— -- It’s car-buying season and if you read this column often, you know that when it comes to vehicles, I’m a fan of buying used and paying cash. But I’m also a realist. I know many of you are fans of buying new and taking out a loan. Here’s how you can save even if you disagree with my approach: 0 percent financing.
As a consumer reporter, I was skeptical of free auto financing, at first. After all in other businesses “0 Percent Interest!” is a come-on with potentially dangerous consequences. Take the furniture industry. Typically, if you sign up for zero percent interest on furniture, you have a year to pay off the loan in full. If you don’t, then not only are you charged interest, the interest is retroactive to the date of your purchase. Ugh. I’m happy to say that is not the case in the auto industry.
Zero percent loans are a good deal for car dealers, because cars are such a huge purchase that it’s a way to get people to buy. And they’re a good deal for customers because they can save you money, according to auto website Edmunds.com.
“I think people don’t realize how much you save by getting a lower interest rate,” said Edmunds Senior Consumer Advice Editor Philip Reed. “If people took the time to calculate it they would be stunned by how much they’re paying in interest and that’s money that’s lost forever."
Actually, you don’t have to calculate it yourself. A new analysis by Edmunds says a zero percent loan can save you as much as $3,554 compared with a typical auto financing deal! To give you an idea, the website did the math using a $28,000 loan at 4.31 percent for 67 months.
Understanding the potential savings means you should actually factor zero percent financing into your car shopping. If you’re trying to choose between two different makes and models, perhaps you can break the tie by going with the one that has a free financing deal. Edmunds lists these deals on the Incentives and Rebates page of its site.
A few things to know:
•Free financing is only offered to people with tip-top credit.
•Most zero loans are shorter, like three years long.
•Incentives such as zero percent financing are often regional. Be sure to plug your zip code into Edmunds to find the offers for your area.
•Zero percent financing is most common for vans, followed by non-luxury cars and non-luxury SUVs.
And one final warning from your humble columnist who’d rather see you buy used and pay cash: don’t let a zero percent financing deal lure you into buying a more expensive car than you can really afford. And keep that car as long as you can stand it to save the most money of all.
Opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author.
Elisabeth Leamy is a 20-year consumer advocate for programs such as "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show." She is the author of Save BIG and The Savvy Consumer. Elisabeth is also a professional speaker, delivering talks nationwide on saving money, media relations, and career success. Elisabeth receives her best story tips from readers, so please connect with her via Facebook, Twitter or her website, to share your ideas.