The Average Length of a New Car Loan

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Have you been shopping for a new car lately? If so, you most likely will finance your purchase as the average price of a new car is just above $30,000. Banks, credit unions, manufacturers’ financing arms and other lenders want your business. To get you behind the wheel of a new car, loan terms have been extended to help you afford your monthly payments.

Loan Length

As of March 2012, the average length of a new car loan was 64 months reports Experian, an information services company. That represents five years and four months of car payments. In comparison, used car loans were averaging 59 months or just one month short of five years.

New Loans

Auto loans are typically written for 36, 48 or 60 months. Some lenders offer 72- and 84-month new car loans.

Be mindful that the published rate for new car loans is for people who have outstanding credit. For recent college graduates, that rate may not be attainable and may result in much different loan terms. Car shoppers should also pull their credit reports before buying a car, reviewing all three reports carefully to ensure that correct data is shown. Experian, Equifax and TransUnion are the three credit reporting bureaus — you can get a free copy of each report once annually by visiting the AnnualCreditReport.com website. Notify the respective credit bureau directly if you find a mistake — errors can lower your credit score, resulting in a higher interest rate for a new car loan.

Your Options

Clearly, there are a number of lenders and types of lenders that would like to finance your new car. Many new car dealer offers come with low- or zero-rate financing, or you can choose a rebate to apply to your down payment. Your dilemma may be trying to figure out what the best deal is for you.

The best option may be to shop for a new car loan first and use that loan to finance your vehicle. Credit unions typically offer the lowest rates, sometimes as low as 2 percent for a new car loan. With terms for up to 7 years, you may be able to qualify for a loan, visit your new car dealer, negotiate the best price on your new car, apply the rebate and use the loan. With this option you get a loan rate comparable to what the manufacturer’s lending arm (i.e., Ford Credit, GM Financial, Infiniti Financing, et al) and you still get a hefty rebate. You may also be eligible for additional rebates too if you are a recent college graduate, a military veteran or are a loyal customer.

Upside Down

One important factor consumers should consider before signing an agreement for a longer length car loan is the value of their car in relation to the amount owed on the loan. If your down payment is especially small — say 5 or 10 percent — and your loan term is 6 years or longer, you may owe more on your car than what it is worth.

This means that your loan is upside down, a factor that can cause you substantial financial harm if you should get in an accident and your vehicle is declared a total loss. Your insurer will assign a value to your totaled car, minus the deductible, and pay your lender that amount. There most likely will be a loan deficiency, one where you owe thousands of dollars to your lender for the difference between what your insurer pays and your loan balance.

You can avoid ever being upside down with your auto loan by making a larger down payment and electing for a shorter loan, one that is for 60 months or shorter. If you want the longer term, then you need to come up with an even larger down payment to avoid the upside down effect. You should also avoid financing the taxes and fees advises Niles Howard, writing for Bankrate.com, costs that you will want to pay separately.

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