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Looking for a new set of wheels? Here’s our guide on how to finance a car

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***Original post published on Digital Trends***

Thinking about getting a sweet new ride lately? You aren’t alone. The automobile industry in America had its biggest sales year in history during 2016, delivering around 17.55 million new cars and trucks. The previous high water mark was set back in 2007, just before the bottom fell out of the housing market and took the rest of the economy with it. After slumping along for years, the industry is back and sales are positively booming.

Some of the reasons for the boom are pretty easy to identify, like a recovering economy, low gas prices, and a whole lot of pent-up demand as people finally replace the old cars they’ve been nursing through the recession. But the biggest hidden factor? Confidence. People who are pretty sure that they will have a job going forward are willing to take on some debt to get a new car.

People who aren’t sure tend to put off big purchases. Right now we’re pretty confident, at least on average. If you’re one of the 17.55 million people with your head held high who are thinking about some new (or new to you) wheels, you have some homework to do, but don’t worry, we’re here to help. Here’s our guide on how to finance a car.

Unless you’re doing well enough to pay cash for the new car of your choice, you’re going to be financing the purchase. To get the best possible deal, you need to shop for money just as carefully as you shop for your new car. That means evaluating the specifications, looking at your comfort level, and really just figuring out what you can afford. Like any sales process, there are many companies competing for your business and they stand to make a lot of money from your decision. It’s important to read the fine print and run the numbers to make sure you’re getting the best deal. Say it again with me, now, “Run the numbers.”

Does This Deal Pencil Out?

Car dealers and finance companies throw a lot of numbers at you. Maybe they ask how much you’d like your monthly payment to be? That makes sense because most of us live on a budget, and a lower payment means more money for other things. Sometimes they’ll pitch you on a low interest rate, or cash back, or something else. Here’s a good rule to remember — car dealers and finance companies need to make money on every sale, and they will never offer you a deal where they don’t make money. If they don’t make money on the interest rate, they’ll make money on the purchase price. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s up to you to figure out the details.

Car dealers and finance companies need to make money on every sale, and they will never offer you a deal where they don’t make money.

If you assume that the purchase price of the car is fixed, you can get a lower monthly payment by extending the term of your loan. You’ll pay less every month on a six-year loan than if you pay the same amount back in just three years. But if you total it all up, you’ll pay more overall for the longer loan. Don’t worry about your math skills. There are calculators online to help you with the arithmetic. Wallethub.com has a good one here.

For example, if you borrow $32,000 for three years at three-percent interest, you’ll make 36 monthly payments of $931. At the end of three years, you will have paid $1,502 in interest and a total of $33,502 for your car. But if you take the same loan and pay it off over six years, you’ll make 72 monthly payments of $486. At the end of six years, you will have paid $3,006 in interest, and a total of $35,006 for your car.

There’s no right answer to which loan you should pick. Monthly payment amounts are important, and maybe $1,500 extra interest dollars over the next six years is no big deal. The important thing is that you should run the numbers on every competing finance offer so that you know what you’re signing. The variables are always the same — the purchase price, the interest rate, and the length of the loan.

Before we go on, what about the so-called “zero-percent” loans you see?  Let’s be real — no one is going to give you money for free. The profit on that deal is baked into the price of the vehicle rather than in your interest rate.

Where To Get The Best Loan, and Where to Avoid

Even though you’re going to run the numbers on any loan you consider, there are a few handy rules you can use to narrow down your choices. According to the 2016 Auto Financing Report from Wallethub, the best sources for financing are the automakers themselves or your credit union. The reasons are simple. The automakers really need to sell you a car, so they have a strong incentive to give you a good loan because they make their money on the car’s purchase price. Your credit union knows you’re good for the money and has lower costs, so they can offer you a good deal, too.

Dealership

If you can’t get money from either of those sources, your next-best bet is a big national bank, but these are a distant second. Jill Gonzalez, an analyst at Wallethub, told Digital Trends that loans from automakers run about 33 percent below national average interest rates, and that credit union loans run about 32 percent below average. In comparison, national banks run about two percent below the average, and regional banks run a whopping 33 percent above average.

Gonzalez also has some advice about places to avoid.

“Consumers should stay clear from community and small banks, which have the highest loan interest rates for used cars,” she says.

Here’s a final tip — if you walk into a dealership with your credit union financing already approved and understood, you have a much stronger negotiating position on purchase price because there are fewer variables on the table.

The Dreaded Credit Score

Ok, here’s where it gets nasty. Every adult in America has a credit score, and your credit score more or less dictates how much interest you have to pay on any given loan. Because a lower credit score means a bigger chance that you won’t be able to pay back the loan, lenders charge a higher rate to cover that risk. But here’s the thing — different lenders have very different loan options for people with less-than-excellent credit, so if you’ve got a few financial skeletons in the closet, running the numbers on every potential loan becomes even more important.

Gonzalez has some advice for people who are still restoring their credit after the recession.

Use common sense. No one is going to give you money for free.

“The best option is to build or rebuild their credit score as much as they can before buying a car. The average interest rate for buyers with excellent credit has fallen nearly 32 percent since the beginning of 2014. Overall, buyers who have fair credit will end up spending about six times more to finance a vehicle than someone with excellent credit, which equates to $6,176 in additional interest payments over the life of a $20,000, five-year loan,” she tells Digital Trends.

Credit scores are set in a range from 300 to 850, and they’re tracked by several corporations. A score of 300 means someone who is really in trouble. A score of 850 means you’re financially angelic. For reference, Wallethub says an excellent credit score in 2016 is considered to be more than 720. Wallethub says fair credit is about 620-659. But it’s important to note that different organizations draw the fair, good, and excellent lines in different places, and where they draw the lines can have a big impact on the rates they want from you. Credit scores aren’t always accurate, either, so it pays to check. Always run the numbers, starting with looking up your credit score from at least one service.

Will This Boom Last?

Everyone hopes the boom will last. Booms are fun and lots of people make money. But financiers are cold-eyed assessors of risk and reward, and they always look at the big picture.

“Auto loan debt is going to increase in the next couple of years as the economy is strengthening and pent-up demand is being met, but the high share of car loans from subprime borrowers might affect interest rates in the years to come,” Gonzalez says. “This is a cause for concern – America’s collective car debt has now reached $1.05 trillion, clearly proving that this is a trend based on low gas prices and low interest rates.”

So, if interest rates rise and the price of gas goes up, or if there’s a general stock market crash and consumer confidence is destroyed, things could change quite rapidly. That doesn’t mean you have to buy today, but rather that you should keep an eye on the market while you take your time and seek out the very best deals you can get. If consumer confidence crashes and sales collapse, that could lead to lower prices and lower rates as automakers scramble to sell cars. If gas prices stay low while the economy continues to grow, interest rates and sales prices could rise. You’d have better luck predicting spring weather, so concentrate on your own situation and get the best deal you possibly can.

Oh, and do be sure to run the numbers.

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***This post originally published on Digital Trends***

Digital Trends is a leading consumer technology publisher helping people navigate an increasingly digital world. With easy-to-understand product reviews, entertaining news and videos, Digital Trends serves more than 30 million unique visitors each month. Digital Trends reaches 90 million tech influencers through their own media network, and its syndicate partners include Yahoo!, FOX News and more than 200 broadcast news stations. Digital Trends is headquartered in Portland, OR with offices in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Chicago.

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For American astronauts, the moon beckons once again

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On the 45th anniversary of American astronauts’ last visit to the moon, President Trump signed a new directive to launch a plan to once again set foot on the lunar surface.

The signing of Space Policy Directive-1 at the White House on Monday, December 11 authorizes NASA to focus efforts on a moon landing, reinforcing a unanimous recommendation by the new National Space Council, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, in October 2017.

You may be asking, “So what happened to Mars?” after so much bold talk in recent years of manned missions to the red planet. Well, plans to embark on that ambitious journey certainly haven’t been abandoned, with the moon trip expected to lay the foundations for a future mission to the faraway planet.

“The directive I am signing today will refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery,” President Trump said on Monday. “It marks a first step in returning American astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972, for long-term exploration and use.”

Trump added, “This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprints — we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars, and perhaps someday, to many worlds beyond.”

Vice President Pence insisted America will “lead in space once again on all fronts,” adding, “Space is the ‘next great American frontier’ and it is our duty — and our destiny — to settle that frontier with American leadership, courage, and values.”

Despite the ambitious proclamations, details for the moon mission — or missions — are currently thin on the ground. It’s not yet clear what kind of funding NASA will receive, or whether it will partner with private outfits like SpaceX to expedite the plan. And there was no mention of a timeline for a manned mission to the moon, or indeed to Mars.

NASA nevertheless said it was looking forward to “supporting the president’s directive, strategically aligning our work to return humans to the moon, travel to Mars, and opening the deeper solar system beyond.”

Trump signed the directive in front of a small group of dignitaries, among them NASA astronauts Sen. Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, who landed on the moon 45 years to the minute that the policy directive was signed, Buzz Aldrin — the second human to set foot on the moon back in 1969, Peggy Whitson, the current holder of the record for the longest time (665 days) spent in space by a U.S. astronaut, and Christina Koch, a member of NASA’s astronaut class of 2013.

The White House directive intensifies a new space race between the U.S., China, and Japan to return humans to the moon. Both Asian countries in 2017 outlined separate plans for moon missions. Japan appears to be looking at 2030 for a trip to the lunar surface, while China has outlined plans for a mission soon after that. We’ll have to wait for more details from the U.S. government to find out if it has any hope of getting there sooner.

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***This post originally published on Digital Trends***

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How to change the background on a Mac

Digital Trends

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***Original post published on Digital Trends***

You’ve got a brand new MacBook or iMac, so it’s time to spruce up that desktop background with something other than the stock Apple photos.

The good news is that it’s not hard to change the background on your Mac computer. Whether you want to switch to a favorite new photo, put up a dazzling image you found online, or rotate between a collection of your favorite backgrounds, we can show you how to change the background on a Mac the easy way.

Changing your background to another image

Mac Background Finder

This option is for those of you who recently downloaded an image online or from a similar source and want to make it your background. It’s quick and simple, here’s how to get started:

Step 1: Exit out or downsize any windows on your screen so your Mac is focused on the desktop. In the upper left corner you will see the option to choose and open the Finder window. If you don’t already have a Finder window open, start one by choosing this option or using a keyboard shortcut.

Step 2: In the Finder window, search for the image that you want to use for your background. Make special note of what the image was called when you downloaded it, or just search your most recently downloaded images to find it. Make sure that it is the correct image. If you have saved the image to your desktop, the file icon should be visible out there as well, if you want to save a little time.

Step 3: Right click on the image to show the dropdown menu of everything you can do with it. Toward the bottom of this menu, you should see an option to Set Desktop Picture. Choose this, and this image should automatically be moved to your background. This gives you an opportunity to immediately see how it looks and if the resolution is acceptable.

Changing your background to a specific photo

Mac Background PhotoSuppose you have a specific photo that you or a friend took, that you want to use for your Mac background. Here’s how to do it quickly!

Step 1: Make sure the photo is imported into your Mac Photos app. This may have happened automatically, depending on how your devices are set up. Open your Photos app (you can find it in Applications in the menu bar) and find the photo that you want to use as a background.

Step 2: Right click the photo that you want to use, and select Share. This will create a secondary menu of the places you can share the photo, and at the bottom you will find an option to Set Desktop Picture. Choose this.

Note: Photos also makes it easy to assign photos to specific screens if you have multiple monitors. Just drag the Photos app window to the monitor that you want equip with that background as you are working.

Advanced option: Set your background to rotate images

Can you just not make up your mind about the best image to use? Do you have a lot of favorites and like to switch a lot? It’s easy to set your Mac up to automatically switch between images, although it takes a bit more work. Here’s how to do it.

Step 1: Using the Finder, create a new folder and call it something easy like “Background Images.” Copy all the images that you really want to use as backgrounds, and paste them into this folder. Add any new images or photos that you also want to use as backgrounds. Anything you want for your background needs to be in this folder.

Mac Background Rotate

Step 2: Head to the menu bar and open up System Preferences, which you can find under the Apple menu in the top left corner of the screen. Once there, look for the icon for Desktop & Screen Saver and open it up. Make sure you are on the desktop tab and not the screensaver tab.

Step 3: In the select-an-image menu on the left, you should see a small plus and minus sign at the bottom. Select the plus sign, which will allow you upload a folder from your Mac. Choose the folder where your images have been collected, and add it.

Step 4: At the bottom of the window you will see an option to Change picture. Make sure this option is checked and that your folder is the source selected. You can then choose how often you want the desktop background to change. Choose something that works for you – we like changing the image once a day so every morning is something different, but if you want more of a slideshow feel, you can cut that down by a lot. You can also choose whether pictures are chosen randomly from the folder, or if they change in order.

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***This post originally published on Digital Trends***

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Outfit the athlete in your life with one of the best gifts for runners

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***Original post published on Digital Trends***

Tis the season for hanging mistletoe, listening to holiday carols, and shopping ’til you drop. If you still have a runner on your list to find a gift for, you may be scrambling to try to track something down they’ll actually like. If you don’t run yourself, this daunting task is even harder — how are you supposed to know exactly what a runner wants for the holidays? You’re still trying to get your head around the fact people find it fun to jog in circles until they collapse.

Fear not, we’re here to help. We’ve rounded up the latest gadgets, coolest gear, and sleekest apparel in the running world to give you a hand with your shopping woes. Below, you’ll find the products we thought were the best gifts for runners this season. Whether they’re into trail running, road races, marathons, triathlons, or just jogging around the block, we found something for everyone.

best gifts for runners fuelbelt ultralight belt lifestyle

This amazing little hydration gadget has the ability to revolutionize anyone’s running game. The extremely lightweight belt features two ergonomically shaped plastic bottles which sit smoothly against the fabric and fit perfectly into the curve of their hand when they go to have a drink. With Helium Hex airflow, the water is easy to drink and its clip-lock security bottle holster keeps the dishwasher-safe bottles free from bouncing around during a run. Featuring a unisex design, its fits runners of any size.

Buy it now:

Amazon

best gifts for runners night trek shoe lights lifestyle

If the person you’re shopping for is someone who likes to run at night, these LED shoe lights will help keep them visible while also allowing them to avoid rocks, ruts, and sidewalk cracks. The water-resistant contraptions blast 150 lumens up to 30 or more feet ahead of the runner, offering light to illuminate whatever surface they’re jogging on. Rear-facing red tail lights also let drivers know where they’re at and the whole unit offers 270 degrees of visibility. The devices clip on securely, delivering three to five hours of light in one stretch of battery life.

Buy it now:

Amazon

best gifts for runners arc teryx norvan sl jacket lifestyle 1

This lightweight trail running jacket is constructed with ShakeDry, a type of Gore-Tex technology that doesn’t have face fabric, allowing it to weigh less than similar Gore-Tex shells. The breathable, packable jacket clocks in at just 4.2 ounces and can be compressed into a tiny ball. Lastly, the waterproof hood rolls back and snaps together so it doesn’t flap around when not in use.

Buy it now:

Moosejaw

best gifts for runners balega silver ion socks lifestyle

They will never experience softer, more securely fitting training socks than Balega’s Silver Ion line. Unlike many runner’s socks which constantly slide down and bunch up around the heel, these offer compressive arch support bands that keep them fitting snugly — there’s even a high heel tab that hugs the inside of shoes and an extra deep heel pocket to prevent sliding. The design also encourages a more natural foot movement and improved circulation. This line of Balega socks uses technology that encapsulates the sock fibers in silver ions to create enhanced antibacterial properties which, paired with the fabric’s Drynamix moisture management, keeps the runner’s feet dry and odor-free.

Buy it now:

Amazon

best gifts for runners yaxtrax run traction device lifestyle

There are fair-weather runners and then there are die-hards who get outside to train in the rain, sleet, snow, and hail. If you’re shopping for the latter runner, YaxTrax’s device is a game changer for them. The anatomically designed product fits snugly on their shoe and is built with strong rubber, 1.4-millimeter steel coils, and carbide steel spikes, allowing them to winterize their running shoes and train more safely on snow and ice. It offers traction for temperatures as low as ‑41 degrees Fahrenheit and, as a bonus, has a reflective heel tab for night training.

Buy it now:

Amazon

best gifts for runners katadyn befree collapsible flask lifestyle

This lightweight, award-winning water flask has a built-in filter, allowing runners to “be free” of the hunt for hydration, filling up their bottles virtually anywhere and letting the flask’s EZ-Clean Membrane clean it up for them. It features a gentle-squeeze top and a removable filter that easily pops out for a quick rinse. The collapsible design even allows it to fit into small backpacks and some pockets.

Buy it now:

Amazon

best gifts for runners scarpa spin lifestyle2 1

The Spin is a sleek trail running shoe that offers high-level performance without the cumbersome bells and whistles. The shoe performs fabulously on technical terrain, allowing runners to tackle hills faster and enjoy precise foot control. It features a Vibram outsole with Megagrip technology, a high-density rock plate, and a mesh upper with welded PU overlay. All told, it’s a great running shoe that offers superior stability in a simple, minimalist package.

Buy it now:

Amazon

best gifts for runners aftershokx trekx titanium lifestyle

When they’re out jogging around, they need music to get in the zone and this gadget from AfterShokz is essentially the Cadillac of running headphones. The wireless, open ear design showcases bone conduction technology, a method which delivers music through someone’s cheekbones, allowing their ears to stay open to their surroundings. This maintains their situational awareness, keeping them safer while also allowing them the ability to listen to their favorite tunes. The Bluetooth 4.1 offers perfect syncing to a smartphone, the sound quality is stellar, and the titanium wraparound headband keeps the device securely in place.

Buy it now:

Amazon

best gifts for runners garmin forerunner 935

Garmin’s Forerunner 935 is one of the best sport watches available for runners, particularly those who regularly participate in races, marathons, and triathlons. The device tracks heart rate, sleep, calories burned, personal records, steps, and other fitness metrics while they run. The lightweight watch also delivers smart notifications, allow for automatic workout uploads and syncs with Strava Live Segments to let them compete with their friends. With interchangeable bands, they can swap out a variety of options for a different style, making it a versatile, top-of-the-line running accessory.

Buy it now:

Amazon

best gifts for runners spy hunt sunglasses lifestyle

Happy runners are fast, effective runners. This cool pair of shades from SPY boasts Happy Lens technology that filters out bad short-wave blue light, allowing more long-wave blue light to penetrate the lens. The idea is that with more of this type of ray — which has been connected to improvements in mood — it will theoretically boost their happiness and make for a more enjoyable run or outdoor activity. The lens technology also offers stellar visual clarity, enhancing colors and contrast to make training safer and more effective. These “trail to tavern” sunglasses even have a stylish, casual frame with sturdy Grilamid material which allows them to look as good as they function.

Buy it now:

Amazon

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***This post originally published on Digital Trends***

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