Why an Initial Quote May Not Match Your Final Car Deal
Here's how soft-pull auto loans can change terms over the course of the car-buying process.
If your final car deal doesn't match your initial quote, that doesn't necessarily mean you've been deliberately misled. Initial estimates are often a tentative offer based on high-level information, which means the terms could shift when a dealer actually runs your credit.
The stages of finalizing a financing deal are akin to a journey and can change over time. Until you've filled out an official loan application, your credit has been approved by the lender, and all required loan documents and disclosures have been signed by both parties, your car loan is not finalized.
Understanding how an initial offer estimate evolves into your final deal could help you budget, shop, and negotiate. As you go through this four-phase car-buying process, be sure to monitor how your loan terms might shift and keep in mind that initial terms may have been offered by a lender without a complete investigation into your financial circumstances.
Phase 1: Do Preliminary Vehicle Research
Before you head into a dealership, research the vehicle you're interested in to make sure it fits your budget and needs. During this phase, you can compare prices advertised by various dealerships. You could also request a quote from a dealership to get a better idea of what fees, taxes, and other charges may be factored into your final price.
You might have the option to pre-qualify for an offer through a soft credit pull or apply for loan pre-approval. Most soft-pull auto-loan quotes provide estimates based on some basic financial information. They do not impact your credit. However, they are also not a final offer and are subject to change.
Phase 2: Apply for a Loan From Your Dealership or Lender
Once you feel ready to visit the dealership, you will typically work with both a salesperson and the dealership's finance and insurance departments to collect your financial information and generate your car deal — unless you already have a loan directly from a lender.
If you choose to finance through the dealership, your dealer will take your credit application and run a hard credit check to verify the details of your financial history. Hard credit checks are standard for auto-loan applications and will have a temporary impact on your credit score. Once your credit report is obtained, your dealer may send this information to a series of lenders to collect financing offers.
Even after you've pre-qualified for a deal, if a hard check disqualifies you, you might receive an alternative offer. Getting a written pre-approval offer beforehand may provide a more accurate estimate, but keep in mind that pre-approval offers are not final, either.
Phase 3: Review Your Financing Options
Once the final terms of your offer have been set by your dealer, you will be presented with the loan terms that the dealer decided best fit your credit history and their lending standards. This deal may be different from what you were initially quoted, so be prepared to review each of the terms. Some of the key line items to check include:
- Annual percentage rate
- Extra charges (document fees, destination charges, etc.)
- Loan principal
- Final payment total
- Term of loan (number of months or years)
Depending on the final terms of your car deal, you may consider seeking financing elsewhere. Dealerships could have higher-than-average auto-loan rates, so do your own evaluation to determine whether your dealership or an outside lender is the better option for your situation.
Phase 4: Sign or Reject Your Deal
After reviewing and considering the dealer's final offer and loan terms, consider whether or not the purchase makes sense for you and your financial situation. If the final deal is too far away from your initial expectations, don't feel pressured to accept. However, shopping for the right loan offer within a 14-day period can minimize your hard-credit inquiries while empowering you to reject an unappealing offer.