Buying a mountain bike these days counts as a luxury purchase. Most modern machines cost between $4,000 and $10,000, even without tacking on all the extra gear you might want to customize the thing.
The easiest and most cost-effective way to buy a new bike is with cash. But if you're like the majority of Americans, you probably have less than $1,000 stashed away. So if you’re thinking about getting a loan for your bike (and there are lots of good options, believe me), make sure you take the time to evaluate your choices first.
Before you jump into financing options, check your recent credit score. Most lenders will require you have a credit score above 600, but the higher your score, the lower the interest rate you’ll get. A lower interest rate means you’ll spend less over the life of the loan to purchase your bike—a very good thing. I recommend Credit Sesame, Credit Karma, and MyFico for quick, free ways to check your credit score.
After you’ve done that, try one of the following.
Bike-store financing is one of the more common ways to finance your new bike. Many stores offer financing options through a company called Affirm, a leader in cost-effective monthly financing options for those with good to excellent credit scores.
There are a few variables you should consider first if you’re interested in this option:
What is the interest rate associated with the loan? It’s possible to find a deal offering zero-percent interest if you pay off your purchase within a specified amount of time. This is the best deal you could hope to get.
How long do you have to pay off the bike?
Are there any other fees associated with the loan, like an annual fee on a credit card or a special financing fee?
What happens to my interest rate after the special offer period? This is important if you can’t pay off your loan within the time limits for the low-interest rate offer.
Is there a prepayment penalty?
Ask your bike store if they offer a layaway program. This is essentially like paying cash (no interest), except you’re able to spread out your payments over a certain period of time, usually either two to three months.
Many credit unions, such as Affinity Plus Credit Union, Unitus Credit Union, and Virginia Credit Union, have started offering bike-specific loans. This is a great deal if you belong to a credit union, as the interest rates and terms are usually quite favorable. That said, you will still want to ask the five questions above, so you fully understand the terms of your loan.
The key bit is that in order to be eligible for a credit-union loan, you must already be a member of that credit union. You can use a credit-union locator to find one near you and ask about any special bike-specific loans on offer before you join.
Credit cards are the OG when it comes to financing a bike purchase. But if you aren’t careful, credit cards can be dangerous for larger purchases. A good rule of thumb is to treat your credit card as a debit card and pay the balance off in full within the month. This way you can enjoy all the benefits —rewards, cash back, and points—without having to deal with nasty interest rate charges and debt.
For example, the national average interest rate on credit cards is 19.24 percent (your interest rate might be higher or lower depending on your credit score). If your bike costs $5,000 and you paid it off in two years, it would cost you $253 a month and $1,064 in interest charges. If you paid off the purchase in just one year, it would cost you $461 per month and $537 in interest. The longer you take to pay off your purchase on your credit card, the more expensive that purchase will become.
Alternatively, many credit cards will offer occasional low-interest financing—sometimes as low as zero percent. Contact your credit card companies before you go shopping to see if they have a low-interest rate option available that might be more attractive than bike-store financing.
If you don’t have an offer available, there are a bevy of credit cards that you can apply for that offer zero-percent interest rates, some as long as 18 months. To be eligible, you’ll need a healthy credit score of 740 or up—just another nudge to take a look at your credit score before you get your heart set on your dream bike.
Some bike manufacturers even offer their own financing. Take Trek and its Trek credit card. It’s accepted at more than 1,000 Trek retailers and offers six and twelve months of low-interest financing options.