Interest rates can sometimes make the difference between sealing a deal on the car of your dreams or settling for something less. But before you settle, consider the many options available for financing an auto loan.
Typically, locking in a fixed-rate loan is the best advice in a period of accelerating interest rates. But not all fixed-rate loans are created equal. If you’re a homeowner, for example, you might consider a home equity loan, which usually carries a lower interest rate than financing through a dealer, and for many individuals, the interest is tax deductible (consult a tax advisor about your particular situation).
Most auto loans are made with a fixed percentage rate that is linked to mostly short- and intermediate-term government securities called Treasury bills (T-bills). Recently, rates have been tracking the fluctuations in the three-year T-bill rate. Shorter-term rates typically adjust when the Federal Reserve either raises or lowers its interest rates. A rising rate increases monthly payments on cars, whereas falling rates have the opposite effect. Buyers should be aware that dealers that provide financial services usually mark up the cost of a loan beyond the rate of the lending institution.
You may get a better interest rate by applying for a loan before going car shopping. By pre-qualifying for a loan and locking in a fixed interest rate, you’re protected in the event that rates rise before you close a deal. You’re also in a better position to negotiate a lower rate from a dealership by having the option of financing directly through a lender.
Home equity loan
Let’s say you finance $20,000 on the purchase of a new car. The nationwide average rate on a home equity loan at the end of 2004 was 6.91 percent, whereas the average rate for a four-year new car loan was 7.51 percent. Using a home equity loan, a borrower would pay $268 less in interest payments over the course of the loan. Of course, your house would now serve as collateral for your car loan.
A fully deductible home equity loan would also deliver another $825 in tax savings over the four years to an individual in the 28 percent federal tax bracket (consult your tax advisor regarding the deductibility of interest). Use our calculator to determine if a home equity loan is a better choice for financing a car.