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Get familiar with your own credit history

Limit your loan shopping to a two-week period.

Every time you apply for a loan — whether you are approved, whether you use it — your credit score goes down and it makes it slightly more difficult to get a prime-rate loan.

But if you make all of your applications within a two-week period, they count as only one inquiry.
3. Get familiar with your own credit history.
Get free copies of your three credit reports, from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion at www.AnnualCreditReport.com. If you want to learn your exact scores from the three agencies, you can order them for a small fee from their individual Web sites. The credit or FICO score you buy is probably not the same one your lender uses, but it should be close. With an auto loan, you have a little more wiggle room in terms of your score. “What’s considered good for a car loan will be a little lower than what’s good for a mortgage,” says Gail Hillebrand, senior attorney with the San Francisco office of Consumers Union.

4. Shop the total loan amount, not the monthly payment.
The only time you should consider the monthly payment is when you privately calculate how much you want to spend for your car. After that, don’t discuss monthly payments. Some lenders may focus on the payments to induce you to borrow more money by extending the number of months you pay. That way they make more in interest, and you have to drive your aging car longer.

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