Did you know that a car is the second most expensive real asset that most people have? Buying a car is a big decision and can have a meaningful impact on your monthly budget and financial position. As one of the largest used car retailers in California, Shift helps consumers with this question daily. Should you finance or pay in cash? Here are a few things to keep in mind.
- Build your credit: Financing an auto loan can build credit in a few ways. Expanding your available credit and maintaining a history of on-time payments can improve your FICO score. Auto loans are a type of “installment credit,” which means they are paid in fixed installments over a fixed time period. Many lenders view installment credit more favorably than “revolving credit,” like credit cards. You can learn more about credit score basics at Transunion.
- Build an emergency fund: Personal financial managers generally recommend keeping enough money to cover 3-6 months of living expenses in the bank or a liquid investment account to help deal with unexpected major life disruptions, such as illness or job loss. If you don’t have an emergency fund, it may make sense to prioritize your money to start one and avoid going into debt when unplanned expenses occur.
- Get a better return on your money: Many Shift customers get low interest rates on their auto loans, starting at 2-4% for well qualified buyers. Instead of paying for the car in cash, some choose to invest that cash to try to earn a higher return. The average term of an auto loan is 5 years. Morningstar Index Performance Return shows that the annualized returns of major stock indices over the past 5 years range from almost 9% to over 18%.
For example, Jane Smith is deciding between paying cash or financing her $20,000 car purchase at a 3% interest rate. If she chooses to invest, such as in a low-cost index fund, she could grow that $20,000 to more than $32,000 after five years (assume 10% rate of return, where 10% is the average long term return in the stock market). She would pay less than $1,600 in total interest for the loan. That leaves her with more than $10,000 because she decided to invest instead of paying in cash. Consult your investment advisor to see what makes sense for you.
- Protect your investment without paying everything upfront: Almost half of our financing customers choose to include a vehicle protection plan or gap coverage in their loan. These plans can be a good way to protect against the unexpected costs of owning a car, from breakdowns to accidents. They can typically be included in your financing package, so you don’t have to pay the full cost up front.
Although there are many benefits to financing your vehicle, there are also things to keep in mind.
- Budget for interest cost: Unlike the 0% APR loans you may have seen advertised for new cars, interest rates for used cars won’t be lower than 2-4%. This means you will pay some amount of money every year in interest. Check out our car loan calculator to understand the cost of interest for your loan.
- Be aware of hidden fees: Prepayment fees, balloon payments, or other hidden fees can catch borrowers off guard. Prepayment fees, for example, are charged by some lenders if you decide to fully pay off your loan prior to a certain date. If you finance with Shift, you don’t have to worry – Shift financing does not include hidden fees.
- Shop around: Different lenders may offer different interest rates and terms to the same borrower, so there is a benefit to shopping around. When you apply for financing with Shift, we instantly provide you with the best offer from multiple lenders, so you get the benefit of shopping around without the hassle.
If you’re still deciding how much you can afford, we’ve built a handy car loan calculator to help you find a car that works for your budget. Even if you can afford to pay in cash, financing may make sense if you have better uses for your money, as long as you pay your monthly installments in full and on time. If you decide to finance, you can easily apply today from your Buyer Dashboard or from shift.com.
Please be sure to read your loan contract for the full terms of your specific loan.
Image via Alexa Mazzarello