When it comes to how much interest is charged on a car loan, some people get charged more interest, and some get charged less. Obviously, you want to be the one who gets charged less. The interest rate lenders charge is based on a number of factors, one of which is your credit score. Your credit score is sometimes called a FICO score, though FICO is only one of a number of credit scoring methods used by lenders.
A credit score is a number that credit bureaus assign to you based on how much debt you have, the number of accounts that you have open, how much credit you have been offered, how good you've been about paying bills on time, and how long you’ve been using credit. Your lender will use information from your application and credit report to determine your debt-to-income ratio (the amount of debt you have compared with how much money you earn).
Lenders use the score to predict your ability and likelihood to pay them back. If your score is low, lenders will assume that you’re at high risk for not paying the loan back, and they will charge you a higher interest rate to cover the higher risk. Lenders may also require a larger down payment from buyers with lower credit scores, or only extend a loan offer for a shorter term.
The last place you want to find out that your credit score is low is a dealership’s finance office. You should know what your credit score is before you apply for a car loan and do your best to make sure it's as high as it can be. Generally speaking, credit scores of 720 and above get the best loan rates.
Though you are entitled to free credit reports from the major credit bureaus each year, you’ll often have to pay a few dollars extra to get your actual credit score. If your score is not as high as you'd like, paying off old bills (like credit card debt) and paying all bills on time for six to nine months should bring your score up and help you get a better interest rate. If you don’t have any credit card debt, closing unused cards can help raise the score. If you do have card balances, closing cards can actually hurt your credit by raising your percentage of credit utilized.
You’ll also want to take a look at your full credit report to ensure its accuracy. If someone stole your identity and opened a credit card in your name and you aren’t aware of it, it could affect your ability to get a car loan, or the terms of any loan that you are offered. You need to report the fraudulent activity right away to the credit bureaus so any errors can be fixed before you apply for auto financing. Dealing with the credit bureaus takes time, so getting out ahead of issues is critical.
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