Buying a car in 2017

Are you in the market for a new (or used) car at some point before the end of the year? According to recent data on sales at U.S. dealerships, you might be in good shape to find a great deal. After a few years of steady purchase activity, major American automakers like General Motors and Ford reported slower sales in their monthly reports for August. That made the month only the latest in a series of sluggish earnings statements from the auto industry, which in turn has led to more cars sitting idle in dealership lots.

"New and used car prices have been falling since mid-summer."

The upshot is that this fall may be among the best times in recent memory to pick up a car for a good price. That's true not just because dealers are more willing to cut prices to move product, but also due to this being a season for car-buyer savings in any year.

"August, and September, is when you see some of the better discounts," said Ronald Montoya, consumer advice editor at the car website Edmunds.com in an interview for The New York Times. "This has been a slower year than last year, and inventory is stacking up."

The Times reported that brand-new cars and trucks were not the only beneficiaries of this latest phenomenon. According to data from JD Power and Associates, used car lots are also filling up. As of August, dealers can now expect their stock to sit for 74 days on average before being sold - turnover hasn't been that slow since the bottom of the U.S. financial crisis in 2009.

Even buyers who are hoping to use a loan to finance a new car purchase are poised to save this fall compared to recent years. According to a report on auto financing from WalletHub, the average interest rate for car buyers with excellent credit is now 25 percent lower than the average rate seen two years ago. And for any category of buyer, interest rates on new cars are at their lowest point in three years, according to the survey.

Taking advantage of fall deals

All of this sets the stage for car buyers to find a sweet deal on a new loan, or for current owners to refinance their existing loan at a lower rate. No matter which scenario applies, don't ignore advice from the experts as you seek out the right deal.

CarKnow your vehicle financing options before visiting the dealership.

If you're looking to buy before the end of the year and want to seek financing instead of using cash, see if you can get preapproved for an auto loan from your local bank before browsing the dealership lot. Dealers often offer their own financing options that sound attractive, but they can lean too heavily on pressure to buy without understanding the loan's terms. Preapproval is especially useful because it provides a reliable quote and gets all the credit checks out of the way sooner. When you come to the dealership with a preapproval letter in hand, it also works as a powerful bargaining chip to discuss price and other conditions before agreeing to a sale.

Refinancing an existing car loan involves a process similar to gaining approval for a completely new one - just be sure you have the most recent documents for the current loan in hand. To apply for a refinanced loan, you will need to know your current monthly payment, the interest rate, how much time is left on the loan's term and the contact information for the lender, at the very least.

No matter what your financial situation may be, work with a trustworthy lender to make the car buying and financing process as smooth as possible.

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