Auto Loans: Credit Unions Vs. Banks

Need a car but can’t pay cash? You have three choices: Borrow from the dealer or manufacturer’s financing company, borrow from a bank, or borrow from a credit union (unless Uncle Bob is willing to finance you, but who wants the “strings” that go along with that?). Each method has advantages and disadvantages – but if you can qualify, the way to go is usually with a credit union.

Interest rates are still near historic lows. If you are going to borrow money for a car, there’s never been a better time.

 Structural advantages of credit unions

Credit unions are known for having lower fees and interest rates than banks and other finance companies. The advantage is in the ownership structure: The owners of banks and the majority of consumer finance companies are stockholders – not you. That means every product or service they provide has but one real objective: to make money for their shareholders, while not alienating you so much that you take your deposits and future business somewhere else.

The owners of credit unions, on the other hand, are members, not shareholders. That means profits are distributed among its members in the form of dividends and in the form of lower fees. Every dime that would have gone to Wall Street, in the case of a credit union car loan, stays with credit union members. And you, as the borrower, get to keep a chunk of it in the form of lower interest rates and fees.

 Advantage to the consumer

With traditional stock ownership, there is always an adversarial relationship between the bank and the customer. Banks serve the stockholders. The credit union exists, however, to serve members. Think of it: If the credit union didn’t serve member interests, the members could simply replace the management team until they found managers who are more responsive to the needs of the membership.

 Advantages of banks

Credit unions tend to be smaller than banks, with a limited membership. You have to meet the criteria for membership to be able to join and get a loan. Luckily, it’s easy to become a member of Mutual CU. (If you live, work, worship, attend school or volunteer in one of our seven covered counties, you’re already qualified!) sometimes, banks have more up to date ways to access loans and banking products. Luckily, Mutual CU has a full suite of digital products like online banking and a mobile app so Mutual CU goes wherever you do!

 Disadvantages of banks

As mentioned, banks have a substantial cost of overhead, in the form of their many branches, expansive operations and, of course, investor profits. Some very large banks have good economies of scale and can minimize the impact of their overhead on consumer fees. But no bank is going to want to cut into shareholder profits if they can help it.

 Dealer financing

The last option is, of course, dealer financing. These deals can be excellent on new cars (0% or 1%  financing is tough to beat), but the picture isn’t as rosy for older cars, or for those who have less-than-stellar credit.

If you go the dealer financing route, take a look at the fine print: You need a car loan with no prepayment penalty. This means you are free to pay off the loan balance at any time, without any added fees or interest tacked on. The higher the interest rate, the more important this is.

Also be on the lookout for dealer add-ons that cost more there than at the credit union where you can get the same types of warranties, gap and other insurance for substantially less.

 The lease option

The final option, of course, is leasing rather than buying. A lease is essentially a contract to rent the car for a period of time and to turn the car back in at the end of that contract (the lease). Lease payments tend to be lower than loan payments because when a loan is paid, you keep the car! The loan is buying the whole car, and not just the depreciation it has during the first few years.

In the long run, the consumer is almost always better off buying a car outright, rather than leasing. With a car loan, the pain of payments is over in one to four years, but you can be driving the car for 10 years or more! With a car lease, though, your payments never stop, and you never own the car.

Still not sure what to do? Contact us to request your free car buying guide; and when you’re ready, we can get you pre-approved to shop for your new set of wheels!

Buying a Car?

An automobile is a major investment. Just think about it: In the last 10 years, have you bought anything that costs more than a car? A house or your kid’s education, maybe. Yet, unlike a house, a car is not going to appreciate in value; and unlike an education, an SUV is not going to increase your offspring’s earning potential.

A car isn’t an investment after all, because you’re not going to receive a return on it. It’s an expense, and the best you can do is to get the maximum use and pleasure from the money you spend. Getting the most out of your car is a matter of careful maintenance. Getting the most out of your money is a matter of getting a good price on the car and a good deal on the related financing.

Negotiating a good price on your car can be stressful, but arranging for a good deal on your loan might not have to be. When they think of car loans, most people think of banks and dealer financing – but your credit union may offer the best, most flexible terms and the fastest loan process that’s available to you:

• Before you go shopping, come to your credit union to get pre-approved for a loan. Preapproval will mean you have one less thing to worry about when you find the vehicle you want.

• The rates that your credit union offers on auto loans are probably lower than those that are offered by most banks and car dealerships in your area. An additional discount on the rate is available if you set up a direct loan payment.

• Refinancing an existing loan on the car you currently drive could lower your rate and monthly payment, putting more money in your pocket – a good thing at any time, but especially in a troubled economy.