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Auto Financing and Making the Most of Your Credit

Are you looking for a new car? Chances are that you’ll be financing that new vehicle. The rising cost of new vehicles has made it increasingly difficult for consumers to purchase a car outright. Financing is a valuable tool that allows you to drive the car that you need and pay for it over time. However, not all lenders are created equal. Likewise, not all consumers are given the same interest rate on their auto loan. Being an informed consumer puts the power in your hands. By knowing the game being played, you can control that game. Here are a few tips to help you maximize your buying experience and get the best loan possible.

o Know Thy Self – When you apply for a loan, the first thing that prospective lender does is pull a copy of your credit report. This report (and the associated credit score) determines the loan that you will get, or even if you will get a loan. Knowing what the lender will see will take the surprise out of the process. You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report each year. Use this tool to your advantage. If your report is less than stellar, take steps on your own, such as paying off debts, remaining current on payments and negotiating payment arrangements with delinquent accounts.

o What’s Your Score – While your credit report is an incredibly valuable tool, you’ll also need your credit score. This is not included in the credit report, which comes as a surprise to many consumers. Be warned; you will have to pay for you credit score from each of the credit bureaus.

o Know Thy Friends – Know the lenders with whom you are applying. Applying for an auto loan blindly is an easy way to be taken for a ride. Apply with prime lenders first, as you will get the best deals through them. Only if you have exhausted the pool of prime lenders, should you consider using a subprime lender. In addition, there are other tools at your disposal. If you are a member of a credit union, apply through them. If you have been a long-standing member of a local bank, consult the loan officer. Never limit your options to auto lenders.

o Know Thy Enemy – In this case, the enemy is the dealership. While they provide the automobile that you need, they mask the true cost of the vehicle behind a screen of dollar signs. By getting the consumer to focus solely on the monthly payments, they hide the true cost of the vehicle. Financing through a dealership may be a viable option, but it is often a poor decision. Dealer-financed loans are frequently some of the most expensive in the industry. Find out what fees (in addition to tax, tag and title) are listed in the contract, as well as the interest rate charged by the F&I office. By knowing their tactics, you can avoid being hit with sticker shock when you sign your loan papers.

Finances and the Year Ahead

The main topic of conversation for the past 18 months or so has been all about the economy and how we’ll be able to cope with it today and into our retirement years. Most of us have had a certain amount of fear invade our once serene financial lives and today just about anything will set off our emotional release when it comes to the sensitive topic of – “what happens next?” – as it pertains to our personal financial situation. It has been a very tough year and although government figures are pointing to a recovery on the horizon, I don’t really know many who will attest to the fact that things are really beginning to improve on their economic front….at least not yet.

But there are a few things that you can do to help the situation while the years ahead try to mend the financial damage that we’ve experienced recently. The first thing, and probably the most important, is not to ignore your current situation. Listen, I know that many of you have not been checking out your banking or investment statements lately because you just don’t want to see that bottom line figure. The fact remains, unless you know what that figure is, you won’t know where you’ll need to start the repair or how aggressive you’ll have to be to fix the problem. So, stop hiding and take a look. You might not like what you see but at least you’ll know where you stand and that will be the beginning of “fixing what has been broken.”

If you haven’t done so already, find an accountant. There have been so many changes to the tax laws in the past year and even the professionals are overly challenged when trying to keep up with the latest tax modifications. Many of you have started your own businesses this past year and if you try to mix that with your personal taxes, well, you could be in for an ordeal that might lead to errors in your final tax figures. So, let someone who knows how to handle the situation do it for you. Sure, it’s going to cost you a few dollars but in the end you’ll be more at ease and content that you did it the right way and, believe me, that will be well worth a few extra dollars.

In the computer age, you can automate many of your financial responsibilities that in the past you would normally worry about. Things like automatic bill pay through your bank’s website or payroll deductions to your 401(k) plan or savings accounts can do much to take some of the pressure off. You can also have your utility companies or a personal credit card simply debit your account on a monthly basis and you won’t ever have to worry about late fees. But even better than that, since you won’t have to actually sit down and pay the bills, you’ll have a lot of extra time to do the things you really want to do.

As we approach 2010, use some of your extra time to sit down and write your goals for the New Year. What did you want to accomplish this year that you didn’t? What would you like to achieve next year? Maybe it’s that vacation you’ve always wanted to take to Paris or finally finishing your education; whatever your goals are, just make sure you write them down and post them someplace. Ask yourself where you see yourself in five years. Then, prioritize those goals to figure out a way to make them happen. Once you’ve set your personal goals, make sure you stay focused and remain on course to complete them successfully. Constantly review and update your list of goals and modify them to reflect any life changes, experiences or priorities. If you want to make something happen you must set and manage your goals. Make that a priority this year.

If you are dedicated to creating a booming year ahead, you must make sure that you look at everything with a new point of view. If you’ve been doing things in a certain manner that hasn’t really been working out for you, the only way to change the outcome is by changing how you deal with the problem. Make something happen in the coming year by producing a positive environment that will allow you to realize the success you are striving to achieve.

Student Finances and Budgeting

Yawn. This is what you might think when we start discussing budgeting, but do not be mistaken, ensuring that you manage your finances effectively can make the difference between completing your degree or diploma with the rest of your friends and dropping out of university on your own because you couldn’t afford to feed yourself.

Some students are more fortunate than others and will be receiving financial help from family or funds. Others will be borrowing the largest sums of money that they have ever borrowed so far in their lives (and just wait until you get a mortgage!), accruing debts that will last for years after graduation. It took me almost 8 years to finish repaying my Student Loan! Whilst the repayment of any long term, low interest loans such as Student Loans may be at the deepest depths of your mind right now, you’d be doing yourself a favour by reminding yourself when you’re trying to decide between the Gucci sunglasses or the Prada bag.

Do you know how much money you have as income each month? Do you know exactly how much you spend on the essentials like food and accommodation? Let’s face it, most people reading this will not have a detailed breakdown of their incomings and outgoings. Even if you have a budget set out, do you stick to it?

Okay. Let’s presume that you’re leaving home and are university bound, ready to take on the world. Now let’s discuss how to make sure your finances don’t prevent you from staying there!

Setting a budget is not a difficult thing to do. If you’ve got access to a spreadsheet application then great. If all you’ve got is an A4 pad from the Stationery Box then don’t worry. Creating the budget plan is the easy part. Being disciplined enough to stay within it is the hard part. If you haven’t tasted university life yet then you may not understand, but once you start buying books, meeting people and going out then you will thank me for taking you through this (I happily accept most major credit cards and beer vouchers through the post!).

Firstly, some thinking. Determine exactly how much money you’re going to be receiving each month (doing it monthly gives us more meaningful numbers and allows for weekly fluctuations). Whether it be from a loan, savings, or family, just come up with a ballpark figure. Then create a list of all the things you think you’ll be spending on in any given month. At this point, it’s worth asking someone who owns their own house what they have to spend on. Try your parents as they’re more than likely willing to make you feel guilty about how much time you spend on the phone or how much more it costs them when you don’t switch off the lights.

Here’s a sample list of things for you to consider. Note that we’re not providing any figures because these can vary greatly from person-to-person and different locations.

Incoming

  1. Student Loan
  2. Family contribution
  3. Wages
  4. Other

Outgoing

  1. Tuition fees
  2. Accommodation fees
  3. Electricity
  4. Gas
  5. Water
  6. Landline telephone
  7. Mobile telephone
  8. TV licence
  9. Insurance
  10. Transport (if you are taking your own car then break this down further e.g. petrol, road tax, insurance)
  11. Toiletries
  12. Laundry expenses
  13. Clothing
  14. Course books
  15. Internet connection
  16. Entertainment (think about all of the things you do for fun e.g. cinema, booze, clubbing, magazines, cigarettes)

Once you have your list, input it into your spreadsheet or pad and starting assigning some values to them. Sum up your expected outgoings and subtract them from your incoming. Hopefully, you’ll have a positive number left over. If not, then it’s time to start pruning that outgoings list and dropping what you can or start thinking about earning some extra money from a part time job.

If you’re already working and still feel uncomfortable about your finances then try speaking to your Student Welfare Officer. They might be able to give you specific advice about your given situation. It’s also worth speaking to your bank’s student advisor as they will often arrange for things like interest free overdrafts.

A general word about credit cards. It’s more than likely you’ll open a student bank account once you start your course. There are many benefits to be had including free banking, interest free overdrafts, cheque book, debit card, free advice, pens, balloons… So it makes good sense to do so. Often, banks will also start to offer you credit cards and these can be a mixed blessing depending on how you use them. They’re often fee-free and may come with perks such as redeemable points or free insurance. They can also be a good way to start a credit file on yourself so that when you come to request a large loan e.g. mortgage then the lender will have some frame of reference to look back upon. Of course, this can be a bad thing if you default a lot and never meet your minimum repayments. If you can use them sensibly i.e. only use them to buy things that you can afford so that you pay off the full balance each month. Be aware that it becomes all to easy to start maintaining a balance on your credit cards. As a result, you’ll start paying interest at relatively high rates.

Whatever you do, don’t take the hiding-under-the-blanket-will-make-it-go-away approach because racking up huge amounts of debt now will come back to haunt you at some later date. Of course, I want you to enjoy yourself, but just be aware of your (financial) limits!