Buying a car is a big decision, but negotiating for a fair APR rate can be an even bigger task. Lending companies have the advantage: You want the item, but you don’t have the money to pay for it all at once, so you need them to help you out by giving you a fair amount of time to borrow money and pay it back.

Your standing power in grabbing a solid APR rate will come if you meet these following criteria.

1. Strong credit

The lower your credit score is, the fewer options you’ll have when it comes to financing companies willing to take a chance on you. Maintaining a high credit score shows that you’re willing to take responsibility for your spending habits. You may not have all the money you need to make purchases, but you will be timely on your repayment actions.

Your credit score is based on many factors, such as how many active accounts you have open and how well you maintain your repayment schedule.

Keeping on top of your credit report is simple. You are allowed one free credit report a year from all the major reporting agencies. These include Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.

Simply request a copy of your credit report once a year and go over it in-depth. If you find any discrepancies, write the reporting agency and begin the process of rectifying the problem.

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2. Understand the fine print

Nothing says “You’re paying too much” like signing and agreeing to repay a loan when you have no clue what the conditions are. When you sit down in the finance office of the car dealership, read everything you’re singing and putting your name on. Don’t assume that the finance director will review it with you or even explain it in terms that you can understand.

It’s your responsibility to thoroughly comprehend what you’re agreeing to. When you don’t, and you take the fly-by-night approach, then there’s a good possibility that you’re setting your future self up for failure and confusion when it comes to repaying your car loan for the long term.

It also will help if you do some online research as well before you start the car buying process. Understanding your loan conditions is your responsibility. So find tools online, such as a loan amortization calculator, which computes your payments into an easy-to-understand number so you can walk into the dealership prepared rather than stumped.

3. Shop around

You have options – use them.

You don’t have to go with the finance company that the car dealership stands by. You have every right in the world to go to your own bank, an online bank, or another loan company.

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As mentioned earlier, your best ammunition for any loan is your credit report. Knowing that you have years of strong credit history behind you will give you the upper hand when it comes to negotiating the best deals on an auto loan.