Buying a Car? Rev Up Your Credit Scores

Knowing your credit score is always important, but when you’re in the market for a new car, your credit history and credit score can save – or cost – you thousands of dollars. That’s because your credit scores will almost certainly influence whether you can get the automobile loan you want at an interest rate and terms you can live with.

Generally, people with higher credit scores are able to secure lower interest rates, and a better interest rate affects how much you ultimately wind up paying for a vehicle. For example, if you finance $10,000 at 7 percent interest for 60 months, you’ll pay about $1,880 in interest over the life of the loan. Finance the same amount for the same length of time at 12 percent, and your interest costs will double.

Before you apply for a car loan, it pays to understand your credit report and credit scores, and how both can influence your vehicle financing and purchase. Here are four credit moves that may help you secure an auto loan you’ll love:

1. Check your credit report.

As soon as you know you’ll be buying a new car, get a copy of your credit report. Review it to identify any negative items that might affect your auto loan application, such as late payments or high credit card balances. If you discover incorrect information on your credit report, take steps to correct it right away, before you apply for a loan.

2. Hold off before applying for any new credit.

Opening a new credit card or other credit account will cause a “hard inquiry” to appear on your credit report, and can also affect your credit use ratio – the amount of available credit you have compared to how much you’re actively using. Both factors can influence your credit scores. If you know you’ll need a car loan in the near future, avoid opening any other new credit accounts.

3. Keep paying bills on time.

Even if you’re saving for a down payment on a new car (and hopefully you are), don’t fall behind on other bills. Late payments can negatively affect your credit scores, and a lower score may equate to a higher interest rate on a vehicle loan.

4. Wait to cancel credit card accounts.

Don’t cancel credit card accounts you’re not using – especially if you’ve had the card for a while. One of the key determiners of your credit score is the ratio of how much credit you are using as compared with your total credit limit. Aim to keep the credit utilization ratio lower than 30 percent (this means that for every $1,000 in credit available to you, you only charge up to $300). Be extra careful to keep your oldest credit card active, since that card establishes your long credit history. If you’re worried that keeping the cards in your wallet will just encourage you to spend, take the credit cards out of your wallet and cut them up, or stash them in your junk drawer or the freezer.

If you have your eye on a new set of wheels, heeding these tips can help rev up your credit scores before you step into the showroom. Good credit can add up to big savings over the life of your auto loan.