With all the options out there, shopping for a car loan can be a little intimidating because there’s always hundreds of questions to be answered – Who do you trust? Who will have the best loan terms? Are online companies as credible? What’s the benefit to shopping before going to the dealership?

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But it doesn’t have to be that confusing or stressful if you just know the major factors to each question. Here’s what you should know while you shop:

Consider third-party lenders. Ask your friends, family, coworkers, online opinion forums, etc. who lends their car loan. Read up on companies you’re interested in and find one that seems to fit your situation best. Some specialize in short term loans, some focus on applicants with poor credit, and some also offer refinance options for the future. When you find one or two that suits you best, apply!

Don’t be frightened by online applications. The advancement of security over the web allows you to fill out applications on your own time, in the comfort of your own home. Be sure to check if the URL is secure by spotting https before the site name in your browser window. Usually, your browser will color these URLs green, too, giving you an obvious safe light that the server will keep your personal information private.

Have the answers to your application prior to starting one. Each loan application will ask for your credit score in order to determine a fair interest rate. Your interest rate will likely be the most important fluctuation factor in your decision. In addition, they’ll likely ask what your purchase budget is, what car model and/or type you want, and how long you want to pay off your loan. It shouldn’t take more than a couple hours to know if you’ve been approved for a loan, then you can start comparing loan terms.

Get approved with a loan before you walk into a dealership. Walking into a dealership as a cash buyer is one of the greatest feelings on the earth. Walking into a dealership with an approved car loan, although it’s not exactly the same, will give you the same benefits and leverage when buying. You will have more authority to negotiate down the price of your purchase, and you don’t have to worry about going over budget or risking an unfair interest rate from the dealership.

By keeping the above points in mind throughout the shopping process, you’ll save yourself a lot of stress, money and time. Generally, obtaining a car loan isn’t a hard process these days. If you’re confident and happy with the service and terms to your car loan company, you’ve made the right choice for you.

Erika Timmers is freelance writer working with CarFinance.com. She’s an expert in consumer finance and finding the best deal online.

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