Purchasing a vehicle can be a big decision and involves a lot of money. There’s a lot of questions like whether to go used or new, buy or lease, finance through the dealership or the bank or to even pay cash and avoid payments. On the matter of automobile loans it seems like they’ve really become a part of everyday life; it would almost seem strange not to have a monthly payment. We’ve become use to the idea of a loan that allows us to enjoy a car sooner than we might have been able to. But how much do we pay for that convenience?
My Tacoma was my first new car and I did a ton of research and haggled with dealers to get under sticker as much as possible. I was still in school and had saved up a little money and my parents offered to match whatever I put down. With my dad co-signing I got a 5%, 60-month loan through the credit union. So what is that loan actually costing me over 5 years:
- With $5,000 down payment and starting loan balance of about $15,000 = $2,025 in interest
- Without the down payment and a starting balance of $20,000 = $2,685 in interest
Not a huge difference, but the down payment dropped my monthly payment by $100. In both situations, the cost of the loan would run about 13.5% of the loan value. You can think of that 13.5% as a hidden tax on the car, which is more than the sales tax and other fees that get tacked on. Over a lifetime those interest payments can really add up. Aside from leasing (which I won’t even touch here), buying a car outright is our only other option. So why don’t we buy new cars with cash more often?
I think the biggest impediment is our need for instant gratification. I could have “paid” $330 dollars each month into a high-yield savings account for 5 years and bought my truck without getting a loan and saving myself over $2000 dollars and earning interest on my deposit in the process. So why didn’t I? Mostly because I wanted my new car sooner than later. I could have replaced my 1988 Ranger with a newer used car and looking back I probably should have explored that avenue more. Nevertheless I ended up with a new car. Instant gratification isn’t anything new in our culture, but we should be aware of the ultimate cost.
Looking into the future, we’re going to have to make some assumptions. Let’s assume a loan length of 60 months and everytime we’re done paying off the loan we trade the car in for 40% of the original value (depreciation is a you know what) and buy a new one that cost 10% more than the previous one. The first purchase has no down payment or trade in involved. Let’s say we start young and do our car buying cycle for 50 years. We’d end up with numbers like this:
|Car Loan #||Car Cost||Trade in Value||Loan Balance||Cost of Loan|
The trade-in acting as a down payment is what keeps this from being outrageous, actually these numbers don’t seem too bad. $21,500 in interest payments over a lifetime isn’t too big of a deal. Now let’s look at buying all of our cars outright. To accomplish the task of providing our own financing we have to delay our gratification and save. For the 5 years prior to a car purchase, we deposit the total cost / 60 into a high yield savings account every month, about $333 for a $20,000 car. The interest earned on the savings earmarked for a new car can be transfered to other investments for additional growth after the purchase. So by delaying the first car purchase and continuing that discipline we’ve saved $21,500 in interest payments, or have we?
What would happen if we took every dollar we would be giving to a bank in interest and invested it in a Roth IRA (all contributions and earnings can be pulled out tax-free during retirement). $21,500 over 50 years is $430 a year, $36 a month. That’s money we’d normally be giving away so why not invest it instead. Let’s say our IRA starts with a $0 balance, grows at 8% and we don’t worry about inflation yet.
Amount invested = $21,500
Simple earnings = $43,860
Compund earnings = $201,099
Total account value after 50 years = $266,459
Say wha?! That’s the power of compounding rearing its beautiful head. This is a mostly hypothetical situation, but the outcome and general idea are pretty clear. By delaying a car purchase and avoiding interest payments we are presented with the opportunity for incredible growth over the long term. Even without investing the difference you can save a good chunk of change. My scenario doesn’t take into consideration a longer period between purchases or the possibility of buying used cars, both of which would allow more income to be directed towards investments.
I’m not saying this is the absolute best way to purchase cars, but the hidden costs of automobile loans aren’t apparent until you crunch some numbers. I know some of you paid cash for your cars or even have the gall to drive cars not manufactured after the year 2000, but I hope this is enlightening for everyone. I plan on putting this into practice for our next car purchase.