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Buying a Car on Craigslist: What to Watch Out For

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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Few of us consider buying a used car as a fun experience. It can mean countless hours visiting car dealers or combing through used car ads from private sellers on websites like Craigslist. Buying a car on Craigslist isn’t a bad thing — you’ll typically get a lower price from a private seller than you would at the dealer. But you also have to be on your toes for possible scams. Here’s what you need to know when looking to buy a used car on Craigslist.

Things to be wary of in Craigslist used car ads

As you look for vehicles, it’s important to understand that Craigslist is simply a place for private sellers and car dealers to list vehicles. There are no guarantees that you’ll be dealing with reputable people, and Craigslist doesn’t offer buyer protections. You could check the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker, which tracks all types of scams, including those involving auto sales. Here are a few red flags that should warn you away from a seller:

You can’t get a vehicle history report. When answering a car dealer ad, it’s important to find out if you can pull a vehicle history report, according to Justin Osburn, a consultant with the National Independent Automobile Dealers Association (NIADA) — Carfax is one popular website offering such reports.

“The dealer should email it to you,” Osburn said. “And if you’re working with a private seller, they should provide you with a vehicle identification number (VIN). If they won’t give you this number, it’s a red flag.” For more, check out our used car checklist.

There aren’t any available pictures. “If there aren’t images, what are they hiding?” said Geoff Cudd, whose years of experience buying cars led him to found the education website Find the Best Car Price. He warns that a lack of pictures — or the use of only stock images — could mean problems down the road.

Too-good-to-be-true pricing. Osburn noted that sometimes used car dealers list a price that seems very low, and when you show up, you find out that it’s just the down payment. “We all have a sense [when] something’s off,” he said. “Pay attention to that.”

Dealer invoice or MSRP. According to Cudd, these phrases relate to buying a new car — so if you’re in the market for a used car, listings that include these terms probably aren’t going to fit the bill.

Seller asks to be paid by wire transfer. When a seller asks to be paid by wire transfer, that should set off alarm bells — especially if they want a portion of the money before they’ll meet you. They could easily take the money and leave you with nothing.

While combing through Craigslist, focus on listings with authentic images, and specific details about the car. You want to verify as much as possible ahead of time.

Tips for communicating with a Craigslist car seller

“You really don’t know what you’re getting with a private seller on Craigslist,” Cudd said. “You want to make sure you’re clear in your communication.” He also recommended starting out by using the seller’s preferred method of communication. Here are some of his other tips for communicating with a Craigslist car seller:

Communicate in writing when possible. Messages via email can be a good way to make sure that you understand what you’re getting. It’s easy to forget things or misunderstand what a seller says. However, when you communicate over email, you can refer back to information and terms.

Be polite and ask questions. Whether you’re on the phone or communicating over email, it’s important to be polite and ask questions. Keep communication professional and don’t be afraid to ask questions — you want to get all the information possible before making a transaction.

Find out why they want to sell the car. One of the best things you can do is ask why they want to sell the car. The answer can be instructive — and may even throw up a red flag.

Be sure to follow up quickly as needed. A truly good deal can be gone fast on Craigslist, so if you find something that looks promising, call or email as soon as possible.

Researching a car for sale on Craigslist

When you research a car for sale on Craigslist, you need to do more of the legwork. At a dealership, you have the ability to ask for a vehicle history report and see the cars immediately. When buying a new car, you have the posted price to start from. But with a private seller on Craigslist, you may or may not know the asking price or the vehicle’s history right away.

As you research a car on Craigslist, there some things to pay special attention to, according to Osburn:

Ask for the VIN and pull a vehicle history report on your own. For a fee, you can check out a car’s history through the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System or sites like Carfax or AutoCheck. “It’s worth getting this information so you’re aware of any problems,” said Osburn. “You might even be able to see service records and find out how well the car has been taken care of.”

Check for a “branded” or “salvage” car title. At a dealership, you can be fairly certain you’re working with a clean title. However, when you buy from a private seller, that might not be the case. Osburn advised to watch out for a “branded” or “salvage” title, words that indicate a car might have been totaled, or written off, in the past. “These cars should be worth less because of this situation and some sellers will try to hide that.”

Have the seller show you the title. Another problem, according to Osburn, is that some buyers don’t register the cars they bought. “It might have been a cash deal and the seller didn’t bother to go through the hassle of registration,” he points out. “However, you can’t register the car with the state if you don’t get the sign off of the person on the title.” Make sure the name on the title matches the name of the person selling the car.

Take the car to a mechanic. If you’re buying from a dealer that sells “certified pre-owned” or has some other guarantee, it might not be as important to take the car to a mechanic. However, when you work with a private seller, it’s vital to have the car checked out before you hand over your money. “Many mechanics will review the major components for a small price,” said Osburn. “They’re invested in doing a good job and maybe earning your service, and they can help you be reasonably confident you’re not getting a lemon.”

Research the price. Whether you buy from a dealer or a private seller, get an idea of the value of the car ahead of time. Use a website like Edmunds or Kelley Blue Book to enter car details and see what price range you can expect. This will help you decide how to proceed when you negotiate a final purchase price.

It’s also important to remember that sometimes used-car dealers post listings on Craigslist, points out Osburn. “Most dealers identify themselves in the ad,” he said. “Do a quick Google search to find reviews. You can find out a lot by the reviews and experiences of others.”

How to close the deal on a Craigslist car

Now that you’ve done your research, you know which car you want and you’re ready to complete a deal, it’s important to make sure you’re safe. You don’t want to get scammed — so as Cudd suggested, on the day of the deal, you should take the following precautions:

Don’t tell the seller you’re bringing cash. While robbery is rare, Cudd noted, the reality is that you don’t want to advertise that you’re showing up with thousands in cash. “You can also bring a cashier’s check, or use a service like to help you protect your money.”

Bring a friend. Rather than meeting someone alone, it’s a good idea to bring someone with you — especially if you’re a woman. “You’re more likely to be physically safe with a friend for backup,” said Cudd. “Plus the seller is less likely to try to pull one over on you when there’s another set of eyes.”

Meet in a public location during daylight hours. A public location offers you visibility, as does meeting in daylight. Additionally, you can see the car clearly during the day. You’ll want to go over the car carefully before handing over the cash.

Go for a test drive. See how the car drives on local roads and highways. You can also use this time to take the car to a mechanic for an inspection.

Get a bill of sale. Don’t just hand over the money and drive away — you’ll want proper paperwork for the state you’re in. “You can find sample bills of sale online,” said Cudd. “Bring one that can be filled out, just in case the seller isn’t prepared.”

Cudd also suggests asking to see a driver’s license so you can verify that the name on the title matches the name of the seller.

“Don’t be afraid to walk away if you don’t feel comfortable,” said Cudd. “If things aren’t going the way you planned, or if you think you might be getting scammed, just leave.”

Alternatives to buying a car on Craigslist

Your choices aren’t limited to a dealership or to buying a car on Craigslist, though. You can also find good used cars by looking on Facebook’s local marketplace. In many places, it’s still possible to see cars with posted “for sale” signs parked around town.

There are also many websites that specialize in used cars., Autotrader, TrueCar, and eBay Motors are all good places to start, Cudd suggested. Most of these sites offer listings that include some sort of payment and buyer protection that can help you avoid scams.

The bottom line

“For the most part, Craigslist can be a fine place to locate a used car to buy,” said Osburn. “Just be careful.”

Anytime you look for a car, it’s a good idea to shop around and compare prices — as well as used auto loan options.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Miranda Marquit
Miranda Marquit |

Miranda Marquit is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Miranda here


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How Much Does a Tesla Cost?

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Tesla Roadster

Teslas are the newest, spiffiest electric vehicles on the block. The first models were priced as luxury vehicles, but Elon Musk promised to make an EV affordable for most Americans by rolling out the Model 3 at an advertised price below $35,000. There is more to the price, however, as we’ll explain.

Musk’s fancier models will cost you a pretty penny — up to $250,000 — along with Tesla’s upgrades. Availability and price depend on the model and the trim you choose. For the whole picture, keep reading.

How much does each new Tesla model cost?

In order of price, Tesla offers five consumer car models: 3, S, X, Y and the upcoming second-generation Roadster, which you can reserve now. It speaks to company founder Elon Musk’s sense of humor that if you put the first models in the order they were produced you get “S3XY.”

*It’s important to note that the advertised prices don’t include a $1,200 destination and document fee, and they do include a $1,875 federal tax incentive and an estimated savings in gas over six years. Neither price includes taxes or registration fees.

What about the tax credit?

Time ran out on the full $7,500 federal tax credit that was available to the first 200,000 new Tesla owners. Customers who have their Teslas delivered from July 1 to Dec, 31, 2019 get a fourth of the tax credit amount, $1,875.  In 2020, there is no scheduled tax credit.

The good news? There are state tax credits you may be able to use for your new Tesla. The following states and Washington D.C. offer incentives like tax credits, tax exemptions and reduced rates for EV charging: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

How much does a Model 3 cost?

The Model 3 is Tesla’s least expensive car. You may be able to drive away in one for a minimum of $41,100. If that amount surprises you, then you know the Model 3 is often highlighted as costing less than $35,000. So why the discrepancy?

The quoted $33,725 price tag is after estimated savings, including the $1,875 tax credit and the fuel savings you would have over six years if you owned a gasoline-powered car. Add those back in and you get to the sticker price of $39,900. Then, tack on Tesla’s standard $1,200 delivery and document fee to get a price of $41,100, not including tax and registration fees.

How much does a Model S cost?

The sticker price for the Standard Range AWD of a Model S is $75,000. For a greater driving range by about 76 miles, the Long Range AWD trim comes in at a $85,000 sticker price. And for a greater performance, the Performance AWD goes from zero to 60 in 2.5 seconds, a 64% faster acceleration for $11,000 more than the Long Range AWD.

How much does a Model X cost?

While models 3 and S are sedans, the Model X is an SUV crossover with optional third-row seating. The lowest trim, the Standard Range AWD, has an $81,000 sticker price. The next trim up, the Long Range AWD has a sticker price of $91,000 and will get you 58 miles more in driving range. The top trim Performance AWD for $102,000 will get you from zero to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds, instead of 4.7 seconds that the Long Range AWD achieves.

How much does a Model Y cost?

A smaller crossover than Model X, Model Y doesn’t have a Standard Range option. Its least expensive trim is the Long Range at a price of $48,000. The Long Range AWD is $52,000 and the Performance AWD is $61,000.

How much does a Tesla Roadster cost?

The most expensive Tesla model is the second-generation Roadster. A Founders Series Roadster is $250,000; although you could get a base Roadster for $200,000. Given the $50,000 price difference between the Founders Series Roadster and the base Roadster, which is enough to buy a whole other Tesla, the Founders Series Roadster has got to offer something special — and it does. You can go from zero to 60 in 1.9 seconds and from zero to 100 in 4.2 seconds, which is pretty dang quick acceleration.

Can you negotiate?

Most car brands let you negotiate on prices. We even wrote about how to negotiate a car price. With Tesla, however, there is no price negotiation. James Wolf, a senior engineer at LendingTree, the parent company of MagnifyMoney, bought his Model 3 in October 2018. He explained, “There is no negotiation when it comes to the price, only your options [can] adjust the price.”

There are no back-and-forth, tit for tat price negotiations on a new Tesla. The price is the price, take it or leave it. The only negotiation on a new Tesla is the one you may have with yourself and your budget: there are plenty of drool-worthy option upgrades, the cheapest of which adds a cool $1,000 to the price tag. More on that later.

Tesla fees and options

As with any car purchase, there will be unavoidable fees and some enticing options you could add to the vehicle. Both will increase the final price.

Can you avoid the destination and document fees?
No. Of the $1,200 fee, $1,000 is the delivery fee, which is charged in the U.S. and Canada regardless of delivery method or location, even if you pick it up hot from the factory floor. Why? It’s government-mandated. The delivery fee, also known as the destination charge, has to be separate from the MSRP and clearly disclosed. The remaining $200 is the document fee.

How much do options cost?
The least expensive upgrade is getting a black and white interior in a Model 3, rather than the all black. The most expensive is adding autopilot after you buy the car for $7,000, instead of ordering it for $5,000 when you get the car new.

**For Models S and X the interior options of Black and White, and Cream are available for purchase on the two lower trims only. The Black and White option is available for no up-charge on the top trim, but the Cream is not available on the top trim.

How much is tax?

Property tax. Vehicle property tax depends on your state and your county or city of residence. It varies pretty wildly, so check your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles website for more information.

Sales tax. If you’re lucky enough to live in state without sales tax (Alaska, Delaware, Montana, Oregon, New Hampshire), you may not have to pay taxes on the car’s purchase.

For the rest of the country, state sales tax applies. You may also have local sales taxes to contend with. The highest average combined state and local sales tax rate is in Tennessee at 9.46% as of July 2018. The lowest is Alaska at 1.43%. And the average in California is 8.55%.

Is tax included in the final amount I pay for the Tesla? If you live in a state where Tesla has a sales license, the applicable taxes you’ll have to pay will be included in your total. If you live in a state where Tesla does not have a sales license, taxes will not be included in the total, but you will have to pay them when you register the car in your state.

Do I have to pay California sales tax? If you pick the car up in California and you live in a different state where Tesla does not have a sales license, Tesla, by law, has to charge California sales tax. For further information on this, see a tax professional or talk to a Tesla representative.

Where does Tesla have a sales license? Tesla has a sales license to directly sell vehicles in about half of U.S. states. Different states have different automotive sales laws. You could see a thread on the Tesla Motors Club website with a map on Tesla sales licensure.

Financing a Tesla

If you’re not paying cash, you may be able to get a loan through Tesla or another lender. It does not hurt your credit to apply to multiple lenders any more than it does to apply to one lender, as long as you do so within a 14-day window. It’s always good idea to shop around for a car loan just as you would for the car itself — only talking to one lender is one of the common mistakes people make when they need an auto loan.

Tesla financing and leasing. Once you create a Tesla account, which you may do here, you can submit a credit application online and hear back from Tesla within 48 hours. Tesla financing is only available in these states: California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington.

Financing with your own lender. If you have your own lender, you’ll need to provide the name of the lender, the exact dollar amount of the loan and the lender’s address and phone number to Tesla. In turn, the lender will want the VIN, which you can find in your Tesla account.

How much does a used Tesla cost?

Despite it being a relatively new car company, there are used Teslas available for sale. Some models are almost 10 years old, as the first generation Roadster came out in 2008. It’s these older models that are the least expensive Teslas you’ll find, priced in the upper $30,000 range. Tesla itself offers used models that passed a rigorous inspection and come with a warranty. You can also find used Teslas for sale off third-party car buying sites, such as AutoTempest and CarGurus.

Because they are used, you won’t have to pay the $1,000 destination fee, which only applies to new cars; unless, of course, you’re getting the car shipped to you specially. If you buy the car from a dealership rather than a private person, you will still face all of the typical dealer fees. And no matter how you buy the car, you’ll need to pay the appropriate taxes.

The bottom line

The least expensive new Tesla will cost you $41,100 before taxes and before any available tax credits. You can’t negotiate on the price of a Tesla, but you can pick and choose options that suit you. If you’d like to see what else is out there without leaving your couch, you could look at the best online car buying sites for 2018.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Jenn Jones
Jenn Jones |

Jenn Jones is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jenn at [email protected]


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Ally Bank Auto Loan Review

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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Ally Bank is one of the most popular online banks, thanks to its sky-high deposit rates. But it is more than a place to keep your money. The bank also offers loans, including auto financing, though most car buyers will only be able to apply through a dealership. Are Ally’s lending terms as impressive as its deposit accounts? This review will cover all the key details along with how to apply with Ally Bank.

About Ally Bank

Ally Financial Inc. is one of the largest automotive lenders in the country. Even though its bank is only 10 years old, its history in auto financing goes back a century thanks to its General Motors Acceptance Corp. roots. GMAC was the financing arm of General Motors from the early 1900s leading up to the financial crisis. In 2009, it switched from an industrial loan company into a bank holding company and changed its name to Ally. To this day, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler dealers make up a little more than half of Ally’s auto finance business.

Ally offers loans and leases for both new and used vehicles. However, you don’t apply with Ally directly for auto financing. Instead, you need to visit a local dealership that works with Ally and apply through them.

You can apply for a loan through Clearlane, a subsidiary of Ally. Clearlane does not actually set up auto financing itself but generates offers from lenders from which you can choose. Through Clearlane, you can refinance an existing auto loan or set up a lease buyout if you’re interested in buying a vehicle you’re currently leasing. However, Clearlane doesn’t offer new loans or leases.

Ally Bank auto financing: At a glance

  • APRs: Not listed on either website since rates depend on the dealer or the marketplace lender.
  • Terms available: Up to 75 months for Ally retail loans. For Clearlane, terms depend on which lender you qualify with.
  • Amounts financed: Not listed
  • Minimum credit score required: Not listed, though Ally notes it has products for both prime and non-prime applicants. The average FICO Score is 689, squarely in “good” credit territory.

Neither Ally Bank nor Clearlane offer many specifics online about their auto loans. Your actual loan terms will depend on the dealership you apply for Ally or the lenders who make you an offer through the Clearlane marketplace.

How Ally Bank auto financing works

To apply for Ally auto financing, you first need to find a participating dealership. On the Ally website, you can enter your location and the type of car you’d like to buy/lease, then Ally will give you the names and addresses of nearby dealers that offer its products. You can then decide on the vehicle you’d like to buy and apply for your loan/lease.

The exact application process and requirements will depend on the dealer but expect to submit the typical documents for an auto loan, including:

  • Proof of identity: Driver’s license, a state ID or passport
  • Proof of income: Pay stub or W-2 form
  • Proof of residence: A recent bill, bank statement, mortgage/lease statement or other addressed mail
  • Banking and credit history: The dealer could ask about your current financial situation, including what kind of debt you owe and how much you have in savings and investments.

As part of the application, the dealer could pull up your credit report through a hard inquiry. Since the dealership is setting up your financing, there is no guarantee that it will recommend an Ally loan, especially if the dealer finds a better option.

Ally even suggests that you shop around before visiting a dealership as it acknowledges the benefit of comparing multiple lenders ahead of time.

How Clearlane auto financing works

With Clearlane, you start the application either online or by calling one of its representatives. They’ll first ask whether you want to refinance your existing loan or to buy your leased vehicle.

From there, the preapproval application will ask for the details about your existing vehicle (type and mileage), the amount you’d like to borrow, your contact information, income and whether you own or rent your home.

With this basic information, Clearlane will research lenders willing to make you an offer. You do not need to submit your Social Security number, which means Clearlane will not do a hard pull on your credit during this preapproval process.

If you receive an offer that you like, you can formally apply with the actual lender and it will pull your credit. The lender will also ask for the loan documents like proof of income, address and identity. The actual requirements will depend on the lender.

Ally Bank auto financing products

Traditional retail financing – For regular auto loans, Ally offers financing for both new and used vehicles as well as certified pre-owned vehicles that are up to 10 model years old and have no more than 120,000 miles. Ally’s loans also offer specialty vehicle financing to help cover special needs like wheelchair lifts and right-hand drive capability.

SmartLease® – Ally also offers leasing for both new and used vehicles but only certain types of used vehicles from a list of approved models found here.

Clearlane auto financing products

Clearlane refinance – Under the refinance program, you could replace your existing car loan with a new one that potentially has a lower APR and monthly payment. According to Clearlane, its average monthly payment savings for refinance customers is $107/month.

Clearlane lease buyout – With the lease buyout program, you replace your vehicle lease with an auto loan so you can eventually own the vehicle outright.

Clearlane publishes little information about its auto financing products, as it is a marketplace. Vehicle restrictions, terms, payment option and interest rate will all depend on the lender with which you’re matched.

What we like about Ally Bank auto loans

  • Marketplace system lets you pick the best offer: With Clearlane, it uses your application to track down offers from a list of lenders nationwide — you can pick the one you like best.
  • Convenient mobile access: Ally has developed a mobile app that you can use to schedule loan payments, track how much you still owe and check your FICO credit score, free.
  • No hard pull for Clearlane: You can receive initial loans offers through Clearlane without a hard pull of your credit report, which knocks points off your score. You only need to go through a hard pull if you accept an offer from a lender.

What we don’t like about Ally Bank auto loans

  • Few specifics available online – Both Ally and Clearlane have bare-bones websites that do not cover many details about their loans. You essentially need to apply to learn what you can receive.
  • Terms determined by the lender/dealership: The actual terms of your auto financing will depend on what you qualify for with the dealer or lender.
  • No face-to-face support: While Ally offers phone and online customer service, you can’t get help face-to-face.
  • No specialty vehicle financing: Ally Bank only offers regular auto loans. They don’t provide financing for motorcycles or RVs.

Who Ally Bank auto financing is best for

You may encounter an offer from Ally, especially if you buy your next car through General Motors or Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. You may seek out a loan directly through Clearlane if you’re interested in refinancing your current auto loan or buying a car you’re leasing.

With Ally, you need to apply for financing through one of its approved dealerships where the dealer may end up recommending another lender if the terms seem better. This can put you at a negotiating disadvantage — it’s always a good idea to walk into the dealership with your own preapproved auto loan. If the dealer can beat with an Ally loan or other offer, great, you’ll know you’re getting the best deal.

While Clearlane lets you compare offers, it only works for refinancing existing loans and lease buybacks.

Alternatives to Ally Bank

To research your options even further, you could compare Ally’s rates with those from other lenders offering new and used auto loans. Some of the lowest rates can be found at credit unions, and membership might be easier than you think

There are also several other high-quality auto refinance marketplaces besides Clearlane. If you’ve got an existing auto loan and want better terms, rateGenius is another marketplace that focuses only on loan refinances.

LendingTree, AUTOPAY and iLendingDIRECT are three companies where you can apply online and receive preapproval on quotes for auto loans and loan refinancing. (Note: LendingTree is the parent company of MagnifyMoney.) Whichever marketplace you use, collecting more quotes ahead of time now will help you qualify for better terms on your future auto financing.

The information in this article is accurate as of the date of publishing. 

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

David Rodeck
David Rodeck |

David Rodeck is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email David here