Car payments reach all-time high, local car experts offer ways to save

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COLUMBUS - Across America, the average monthly loan payment for a new vehicle climbed to a record level. Experian says the average monthly payment for drivers is $523 and the average amount borrowed is now more than $31,000.

"Nationally the numbers are going up," said Matt McIlvain, sales manager of Byer's Auto. "That seems to be the trend here in Columbus as well."

Local dealerships said a big factor is many buyers' demand for technology. Another trend McIlvain said he has seen includes a large number of Central Ohio buyers now choose new vehicles over used. Buyers also are choosing bigger SUVs over smaller, more affordable cars. Those decisions, McIlvain said, add up.

"It is very easy to come in the door and see the newest, fanciest thing with all the technology on it and jump on that vehicle instead of going with something that may fit your budget a little better," said McIlvain.

He offered a few tips for anyone considering buying. Before leaving home, he recommends people look at their own accounts and budgets to avoid the big buying pitfall: Don't walk into a dealership without a good idea of what makes sense and what you really need.

The sales manager said one way you can save money is to put more money down. 10- to 20-percent can help bring your monthly payment lower. Also, choose longer-term financing or lease rather than buying the vehicle. This method depends on your situation and whether or not you plan to keep the car for five or fewer years. Cutting down on extra features could also save you thousands of dollars. McIlvain said even base models come with extras so be sure to choose only the things you really need.

One last tip involves stopping at your local bank or credit union before you go to the car lot. They say if you know what your bank's loan rate is you can negotiate the dealership's loan to match.