Things I Would Never Do: The 97 Month Car Loan

new car

Welcome to a new feature I plan on running from time to time here on Frugal Rules – Things I Would Never do. It’s meant to be part rant, part shedding light on unwise practices and part ways to avoid unnecessary debt. It’s not intended to be judgmental, but largely to help those that may be facing similar issues and sharing some things I have learned through mistakes I have made in the past. That said, I hope you enjoy the new series.

I was reading on MSN Money last month about the rise in longer terms for auto financing when individuals are buying a new car. It caught my eye as I have been doing some reading how new car purchasing has increased over the last two to three years. The article spoke of a 31 year-old soon to be mother who had just bought a brand new car coming in at $23,000. To be fair, that price is $8,000 less than the quoted average price of a new car but in order to fund the purchase she took on a car loan of 75 months and a monthly payment of $480! That’s right…she financed her new car for nearly 6 ½ years. This seemed to be just a bit over the top to me, but then the article went on to describe how more and more auto lenders are giving out loans of up to 97 months for people wanting to buy a new car. That is eight years people and just a bit crazy if you ask me.

Is Having a Car Loan a Bad Thing? 

I know there is debate as to the wisdom behind buying a new car. Heck, I even wrote a post last week about how to save money when buying a new car. There are many sides to the topic and I tend to be more middle ground when I look at the issue of buying a car, whether it be new or used. That said, let’s face it, many do need cars to make it to work, run errands, etc. True, you can do things like car pool, buy a used car as opposed to a new car, or use public transportation. Not all of these options may be available to everyone, but the point is that there are options to look at and you need to be wise with your purchase – whatever it is. Beyond that, I do not necessarily think that having a car loan is inherently a bad thing. (I know, I am a bad PF blogger.) If done right, especially if you can attain a really good rate then I think it’s fine as long as you do it within reason. When we bought our new car we took a car loan of 48 months, put down a solid down payment and knew that we would get it paid off before the end of the loan. We paid it off with just a little over a year left on the loan and I think it worked to our advantage. That said, I do not think having a car loan is bad, as long as you manage it and do not have a payment that will just be a massive weight on your budget.

What is the Underlying Problem?

The underlying problem I see in all of this is that many are simply buying too much car. They are either not looking at the options available to them or are not being mindful of taking on too much debt. They are looking at it as a monthly payment issue as opposed to simply not buying too much. The auto financing companies are seeing that consumers want to keep their car loans under $500, but is the average car loan of $460 really any better? I think not. This is also not to mention the fact that when new car shoppers take on such a terribly long car loan they are putting themselves in a situation where they will undoubtedly become underwater on their loans and end up paying much more for the car over the life of the loan. Sure, that rate may be low, but if you’re financing nearly $30,000 over the span of seven or eight years the amount will add up and it will not be pretty.

Have We Learned Nothing?

What struck me in this article was that it said that during 2008 and 2009 lenders were much less willing to extend credit to those buying a new car. The money was flowing much less and was more difficult to secure a good car loan. However, as I look back, we bought our new car right in the middle of the Great Recession – the fall of 2008, right when it was hitting the fan. But, we had stellar credit and put a big down payment down on our car. That nice down payment was largely put on our credit card so we could earn the rewards points. If we were buying today, we’d likely use our Barclay Arrival World Mastercard to earn as many points as we could and pay cash for the rest. What can I say, I like to find what will work out best for us given the situation. 🙂

That said, fast forward five years and the banks are at it again handing out money like candy and securing car loans that are reaching eight years. The fact that these extended car loans have raised from 11% of all car loans to 17% over the last three years shows me that we have not learned from history. The article goes on to say that many auto lenders have mixed feelings about this rise but they see that new car buying is going up and that makes the bottom line look good. As a business owner I know that a healthy bottom line is desirable, but is it sustainable? Only time will tell.


What are your thoughts? What is the longest car loan you have ever taken out?


Photo courtesy of: My Aim is True

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I'm the founder of Frugal Rules, a Dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry. I'm passionate about helping people learn from my mistakes so that they can enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. I'm also a freelance writer, and regularly contribute to GoBankingRates, Investopedia, Lending Tree and more. If you're wanting to learn how to monetize your blog, check out my blog coaching services to see how I can help you take your site to the next level.


  • pauline says:

    I would never buy a car on credit, because you may total it on the first ride and have payments for another 8 years. It is a depreciating asset anyway so by the time you pay it off you have nothing to show for it. I did however took an 8 year loan to invest and that term is sooo long.I felt like it was never ending.There was a big early repayment penalty so I had to patiently wait until it was over. Never again.

    • John says:

      That could happen Pauline, but I view it as a potential to be able to earn more income by allowing me to get to meetings and such. I hate early repayment penalties and can understand why you’d not want one again.

  • Matt Becker says:

    The whole monthly payment thing is the same thing that happens with mortgages. People take on more debt and spend more money over time simply because they like the lower monthly payment.

    I’ve never had a car loan and hope that I never have to, but like you I’m not 100% against it. Like you say, some people just need a car in today’s world. But it needs to be done smartly and with a big-picture view.

    • John says:

      Great point Matt, I think it does apply to a mortgage as well. I hate having a car payment, but as long as they’re done right I am not opposed to it at all.

  • A 97 month auto loan is crazy to me. The sad thing is just a few years ago I remember hearing an ad on the radio for a car dealer touting 72 month car loans. If we’ve jumped to 97 months in just a few short years, I hate to see what the next few years brings. We are getting to a point where keeping your car for 10 years isn’t a big deal because you will have taken out a 120 month loan!

    • John says:

      I know Jon, I remember the same thing. When we bought our car 5 years ago people were saying do not finance for more than 72 months…I think we’ll be to the 120 month loan soon enough.

  • WTH? No, no, no. First of all, we have used credit to buy cars in the past. We will never do it again. With that said, we were buying too much care ourselves. Honestly, if you can’t afford to pay cash for the car, you are probably buying too much car. If you can’t afford to do a 5 year loan, you are definitely buying too much car.

    • John says:

      I don’t know that I’d say you’re buying too much car if you can’t afford to pay in cash, but I get your point. However, I do agree about the five year issue. Once you get to that point, even with a low rate, you’re just going to be adding too much interest to the loan.

  • An interesting thing about car loans is they seem to have built in the super low financing into their pricing, so banks and credit unions have little wiggle room to ask for higher interest rates (at least this is how my friend’s Dad explained the situation to me). One thing I’m not too happy about is how expensive SUVs are. A decent Ford Escape is going to run you at least $10k. We need a bigger vehicle, but we will have to go that high vs. getting a smaller car and spending $5k and saving more $. Hopefully my car can just make it to 300k miles 😉

    • John says:

      That is a solid point. SUV’s are definitely expensive and would go used if we ever bought a car of that size. Durability was one of the main things I researched in buying our Altima and I plan on it lasting to at least 200-250k if not more.

  • That is a really long time to have a car loan. I personally never recommend people to get a new car as there is just too much money driving our the door the minute you turn the engine on.

    As for history repeating itself – Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it (or something like that).

    • John says:

      That it is Glen, almost a freaking decade if you look at it. You’re right on with your quote. We are doomed to repeat it if we do not learn our lesson.

  • Also, what about the fact that cars do tend to wear down over 8 years? I’d hate to see some of these people have a car that is too costly to repair but still be saddled with the loan. Although I’m sure that’ll be coming in a few years.

    And why finance it for that long? A lot of people get the new car itch after 3 years of driving their latest car. That’s a lot of money to still have to pay on the loan or to roll over into another loan. The consumer debt cycle will just continue on, it’s just the focus that changes.

    • John says:

      That’s a great point JC, I’d hate to have a clunker and still have payments on it. The new car itch is exactly one that one salesman used on us when we bought our last car. That was the first sign that we’d be buying elsewhere.

  • An 8 year car loan is just plain absurdity.. There is no way that a car would last that long in my household.. We are just far too active (with kids activities and whatnot), and my town is just far too spread out.

    That said, I don’t think car loans are in and of themselves and absurd thing to take on. Especially with the zero percent financing being offered by many dealers.

    • John says:

      I agree Jefferson. It’s a blasted decade when you think about it. I agree that loans are not all that bad, assuming you take them on wisely.

  • Great post, John. 8 years is ridiculous, but like Matt said, it’s similar to what they’re doing with mortgages. I remember a relative over Christmas talking about his new car purchase with other family members. Someone asked “What did it cost?” He said, “I don’t know. I just look and see if I can afford the payment.”. Yikes!

    • John says:

      Thanks Laurie & I agree. Oh, I hate hearing things like that! It just makes me want to shake the person and ask them if they realize how much that payment will add up to.

  • Debt Blag says:

    *If* you don’t let it convince you to get more car than you would have otherwise and *if* you get a low interest rate, then why wouldn’t you want to lock it in to pay off other high-interest loans?

    That said, I’m sure this isn’t what’s happening.

    This is part of a greater lesson: shop based on the purchase price and not on the monthly payment. Just as importantly, don’t tell a car dealer how big a monthly payment you can afford; they will find a way to get it all

    • John says:

      I could not agree more. If you do it wisely, then I think it’s fine…but, financing a car for 8 years is not wise. The monthly payment will get you in trouble every time. Whenever we ran into that line of questioning with our last purchase it was a tell-tale sign that we needed to look elsewhere.

  • That is an alarmingly long term. I financed my used car for 5 years, with the intent in paying it off in two, which will happen (likely earlier than two years, actually). I couldn’t imagine paying the interest if I had to keep my loan for the full term, let alone longer!

    • John says:

      That it is Daisy. Great work on paying off that loan btw, getting rid of the interest was one of the main drivers (no pun intended) in us getting our car paid off so early.

  • I’ve never taken out a car loan but my husband is going to very soon as our current beater will see the end of its life in June. We were wanting to save up money to buy a used car but time was not on our side. So we’re getting a loan for a used car and it will be paid off within two years.

  • People are just looking at the payment. Anyone could probably afford a Porsche if you financed it over enough years. That being said, my longest car loan was for 8 years. Not on the same car, but when you trade it in every 3 years, you never get it paid off, and I think that’s what most people do. We get used to having a car payment just like a mortgage payment. It’s madness, and I guess no one learned their lesson from the recession days.

    • John says:

      You’re totally correct Kim, people do just look at the payment. Sure, I’d love a low payment, but not if it means that I’ll be financing that sucker for 20 years. 🙂

  • In our opinion, it’s INSANE to purchase a new car. Why eat the huge depreciate on the way off the lot? There are so many good values in the used car market, and debt should not be the answer for folks looking to make a purchase.

    • John says:

      I appreciate your point Jacob, though it is a major purchase. It is usually the second biggest purchase most will make. That said, there are ways to take advantage of the financing to allow you to make a solid purchase. This is what we did and came out quite well with it. That said, many are not doing that and thus the purpose behind my post. 🙂

  • Wow that’s an insanely long time to finance a new car for. I financed my current car, because my fiancé’s old car was totalled and we needed transportation. I got it used, and financed for 5 years. That said, this August will mark the two year mark and I plan on having it paid off by December. I can’t wait to be car payment free, and as soon as I am, I plan on squirrelling some cash away for a down payment for my next used car, so I never have to get back on the car payment treadmill.

    • John says:

      That it is Jordann. That’s awesome you’ll have yours paid off so quickly and we do the same thing in regards to saving for our next car purchase.

  • Timely post for me. I would never take out a loan that long, although in the past I took out a 6 year loan but I think I paid it off in around 4 or 5 years. It was awhile ago. I also don’t think loans are all bad necessarily, but within reason. Right now I have a lot of options I need to weigh as far as a future new (used) car. I used to be totally against new cars, but once you have a car that is breaking down more than it should, you start to question that wondering if a used car will have the same problem. I just need reliable transportation at this point!

    • John says:

      I understand your predicament Tonya, and one that we have found ourselves in before. There is a lot to balance and at the end of the day it just comes down to being wise, regardless of the decision you make.

  • Stephanie says:

    In the cancun airport on my way back from vacation there was an offer to finance sunglasses for 15months. SUNGLASSES!! Who can even manage not to lose or scratch a pair in that amount of time?! I wish I would have taken a picture of the sign. Oh and of you can’t pay cash for sunglasses it’s a sure sign you can’t afford them- please go to cvs.
    8 years for a car!? Yikes!!!!

  • In an ideal world nobody would have to buy a car on finance but I understand why some do. If I was ever to buy a vehicle on credit in future, I’d only do it if I could pay it off within 3 years. I’d hate for it to stretch any longer than that and a little voice in my head tells me if I can’t afford to pay it off within 3 years, then I can’t really afford it.

    • John says:

      I agree Adam and I tend to hold to the same philosophy. We took the 48 month as we were not certain if we could pay it off in 36 months or not and wanted the wiggle room. Thankfully we got it knocked out before the 36 months anyway. 🙂

  • Sellers seek to focus consumers’ attention on monthly payment, not total cost, and the uneducated happily oblige. How many times have you heard “how large a monthly payment can you afford?” Of course, that perspective is not how the financially successful judge whether something is affordable, but it boosts sales, so salespeople love it. The longer the payment term, the lower the monthly payment, and so the more people who can “afford” the item being sold. Consumers gotta get smarter than this!

  • When my wife bought her vehicle brand new she bought it with 0% interest and paid it off in 5 years which I didn’t think was bad at all. I bought my vehicle cash when I moved to Canada because I didn’t have a job and was in school. I didn’t want to get stuck with payments that I couldn’t handle if something were to go wrong so I was on the cautious side. I think the decision is personal where one may not see a problem with paying monthly payments even with a bit of interest where others would rather drop the cash on a second-hand or new vehicle for peace of mind like I did.

    • John says:

      I could not agree more Mr. CBB, it really is a personal decision to make. You have to do what’s right for you and hopefully that means the least amount of interest as possible.

  • Jake Erickson says:

    I can’t believe that car loans can be for that long of a term. I thought 60 months was a long time to have a car loan. I can agree that a car loan isn’t always a bad thing, but anything over 5 years has to be considered bad. A car may not even last 8 years. Hopefully not too many people are taking this option, but, unfortunately, I’m sure a lot of them are.

    • John says:

      I agree Jake, if you have to finance over 60 months then you need to go back to the drawing board and figure something else out.

  • 97 months is much too long for a car loan! I don’t have any plans to buy a new car anytime soon but if I did, I would try to have as much cash saved up and do as much research as possible to get the best bang for my buck. I think this is going to be a great series John 🙂

    • John says:

      You’re right on with that GMD! That’s a freaking lifetime for many cars and beyond that is just nutty to finance a car for that long.

  • Wow! 97 months? Insanity! I don’t have problems with people financing cars, but they need to finance a car that fits their needs AND budget. As others noted, most people don’t actually look at the vehicle cost, but whether or not they can afford the monthly payment. And so many people trade cars every few years and have never even owned their vehicle. I do agree that people seem more interested in everything they can get (my car is loaded) than what they truly need and can afford. A dangerous habit for them to get into and unfortunately one that being made even easier for them to do again.

    • John says:

      It is insane Shannon and just makes no sense to me at all. I agree that the budget needs to be a major factor in the car decision, yet so many throw that idea out the window…literally and figuratively. 🙂

  • That is definitely way too much car! If it’s going to take 6.5 years to pay it off and at $480 per month it isn’t worth it. To me it sounds like wanting “more car” but can’t afford it so spreading it out over more years made it possible.

    • John says:

      You’re exactly right John. At those numbers you’re looking at $36,000 over the life of the loan. People are just buying too much car.

  • Mackenzie says:

    97 months is just beyond ridiculous for a car loan. I had no idea they even offered those!

  • That is one long car loan. I have had car loans and don’t consider them bad. The car is an investment in my earning potential and that is how I see it. I would never want a loan for that long of a period. I know they are doing to catch lower end buyers that can keep the payment down. Most people only see the monthly payment, not the duration.

  • anna says:

    My first and only car loan took 3 years, and even then I was starting to get resentful about its length… 97 months is crazy. That’s like the time length of going to undergrad AND getting a Ph.D., except all you get at the end is that you need to buy a new car. I look forward to these posts, it’s a great idea!

  • Sicorra says:

    We’ve been noticing 7 and 8 year loans for new cars here as well. And many of them are at 0% interest which usually means that the financing cost is built in there somewhere. Seems crazy but that is how dealerships entice people who normally couldn’t afford a new car to buy one.
    I have had car loans in the past as well but the monthly payments were very low. For me anything over $350 a month would be too high.

    • John says:

      That’s a great point Sicorra and I agree that the financing is likely built in there somewhere. We always kept our loan payments to $300 or less as that even felt too big for us.

  • Cat says:

    Wow..I cannot imagine taking out a loan for that long. I’ve actually paid out for my cars up front each time!

    • John says:

      I agree Cat. I did a double take when I first read the article. Financing your car purchase is one thing…do so for nearly a decade is a different thing altogether.

  • The longest I have ever had a car loan is 2 years. I suppose I could see making a case for a longer term, provided your plans were to pay it off well in advance. At least that way you would be able to take advantage of smaller monthly payments.

    • John says:

      Ours has been for four years, but paid it off in under three years. I think a big part of the issue is looking at the payment amount and not the purchase as a whole.

  • Justin says:

    People tend to focus on the payment without thinking of the overall costs. This is how they “get you”. Either way you’re paying the same amount for the car. The only thing that changes is how much interest you’re paying. The longer the term the more you pay, plan and simple.

  • For that long? Definitely. We are 100% with you there. The psychological aspect of having a loan to pay off for so long is quite taxing.

  • Wow, I’ve never seen a car loan for longer than 72 months. Thats just insane considering most people don’t keep their cars that long. My last car loan was for 60 months and once the novelty of having a new car wore off I realized I wanted to get the thing paid off ASAP and did so 2 years early.

    Unfortunately most people don’t know better and think a lower monthly payment = a better deal when in reality they’re paying a lot more over the life of the loan.

    • John says:

      You’re exactly right. It might sound good at first, but a quick run of the math will show that it’s not really a good deal. Sadly, many fail to see that.

  • cashrebel says:

    It seems like another way to suck unsophisticated buyers into buying too much of a depreciating asset. At least the subprime mortgage lenders were selling assets that will probably recover their value eventually … though they’re both slimy.

  • As crazy as longer term auto loans sound, I believe they are here to stay and will only get more common. Look at real estate. 15 and 20 year mortgages used to be common, but now 30 years is standard. Prices have risen so much more quickly over the last several decades than wages have, so longer terms have been needed to keep things affordable.

    • John says:

      I think you’re exactly right Edward and I failed to mention that. I think we’ll continue to see some sort of continuance of this longer term financing. It’s sad, but true.

  • Alexa says:

    Wow!! That is insane, a 97 month car loan? I got a 5 year loan for my last car and paid it off in 3 years. I hated having a car payment. That will was my first and will be my last car loan. I can’t imagine paying on a car for 8 years, especially $480.

    • John says:

      I agree Alexa, talk about stringing out the payments. You’re looking at $46k in payments over that time for something that may not even last that amount of time.

  • Omg, who knew you could even extend payments out that far? That’s insanity if you ask me. I did buy a new car once with cash (my first car), but wouldn’t buy another new car. A good used car is just fine for me.

  • Brian says:

    I’m against car loans in principle. It’s a debt that’s not useful and unless you’re paying 0% interest, just isn’t worth it in my opinion. Even if it’s 0%, you shouldn’t be paying more than a couple thousand that you don’t already have.

    • John says:

      I see your point, though for many having a car is a need. I would also argue that it’s not really useless if it’s allowing you to invest in your earning potential as Grayson said. The point is to not to be buying too much car, which is obviously the problem in this case.

  • Greg @ says:

    Wow, that is quite the loan term. I never thought I would buy a new car but with used cars holding better value and new car financing being pretty good, we did finance our last purchase. It is 36 months at 0.9%. I wouldn’t entertain the option for much higher interest (pretty sure I can make back 1% while the money is still in my possession).

    You are absolutely right about people buying too much car and, in my opinion, it is all about vanity. People need to get back to remembering that a car is just a way to get from here to there safely and reliably. Anything else added is just extra.

    • John says:

      That it is Greg. That’s something that many do fail to see or acknowledge. At the end of the day it’s about getting from Point A to Point B and much beyond that is really extra as you said.

  • Mr. 1500 says:

    We took out a 3 year loan. We had the cash to buy it, but they were offering 0 percent.

    In retrospect, I probably went wrong buying a new car, butI did try searching for a used one. I wanted a very specific car that really has no equal (Mazda 5) and finding a good used one was impossible.

    However, if I were to go back in time, I probably would have held out and kept searching for the used model. Or just quit the Mazda 5 search and looked for a more common model.

    • John says:

      We took a 4 year loan, but had it paid off in just under 3 years. We got a really good rate and was a large part of the reason why we did not wait.

      Yea, I have gone back and forth on buying the new car, though it worked out well for us and was not much more than the used cars we were looking at. In the grand scheme of things the extra we did spend was not much at all.

  • Mike Finley says:

    The allure of the new car can be eliminated once the individual stops correlating their self-image with the look of their car. Once a person pushes materialism and “stuff” out of their life, that “stuff” ceases to have the individual in their grasp. Focusing on who you are instead of what you drive will set a person FREE! Introspection and reflecting on what is really important in life will help a person follow the right path while avoiding the wrong one. It really is that simple.

  • That loan is too long. I wouldn’t recommend that as well. Any car loan for that matter because the value quickly depreciates. About the history quotes, I heard something like “history will keep on repeating itself until you learn from it.” Much simpler if you ask me. 😉

  • This level of financing scares me. I believe I received a 5/6 year car loan from a credit union for about 3% APR. That was a steal compared to Wells Fargo and other major banks. Can’t imagine going with one of them on a 97-month car loan!!!

  • Caroline says:

    I really appreciate this thread and everyone’s comments! 97 months does sound like an eternity… Wow! I’m 30 and at 23 financed my very first (lightly used) car over 72 months. at the time a “good” rate was 5%! I never thought anything of it… Maybe being young and relatively uninformed financially? I paid the car off about a year early with tax refund money and it was spectacular. Right now, I’m purchasing my first new NEW car and financing over 72 months. I plan to pay it off a year or so early, as well, but the payment at 72 months is what works best for me here. I think it’s hard to say what the right and wrong way to buy a car is. There are so many factors to consider. Age, experience, influences (for example, I was brought up thinking leasing cars is a rip, so I won’t do it)… In the end we all know our purses and what we can make work with our budgets but I too stand firm that 97 months to pay for even a new car is a little ridiculous! Of course I have cold feet and easily second guess myself before this huge purchase but again… This payment works for me now and I know I’ll pay it off early.

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