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Before you shop for a new car loan, you should get a copy of your credit report and take steps to improve your credit rating if it is below 680. Credit ratings of 680 and higher qualify for the best financing deals. There are three credit reporting agencies:
A recent amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the nationwide credit reporting agencies to provide you with one free copy of your credit report each year. The program is being phased in based on geographical location. For example, residents of the Northeast don't qualify for a free report until September 2005, at the earliest (this is to make sure the credit reporting agencies don't get overwhelmed with requests).
Aside from car shopping, privacy experts recommend you rotate your requests with the three agencies and get one report from each at four-month intervals to make sure no one is opening new accounts in your name without your knowledge. For more information on free credit reports, visit the Federal Trade Commission's Web site and search on "free credit report."