words, they donít want to loan $50,000 on a vehicle with a $40,000 MSRP.

Cash vs Financing

You can often get a better price by financing the car with the dealership from which you are purchasing. I realize this sounds counter-intuitive, but let me explain. Thinking back to my years in the retail auto industry, I ran across a lot of people who wanted to throw around the fact that they were paying cash. They were determined that they should get some sort of special deal because of that. The truth was, as a car dealer, I didnít really care how we got our money. Whether cash, credit union, bank or one of our finance sources, we got our money quickly, often the same day, so waving a blank check in front of me did not carry any weight when it came to pricing my vehicle.

Rebate Offers

Today, many of the captive finance sources (Ford Credit, GM Financial, Toyota Financial Services, etc.) offer extra rebates for financing with them. Iíve seen those amounts as large as $1500. Diehard cash buyers are often put off by this and get angry with their car dealer, but the truth is, the dealer cannot control this. There is an easy way to get around it, however.

The finance companies offering the rebates are enticing you to finance with them, of course, to make a return through interest rates. They are hoping that you will decide to keep the loan so they can make money. In these cases, the savvy cash buyer will proceed with financing the car, get benefit of the financing rebate, and simply pay the car off in full before the first payment is due. You get full benefit of the extra rebate and get to write a smaller check. The finance companies know a lot of people are going to do this and they are fine with it. However, others will not go through the process.

One important note: dealers like to tell you to make the first three payments before you pay the car off. Dealers are paid a flat fee in many cases, itís normally a couple of hundred dollars. That flat fee is charged back to them if the consumer pays off his or her car before three payments are made, but by law, you can pay it off at any time.

Bottom Line

If you keep anything from this article, remember to read what you are signing, and make sure the numbers match what you agreed to. Donít rush the auto financing process whether you purchase, lease, or pay cash.
Related Articles
Automakers Offer Financial Help For Fire and Flood Victims
Itís been a tough year financially for a lot of folks. First came the economic impact of COVID, which is still ongoing, and add to that, many people are now also dealing with natural disasters in part... More ›
Special Report: The Used Car Bubble Is Bursting
Iíve talked on the Car Pro Show for eight weeks about used car prices being sky high. I monitor the Manheim Dallas auction weekly so I can report to my listeners up-to-date information about trade va... More ›
Car Pro Advice: Car Leases and Down Payments
Something I said on the Car Pro Show recently spurred a lot of questions about putting money down on leases. I soon realized this was an area of confusion for many people.

If you do a conventi... More ›
Commentary: Sorry Dave Ramsey - You Blew This One
I recently saw this question posed to money-guru and radio host Dave Ramsey, who I listen to occasionally and we, in fact, are on some of the same radio stations across America:

Dear Dave,
... More ›
Hello, love your show on ksfo. You talked about a "secured lease" a few weeks back. I have left voicemails/emails about this to a few local dealerships. Shocking not to even get a reply. Is this common, is it a east coast thing? I have low credit score I'm trying to improve, I have cash available to buy new work truck outright but wanted to improve credit faster. Credit union denied financing. I told them if truck cost $50k I give them 40k for a 10k loan, if I default they have 40k, why is that not good for them? Any help is appreciated, hey thanks!
The Car Pro
I think this is just a terminology issue. I was speaking of pre-paid leases. Try asking for that and see what happens.

Jerry Reynolds,
I recently purchased a car from a dealership. They put me with a bank that I do not like. I want to refinance with a different bank. I have perfect credit so that is not an issue. What can I expect? I am in CA. There is no prepay so I am good there.
Amy P.
Just contact a lender you'd like to do business with, they can handle it quickly and easily.

Jerry Reynolds