The best time to lower your car payment is before you buy a car. Of course, the absolute best way is to not buy a car at all, but that isn’t what this is about — OK? This is how to do everything you can to get the car you want with the most affordable monthly payment possible, while also paying a reasonable amount for the car in total.

After all, if all you’re interested in is how to get a low car payment, the answer is simple: Take the longest loan anybody will offer you. Of course, in so doing, you’ll pay far more for the car than you should.

So, let’s look at the smart way to get a low car payment.

Maintain a High Credit Score

As the table below demonstrates, buyers with higher credit scores get better interest rates on car loans.

Auto Loan Rates in March 2020

Credit Score                    New Car Loan          Used Car Loan             Refinance Car Loan

750+                               4.97%                       5.22%                         4.50%

700 – 749                        5.04%                       5.29%                         4.92%

650 – 699                        11.89%                     12.14%                        7.75%

450 – 649                        18.85%                     19.10%                        14.80%

449 or less                      20.11%                     20.36%                        18.93%

Source: U.S. News & World Report

Lower interest rates mean lower monthly payments, which also means you’ll pay less for the car overall. Paying off your debt, paying all your bills on time and avoiding unnecessary credit inquiries will keep your score high.

Save Up a Significant Down Payment

In most cases, you’ll want to have at least 20 percent of the purchase price of the car. Reducing the amount you need to finance will make your monthly payments less. It can also net you a lower interest rate, as you’ll minimize the lender’s risk.

Get Pre-Approved for a Loan

Once you know your credit score is strong and you have a good idea of what you can afford to pay, seek a car loan on which the monthly payment will be in your comfort zone before you go shopping for the car.

Lots of places online, as well as your local credit union or bank will do this for you. Getting pre-approved helps you stay in the right price range when you shop and it gives you a bargaining chip with which to get an even lower interest rate on your financing at the dealership.

And, once again, lower interest rates = lower monthly payments.

Shop Carefully

Spend some time on the internet determining which car(s) will best serve your needs within your price range — before you even visit a dealership. Narrow the field down to three choices. Look to see what the average selling price is for each of those so you can negotiate from an informed position when you determine which car you want.

Visit a number of different dealers to get the best possible price. Let them know you’re shopping around and that your primary concern is the price out the door. In other words, negotiate based upon the selling price of the car, rather than the monthly payment. As we mentioned above, it’s all too easy for an experienced salesperson to overcharge you for a car, while giving you the exact payment you want.

This is where pre-approved financing pays off. You’ll already know what the monthly payment is on the price you want because you’ll have a loan offer in hand for that amount.

Buy Used

While the interest rates on a used car loan tend to be higher, the price you’ll pay for a used car is less. This is because cars take a rather significant depreciation hit during their first year. They take another big one during their fourth year.

With this in mind, the best move is to either buy a one-year old used car (which will also still be under warranty by the way) or a five-year old used car. Either way, you’ll avoid paying for a lot of depreciation, which means your payments will be lower.

These five tips have proven to be effective when it comes to how to get a low car payment. Even better, they’ll do so without increasing the amount of time you’ll need to pay off the loan.