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The key to happiness

A man walks up to you in a plaid suit, and with the smell of coffee heavy on his breath, he begins a diatribe about “unbelievable deals” and “a honey of a machine.” Do you really want to face this man alone?

Instead of cowering, you can separate fiction from fact by thoroughly researching before you step onto a lot or dial a number from the classifieds.

Start with the basics of evaluating what you can afford, and then get specific by reviewing all the consumer advice on the market. It will make your next car-buy sweeter than that “honey” of a deal.

You want us to loan you HOW much money?

With so many automotive dealers claiming they have instant credit approval, what does it take to be approved for a loan?

Leah Bar of Cars Unlimited of Tampa said, “Applicants just need their driver’s license and their employment history for the past five years. We run a credit check to find out what loan the applicant gets approved for.”

According to, the going rate for a 48-month new car loan in the Tampa Bay area ranges from a 3.45 percent interest rate with Ohio Central Savings to 10 percent interest rate with SunTrust Bank.

Bar said, “We have rates as low as 3.09 percent over 48 months for cars that are 2003 or newer, and the rates go up to 26 percent depending on your credit score.”

The credit application requires information on your employment history, credit rating, the status of any current car loan, mortgage and/or rent and other outgoing expenses.

The rate of your loan also depends on what kind of car you’re buying as used car loan interest rates are slightly higher.

If you have good credit, you’ll end up paying less. suggests first-time buyers use a co-signer on a loan. Just remember that if you default, their credit suffers, so it is important to make payments on or before the due date. Co-signing saves money and begins to build your credit history.

Another method to create history is to locate a financial group who offers a “secured” credit card. With this option you deposit money into a savings, which is your credit limit. The fees on these cards can be pricey, so they are only useful until you can establish unsecured credit. Another option is retail and gasoline credit cards. These are not revolving because they do not carry a monthly balance and sometimes are easier to obtain than regular cards.

Experts highly recommend paying off your balance on credit cards in full every month. Once credit is established maximize your credit score by maintaining your credit balance below 30 percent of your maximum.

Something old, something new, something flashy, something blue?

New cars may not be the way to go for everyone. Some people prefer to get an automobile that is just a few years older and less expensive. There are many automotive dealers in the Tampa Bay area, many of which offer both new and used inventory. With so many people demanding warranties nowadays, many dealers are even offering ‘Certified Pre-Owned’ vehicles that are used but maintain the initial factory warranty or one of similar coverage.

USF student Aaron Smith said, “I prefer to shop for used cars because they are in my budget. I usually go to dealerships because I trust the selection in the lot, and I prefer the guarantee they offer.”

Of course, purchasing a car from a dealer is not the approach for everyone. Oftentimes, buying a car from a private seller can be less intimidating than facing the onslaught from car salesmen working for commission.

Determining the type of vehicle necessary can be just as important as finding the right price. Nobody wants to drive away from a lot thinking that their recent investment may have been a mistake. Research the type of car that is of interest.

Many Web sites, such as or , offer reviews of handling, performance, features and a multitude of other aspects of the vehicle. As far as safety goes, you can look up government safety ratings on newer cars on the New Car Assessment Program’s Web site, . The safer your car, the lower your insurance rate will be. For instance, a four-door might not sound appealing, but paying more in insurance for two less doors just doesn’t make sense for some.

If you are buying a used car, you can look up its resale worth in Kelley Blue Book ( to find a ballpark price. Once you’ve selected a particular car, it would be prudent to find out if it has been in an accident by making a Lemon Record check. CARFAX offers this service for free on its Web site, . All you need is the vehicle’s identification number.

Also, compare different makes and models to find similarities and differences between vehicles. That type of research usually allows feedback from consumers, so actual car owners have the opportunity to say how changes made to vehicles have impacted their driving.

Doing research before heading out to look at cars can save time and money. Confidence is key in car buying, and knowing what you want will make the process much simpler.

Interest rates taken from: