Truly, No Hassles

My wife and I just bought our very first minivan. We were previously the proud owners (sarcasm) of a 2002 Kia Spectra from Kia Motors America, Inc. (Other OTC: KIMTF). It was a good little car and got us where we needed to go, but with three children now it has been… well… a bit cramped.

Through a friend, my wife found a very good used car dealer who is fair and honest and actually works for YOU. At the time we were looking he had two minivans available: a 2005 Chrysler Town and Country and a 2004 Dodge Grand Caravan. Both vehicles are from the DaimlerChrysler group (Public, NYSE: DCX). The dealer is East Hill Motors, 3400 N. 12th Ave., Pensacola, FL 32503, (850)432-2072. If you are in Pensacola, FL and looking for a used car definitely give this man a call. He will find you a GREAT deal and will NOT rip you off.

(Advertising over) Well, he said we could come by and drive the vehicles anytime we wanted… so we did. We arranged to go down there and we took the whole family with us. I’m talking about all three kids, including a seven year old princess, a four year old karate superhero and a 10 month old little queen. (BTW you can go here to check out photos of my kids). I highly suggest taking the whole family if you are shopping for a family vehicle. This will give a good sense for how well the vehicle will fit your family. After all, to test drive it you are going to have to get your kids in the vehicle and get them all secured in their seats. If you have smaller children that need restraints then you’ll have to take your car seat(s) (or booster) along with you which will give you a good idea of how easy or hard it will be to install the seat into the vehicle. And if you have a stroller that you regularly lug along with you… take it too! This will let you know how much room you will have left over after storing it.

Both vehicles were very nice, but the Dodge Grand Caravan had slightly fewer miles and more features that were suited to our particular needs. The dealer offered a very fair trade-in for our vehicle, which we were upside-down on in payments. Now that we had found our perfect minivan all we needed was financing, right?

This is where the picture gets, well.. not so perfect. Let me start with some history. It all goes back to college (Go Seminoles!). Everything does, right? Neither my wife or I come from wealthy families so both of us had to fund our higher educations ourselves. This included a mixture of scholarships, government grants and financial aid, student loans and good ole fashioned work. Of course we also depended a little on the C word… credit(shiver). So this started our life-long trip down credit-lane or shall I say in-debt lane. Now we are slaves to the likes of Sallie Mae (Public, NYSE: SLM), Discover Card, Citibank (NYSE: C), Bank of America (NYSE: BAC), WAMU (Public, NYSE: WM) and Capital One (Public, NYSE: COF). This is why we’ve been driving a Kia Spectra for ten months with three children; our credit score. A little number that judges us. A number called a credit score and also sometimes called a FICO score.

Well, for years my family, starting with my grandfather, have been members of Gulf Winds Federal Credit Union (previously Monsanto Employees Credit Union). Credit unions are family oriented ventures that look out for their members… right? WRONG! I talked to one of the loan officers with my life long credit union (I’ve held an account since I was twelve) and they were very polite and very helpful and very kindly told me, “no.” I can understand that our credit left something to be desired, but I’ve held a job with a company for seven years, we’ve lived in the same house for six years (though we do rent) and I’ve been a member for so long. Not to mention all the family members that are also members of the credit union. None of that mattered though. The only thing they cared about was that single little number.

Needless to say my wife was crushed; and I was extremely irritable to say the least. After fuming about it for about half an hour I decided that I needed a second opinion; after all one more “hit” on my credit portfolio wouldn’t make much of a difference at this point, right? So I did what any computer/web savvy guy did… I logged onto LendingTree.com. LendingTree is part of IAC Financial Services and Real Estate, an operating company of IAC (Nasdaq: IACI). It was the first time that I’ve ever done anything on LendingTree though I’ve known about the business for quite some time. The data entry was very quick and painless. I was informed that I would be notified of any offers and/or decisions soon. Ok. I guess it’s just a waiting game now. Well, not for long. I got the first two offers within ten minutes. Wow! That was fast. The first two were for the exact amount I had asked for. While I perused the respective offers the second two came in for twice the amount I asked for but for a significant increase in the percentage rate. No thanks.

Long story short (don’t you just love that saying? It usually means that I’ve gone on for an extremely long time and it’ll probably only get worse). I went with the first offer, which happened to be Capital One Auto Finance. They offered the exact amount that I had asked for and had the lowest interest rate of all four offers that I had received. So far this had been a much easier experience than with the credit union. Not only did I have banks “competing for my business” as the slogan goes, but I didn’t have to leave the comfort of my home to do it.

Wait a minute… DOH! While in a hurry calculating the amount of the car minus the amount of the trade-in and the amount of the buy out for the loan I made a two thousand dollar mistake. I had applied for too little. Man! I remembered Capital One had sent me a nice email with a link to their website which I could login to with my loan information, which I did. The site was very well laid out and all the information was right there. You could even request an extension on the check, that had already been printed and was being sent in the mail. Apparently they send you a blank check that is approved up to the amount you qualify for and you just fill it out for the amount you want to borrow. Easy. The only problem was I didn’t see any method for requesting additional funds. I did see a customer support phone number though. So I pick up the telephone and call them. After the usual key pressing and para espaniol I was connected to a real person and posed the predicament under which a found myself. The response: How much do you need? Ummm… what? Hello? Have you seen my credit score? They asked how much more I needed and just had that amount applied to the check that was already in the mail. Thank you very much and good day!

My wife and I were ecstatic and the kind sir at East Hill Motors let us take home our new Dodge Grand Caravan before the check even arrived. Five business days later the check came in the mail as promised and we took it down to the dealership and signed it over. Done. Next. Now that is truly no hassles.

So in retrospect I find myself wondering, why do I even have an account at the good ole credit union? The annual percentage rate on my regular share account (savings account) is 1.51%. The average rate of inflation for this year (2007) has been between 2.0% and 2.4% (http://www.bls.gov/bls/inflation.htm). That combined with the fact that they are unwilling to look beyond my credit blemishes to see the family person that I am who is currently on track for mending his credit and doing things the right way leads me to believe that I will probably be closing that account in the very near future. There are some very good online alternatives for savings accounts with high interest rates ranging from 4.5% to 5.5%. I just googled “high interest savings” and got quite a number of search results that look promising.

So there you have it. East Hill Motors in Pensacola, FL is truly a No Hassles used car dealer and Capital One Auto Finance is truly a No Hassles auto financing solution.