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USAA Auto Circle: An Online Service To Help Buy Or Sell A Car

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Introducing The USAA Car Buying Service.

One of the most critical steps you can take toward financial independence is minimizing the cost of the big purchases — like homes and vehicles. Buying economical vehicles and maintaining them for their entire service life can save thousands in upgrade/replacement costs, and buying used can save thousands more.

Even if you’d never touch a cheap used car, it’s still worth a buyer’s time to consult a new car buying service. They can help negotiate a price and financing for you before you even disclose your credit rating to the dealer.

USAA’s Auto Circle

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USAA’s Auto Circle has been featured on their website for several years. It originally grew out of their insurance business as a buying service. USAA negotiated with major manufacturers for lower prices, helped people buy their new vehicle, and then sold them the insurance coverage. That later grew into financing and maintenance services.

However part of the vehicle-buying business is trading in the old car– or selling it. Members started telling USAA that they wanted more help with selling their cars, and now the “Sell” tab has been added to Auto Circle.

USAA’s “Sell” announcement happened with typical Ohana Nords timing. The press release is dated 22 May, just three weeks after our daughter bought her first car. She had already spent plenty of time on USAA’s website reading about buying a used car and the insurance options. But then she put in even more hours on Craigslist (in two different cities) sorting through her choices and prices. She spent at least $50 on CarFax verifying that car titles were clean and that their history checked out. Then, of course, there’s always the thrill of driving to an unfamiliar part of town and meeting a total stranger in a dark parking garage.

List Your Car With USAA Auto Circle

Now USAA lets members list their cars for sale to each other. They’ve removed the uncertainty of responding to ads and added transparency to the whole process. Their Sell service offers a discount on CarFax. And finally, you know that the USAA account owner you’re meeting is just as interested in selling their car as you are at seeing it. It’s still wise to take the usual precautions, but USAA’s service is already considerably more user-friendly than Craigslist’s “anything goes” environment.

Steve Thompson, USAA’s AVP of their Consumer Lending branch, says that Auto Sell has grown just from the press release. Their Used Car Search feature has nearly 161,000 listings on it (up over 1% since the announcement) and now displays nearly 250 private sellers alongside dealers. As the word on Auto Sell spreads through USAA’s marketing campaign, he expects member use to grow quickly.

Members are always asking for new services, but not every service is used by enough members to justify its expense. Starting this type of offer from scratch can have a significant cost, too, and the membership is pretty demanding about keeping rates low (even while they’re asking for more service). Steve pointed out that USAA already had most of the infrastructure in place for Auto Sell, and the startup cost has been very low. Auto Circle already offered dealer listings for used vehicles, and it was fairly straightforward to add private seller’s listings to the software. USAA already offers financing for used vehicles as well as new, and they already have a system of transferring funds between account owners. That was added to Auto Sell with very little effort. USAA has a very robust suite of mobile applications, both for Android and iPad/iPhone devices, and Auto Sell will soon have its own app.

I asked Steve how far this could go: Homes? Boats? Personal watercraft? Private airplanes? He says that if USAA can insure it, then they want to help buy & sell it too. They’re looking at all the options. They’re even considering partnering with major charities that accept used cars as donations.

When will I start using the service? Probably not for another decade — our cars are only 6-7 years old. We tend to drive ’em into the ground, so even when we’re ready to replace one of them it’s more likely that we’ll need a tow truck than a selling service. But USAA has made buying a used car easier than ever, and they’ve added tremendous convenience to the ordeal of parsing the options. When our daughter is ready to replace her hauler (hopefully at least a decade from now), then USAA’s Car Sell will make it even easier for her to choose a replacement.

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The fine print: Anyone can use USAA’s Auto Circle features, but you have to sign up for at least a USAA financial or investment account. If you want to buy USAA’s insurance on that vehicle then you have to qualify for membership– that means “all who have served honorably, and their families”. If you’re an immediate family member of someone who’s been honorably discharged from the service, you might be eligible. Work through their website application or contact them to discuss your connection.

Additional Features of USAA Auto Circle

Find a new or used vehicle via consolidated research from recognized resources at USAA autocircle.com. These include newcartestdrive.com, Kelley Blue Book and TrueCarSM.com, which provides comprehensive pricing reports showing what others are paying in your area and how the USAA no-hassle price compares. New cars also can be found via the iPhone app.

Save money and reduce your stress with USAA Auto Circle’s no-hassle pricing. Our members have saved an average of $3,347 off MSRP3 on new vehicles.

Finance with USAA Bank auto loans. Members can apply for new car financing and receive the convenience of dealer electronic funds transfer all from their iPhone. Members also can apply for a competitive loan for a used car at autocircle.com.

Insure with USAA. Members who switch to USAA save $409 a year on average.4 Also, USAA members with an existing USAA auto policy can check insurance costs before they buy and easily add or update insurance coverage.

Related articles:
USAA’s membership application (1-800-531-8722)
Joining NFCU, PenFed, and USAA (part 2 of 2)
USAA’s retirement planner and financial goal-planning tools

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