How to find good karma with your lender

Bankrate.com

Tara Baukus Mello

Tara Baukus Mello

There's more to buying a car than just the experience at the dealership. Once you drive home, you'll be embarking on an ongoing relationship with your lender, and now, thanks to electronic banking, that typically goes far beyond tearing off your latest payment stub and mailing it with a check every month.

J.D. Power and Associates' Consumer Financing Satisfaction Study, which it releases at the end of each year, has found a link between the auto loan or car lease experience and a customer's likelihood to use that lender in the future.

"Financing is a tough area to simplify, but by providing seamless, fast service throughout the loan or lease period, financing providers increase their chances of being re-selected and building brand loyalty," Lisa Stimac, account director of automotive finance at J.D. Power and Associates, said in a release.

As you go shopping for a new or used car, keep in mind you will have an ongoing relationship with a lender as well. Here are four questions to ask to help ensure you love your lender.

What happens when you call? Look for lenders that route car loan customers to a specific department or group of specialists that have people who are knowledgeable about auto loans. You don't want to find yourself stuck in a phone tree or being shuffled from one service rep to another. Ask how the process works, or call the lender's customer service number, and see if you can be routed easily to the correct department that can answer your auto loan questions.

Can you access your account information online? Having access to your car loan information 24/7 is helpful even if you aren't going to receive your bill electronically or make payments online. Look for a website that's easy to use and has a menu with direct links to common information that you might need. It's helpful to see items such as your loan payoff amount, payment status and forms such as those for an address change or for when you are ready to sell or trade in the car.

Does the lender offer alerts and reminders? A missed car payment can wreak havoc on your credit, not to mention put a lender on alert for possible car repossession, so electronic reminders for when a payment is due and electronic alerts for when a payment is late are proactive ways to help ensure you stay on track.

What do current customers say? If you are getting a car loan with a local lender, ask friends and associates to share the customer service experiences they've had with the lenders you are considering. You can also do an Internet search on the lender's name and the word "review" to learn what those sources say online. In addition, J.D. Power and Associates' Consumer Financing Satisfaction Study can be a helpful guide for national lenders, as it gets feedback from more than 10,000 customers. The 2012 study, which was released in December 2012, surveyed 11,259 new-car purchasers and lessees who got a loan or lease from June 2011 to May 2012. The top five lenders in the mass-market loan category for 2012 were: Volkswagen Credit, Mazda Capital Services, Honda Financial Services, Toyota Financial Services and Ford Credit.

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