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Find out how much your home is really worth

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How can I change the details of my mortgage?

We trust the data you tell us about your mortgage. If you do not think the data we have is correct, which we get from your credit account, linked account, or information you have told us, you can change it at any time by scrolling to the top of this page and clicking "Edit information." This opens a modal with your mortgage details. If you confirm the mortgage information, we'll update everything based on that.

What is a home's value?

Home value has a slightly different meaning if you ask a homeowner, appraiser or tax assessor. But in most cases, home value means the amount for which a house would likely sell, otherwise known as the current market value.

Mortgage lenders — as well as buyers and sellers — typically rely on professional property appraisers to calculate market value, but there are ways to determine home value on your own.

How do I determine how much is my home worth?

The home value calculation uses data gathered by Zillow. Known as a “Zestimate,” this home valuation algorithm looks at the recent sale prices of similar properties gathered from public records, such as tax assessments, as well as user-submitted data. The home’s physical attributes and location, as well as market conditions, are also taken into account by the formula, according to Zillow. Together, information about recent sales and asking prices helps determine what a house could be worth. Zestimates have a median error rate of 4.3% nationally. This means half of Zestimates were within 4.3% of the final selling price, while half missed the mark by more than 4.3%. The error rate may be higher or lower in your market.

Remember, this estimate of how much your home is worth is only a starting point. Hire a professional appraiser or get a comparative market analysis from a qualified real estate agent before buying or selling.

How does the home value impact what financial decisions I can make?

For home buyers and home sellers, knowing current market value helps you make smart decisions about how much to offer on a house you want, or how to price a home you’re selling.

As a homeowner, value is also directly related to your home equity. Equity is calculated by subtracting the mortgage balance from the home’s current market value. You build equity as you make monthly payments and pay down your principal, but other factors, most notably home price appreciation, can speed up or slow down the equity-building process.

With enough equity, you may be able to refinance into a loan at a lower interest rate or drop your private mortgage insurance. You might even be able to remodel your bathroom or pay off credit card debt through a cash-out refinance, home equity loan or home equity line of credit.

These are important financial decisions that should be made only after obtaining an accurate estimate of your home’s value.

What is home equity and how does it impact my financial freedom?

Home equity is the value of your home minus the balance of your mortgage. To put it another way, home equity represents the portion of the house you’ve “paid off” and therefore own. Equity increases slowly with each mortgage payment, but may grow faster if you make value-boosting home improvements or if home values rise in your area.

As a homeowner, equity is a valuable asset that directly affects your financial freedom. More equity means more ways to achieve financial goals. You can make home improvements, consolidate debt, cover emergency expenses or even pay college tuition by tapping home equity.

Don’t cash out or borrow against home equity just because you have it, though. Tapping equity can add years to your mortgage payoff and means less cushion if the home loses value. And if you have trouble paying the loan for any reason, such as losing your job, the lender could foreclose on your house.

You can tap your home equity with the following loans:

  • Cash-out refinance: Mortgages your house for more than you owe. You can generally turn 80% to 90% of your home’s equity into cash, and in some cases, get a lower interest rate than your previous mortgage.
  • Home equity loan: Allows you to borrow up to 85% of your equity at a fixed interest rate. Home equity loans are disbursed in a lump sum and repaid through monthly payments.
  • Home equity line of credit (HELOC): Allows you to borrow up to 85% of your equity at a variable interest rate, which means your payments could change every month. Instead of a lump sum of cash, HELOCs provide a limited line of credit you can borrow when needed, much like a credit card. Interest is paid only on the amount you take out.

Why might I want to refinance my home?

Refinancing replaces your existing mortgage with a new loan. Some reasons for refinancing are directly related to home value, while others aren’t. Refinancing might be a good idea if you want to:

  • Lower your interest rate:

    If mortgage interest rates drop after purchasing your home, refinancing could allow you to lock in a lower rate, reducing your monthly payment.
  • Change your loan term:

    Refinancing into a shorter-term loan, for example 15 years instead of 30, may increase your monthly payment, but it will also reduce payback time so you pay less in interest and own your house sooner.
  • Drop mortgage insurance:

    Refinancing can remove mortgage insurance in two ways. First, you can refinance from an FHA loan (these loans always carry mortgage insurance) to a conventional loan without paying PMI if you have built up over 20% equity on your existing loan. Second, you can refinance from a conventional loan with PMI to another without it if your current home value and mortgage balance puts you over the 20% equity mark.
  • Pull cash out of your home:

    As you pay down the loan and your home gains value, equity increases. When your equity stake is large enough, you may be able to turn some of it into cash through a cash-out refinance.

Use our mortgage refinance calculator to see how much a refinance could save you and get customized lender recommendations.

What factors can affect how my home value changes over time?

Unlike other assets, such as your car, a home often appreciates over time. In general, real estate appreciates because there’s only so much space for new development. As time goes on, there’s generally more demand for less land, driving up value. If demand drops, however, prices could go down.

Other factors that can influence changes in home value are:

  • How much the house sold for in the past
  • Quality of the neighborhood
  • Market conditions, such as the number of homes available and strength of the economy
  • Tax assessment
  • Nearby amenities
  • Square footage
  • Age and condition of the house and property

 

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Is It Time to Refinance Your ARM to a Fixed-Rate Mortgage?

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Adjustable-rate mortgages have been a favorite funding choice, especially for first-time homebuyers, but the prospect of rising interest rates is causing many borrowers to rethink their home loan strategy.

“Honestly, the last 10 years have been awesome for people on ARMs,” Steve Garrett, a mortgage banker in Kansas City, Missouri, with Armed Forces Bank, tells NerdWallet. “A lot of people have ridden the ARM wave, if you will, for quite a while, and they’ve done well on it. But they know it’s the end of the ride, and it’s time to get serious and get into a fixed rate.”

However, making the switch — refinancing from an ARM to a fixed-rate mortgage — isn’t for everyone. It’s not just about interest rates; you’ll also need to consider your personal circumstances.

Ask lots of questions when considering a fixed-rate refinance

“Every situation is different,” says John Schleck, senior vice president at Bank of America. “Get professional input; sit down with a loan officer. Go over your entire situation, not just your mortgage situation but really look at all of your finances. When are you thinking about retiring? How long are you going to be in your house? There’s so many questions I think you’ve really got to look at, not just a simple answer to, ‘I’m in an adjustable rate and fixed rates look really good, let me just jump over there.’ ”

Garrett at Armed Forces Bank suggests some additional questions to ask yourself: Is this your forever home, or are you just a few years from an upgrade or a downsize? If you plan to stay in your home for a handful of years or less, the ARM may continue to serve you well, if you can absorb potential interest rate increases.

Your ultimate decision on whether to convert from an ARM to a fixed-rate mortgage will depend on your cash flow needs and your tolerance for interest rate risk, he says.

Look for your ARM reset notice

Garrett says homeowners with adjustable-rate mortgages should be on the lookout for annual reset notices: written notification to borrowers of the date and amount of any change in their interest rate.

“Normally, it’s three to six months before the rate is due to adjust,” Garrett says. “For the last, I would say, 10 years, people with ARMs have benefited greatly because rates across the board on everything have been so stinking low. And so you have people who bought a house six, seven years ago with an adjustable rate and year after year, their rate has actually continually gone down — and their payment has gone down.”

But he says that trend is set to reverse if begin to creep higher.

 

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Refinance calculator

 
Why should you consider a mortgage refinance?

In many instances, you should refinance to save money on your home mortgage. You’re a good candidate to refinance if you’re planning to stay in your home for a while and are refinancing at a lower interest rate, switching off an adjustable-rate mortgage, or looking to eliminate private mortgage insurance.

The top reasons to refinance are:

  1. Get a lower interest rate: Lowering your mortgage rate can reduce your monthly payment if the repayment term (duration) remains the same. However, keep in mind that a refinance can carry fees ranging from 2% to 5% of the loan balance due.

    Mortgage refinancing for a lower rate can make a lot of sense, especially if your credit score has improved. In that instance, you might qualify for a significantly lower mortgage rate today. Check your credit score and history before you go any further.

    Nerd Tip: Rather than simply focusing on reducing your monthly payment, it’s wiser to refinance when you can save money with a lower interest rate, without extending the loan term.

  2. Switch from an adjustable-rate mortgage to a fixed rate: An adjustable-rate mortgage typically comes with an initial period of a steady interest rate then resets to a floating rate for the rest of the loan. It makes sense to use an ARM if you know you’ll live in a home for only a few years; you could save a lot of money with a lower interest rate in the interim.

    Converting to a fixed mortgage from an ARM is especially useful if you plan to stay in your home long-term. For example, if you have a 5/1 ARM, you could complete a refinance by the end of the fifth year and lock in a steady rate with a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage.

  3. Eliminate private mortgage insurance: If you buy a home with less than 20% down, you typically are required to pay private mortgage insurance, or PMI, which protects the lender in case you default on the loan.

    Annual PMI premiums can cost between 0.5% and 1.5% of the mortgage. Sometimes, homeowners are able to cancel mortgage insurance once the balance on the mortgage falls below 80% of the value of the home. However, loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration require mortgage insurance for the entire life of the loan.

Where can I find out more about the refinance process?
 
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How to Refinance Your Mortgage

 After setting your refinance goal and researching your home's value, compare refinance rates and fees from multiple lenders.

 
 

we adhere to strict standards of editorial integrity to help you make decisions with confidence. Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. Here’s how we make money.

You made it through one of the toughest challenges: buying a home. Now, perhaps just a few years later, you’re ready to refinance your mortgage. How hard can it be? You may be surprised to find that it’s not a couple-of-emails-and-a-phone-call-or-two process. In fact, there may be more paperwork involved this time around than when you first bought your home.

Let’s consider some important initial steps of a mortgage refinance — and then run through the rest of the process step by step.

Why you might want to refinance

Before you begin, it’s important to consider why you want to refinance your home loan in the first place. That guides the mortgage refinance process from the very beginning.

» MORE: Notify me when I can save by refinancing.

Lowering your payment is usually the goal. And it’s tempting to refinance with another full 30-year term to really knock down that monthly payment. But that means you’ll end up taking even longer to pay off your house and paying more interest.

You’ll want to take into account how much interest you’ve already paid on your old loan and how much you’ll pay with the refinance. Loans are front-loaded with interest, so the longer you’ve been paying, the more each payment is going toward paying off the principal balance — and the more interest you’ve already paid. Comparing what you’ve paid in interest so far and what you will pay on your current loan versus the refi will give you a solid idea of your total loan costs for either option.

By resisting the urge to extend your loan term, you can instead refinance to reduce the term and to get a lower interest rate, which could significantly reduce the amount of interest you pay over the life of the loan.

Choosing a suitable loan term for your mortgage refinance is a balancing act between an affordable monthly payment and reducing your borrowing costs.

Use a mortgage refinance calculator

Once you know you have a good reason and you’ve determined it’s the right time to refinance, it’s time to work the numbers. Using a mortgage refinance calculator can help you shop for the best mortgage.

You’ll need to know (or make some educated guesses about) your new interest rate and your new loan amount.

After you input the data, the tool will calculate your monthly savings, new payment, and lifetime savings, taking into account the estimated costs of your refinance.

Working with a refinance calculator will give you a good idea of what to expect. Even better, when you have a few estimates from mortgage lenders you can enter the terms they offer you into the calculator to help determine which one offers the best deal.

It’s also key to shop the best refinance rates

Now it’s time for a little legwork — or more likely web work and phone calls. You want to shop for your best mortgage refinance rate and get a loan estimate from each lender. Each potential lender is required to issue the estimate within three days of receiving your basic information.

The estimate is a pretty simple three-page document that details the loan terms, projected payments, estimated closing costs and other fees.

Compare the loan details from each lender and decide which one is best for you. This is a good time to really work that mortgage refinance calculator.

 

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Buying Peace of Mind: How to Buy a Used-Car Warranty

A certified pre-owned car with a warranty provided by the manufacturer is the safest bet in the used-car world. But if you’re not buying a CPO car from a franchise dealer, can you still get a warranty? Yes, but buying one can be tricky. The fact is, we all hope to find a company that will warranty a used car with 150,000 miles on it, sight unseen. But such companies don’t exist because there’s no way they can, as an example, buy everyone a new engine and transmission and still stay in business. So let’s look at the realistic options: Some dealer groups and used-car chains offer their own CPO warranty programs, but coverage is usually minimal. CarMax, which has more than 100 locations across the country, certifies its own cars, and everything it sells has a “limited 30-day warranty,” which is actually 60 days in Connecticut and 90 in Massachusetts due to local laws. CarMax also offers “MaxCare,” an extended service plan that expands the coverage to most of the mechanicals except for wear-and-tear items, fluids, wheels, glass, and trim. Check the website, which details what is and isn’t covered. Prices vary according to the coverage and car.

2010–2012 Chevrolet Camaro: A Certified Pre-Owned Guide
Feature: Pre-Owned Programs by Make and Model
Certified Pre-Owned: 2005–2009 Ford Mustang GT
There are also aftermarket warranties: In December 2009, we checked these out, and we didn’t like what we saw. A cluster of companies, most based in the St. Louis area, used high-pressure tactics to get signatures on warranty deals. One of the biggest, US Fidelis, previously known as National Auto Warranty Services, went bankrupt, and at least two of its executives went to prison. To avoid a scam, look for a company that has been in business for a long time. EasyCare, for instance, has been around since 1984. It was formerly purchased and owned by Ford, but the company’s employees and equity partners bought it back in 2007. The company sells its contracts outright, or through more than 2000 dealers, and while it recommends that you use the selling dealer for service, any licensed repair facility is acceptable. There are four different levels of coverage, and price varies by the level, the vehicle, and its mileage. The costs, however, are often negotiable.

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An Auto Warranty Can Help You Avoid Paying Unnecessary Car Costs

Motorists tend to become obsessed with their cars. They wash and wax them constantly to keep them looking brand new. Even though we love our cars so much, it is still important to not pay unnecessary car costs. Here are some things that you may be wasting your money on:

1. It is not always a necessity to fill your tank with premium gasoline. Regular gasoline is cheaper and if it does not cause engine knock, then it is okay to use. The purpose of octane grades is to avoid engine knock. Therefore, if regular gasoline does not cause engine knock, it is okay to use in your tank.

2. Usually car manufacturers advise getting an oil change done on your car every 5,000 to 7,000 miles. However, some motorists think that it is a necessity to get it done every 3,000 miles. This is only a necessity if you are very hard on your car.

3. Lastly, motorists will waste money getting car repairs done by a dealer. Independent shops can do a great job and at a cheaper price. Having an auto warranty can help you save money on maintenance and repairs.

It is good to know where you are wasting money on your car so that you can break those habits and be a bit nicer to your wallet. Do not let other people talk you into paying for car costs that are not a necessity.

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9 Ways to Get the Best Refinance Rates

To earn the best refinance rate on your mortgage, build your credit score, shorten the term, resist a cash-out refi and get multiple quotes.

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 We adhere to strict standards of editorial integrity to help you make decisions with confidence. Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. Here’s how we make money

In the hunt for the best mortgage refinance rate, there are some things you can control and some you can’t. Rates moving up just when you’re about to refi? Can’t control that.

But there are at least nine things you can do:

1. Look for errors in your credit report

Credit report errors happen more often than you might imagine, says Mary Anne Daly, senior mortgage advisor for Stearns Lending.

“I ran credit for someone who had a state tax lien and a charge off,” Daly says. “They said, ‘This isn’t mine. I don’t know anything about this.'”

She also remembers clients who had a credit score of 623. Their credit report had mistakes, and the customers wondered if an improvement in their score would be worth the effort of correcting them. By wiping the errors from their history, their credit score improved to 660, and the borrowers saved $95 a month on their home loan.

» MORE: Check your credit score for free

2. Keep credit card balances below 25% of your available credit

Daly says to consider asking your credit card providers to increase your available credit. Using a smaller percentage of your available credit lowers your credit utilization ratio and can earn you a better interest rate.

3. Don’t quit using consumer credit

Paying off consumer credit can be liberating, but you should continue making small purchases on your credit cards from time to time. Even if you pay the balances off each month, it shows you manage debt responsibly, which can actually improve your credit score, Daly adds.

4. Be wary of ‘no-cost’ loans

“That always tickles me,” Daly says of such loan gimmicks. “There are no free lunches.” All lenders will charge fees, whether they are paid upfront, rolled into the loan balance or built into the loan’s interest rate.

It’s not uncommon for closing costs to be tacked on to a loan. Joe Burke, a loan officer with Guaranteed Rate in Chicago, says paying them out of pocket can lower your interest rate.

» MORE: Compare mortgage refinance rates

5. Consider a shorter loan term

Burke notes that expanding your loan term may not be in your best interest.

“If you’ve already paid seven years into a 30-year fixed, for instance, putting you into a new 30-year fixed may not be the best financial decision,” he says.

Moving from a 30-year mortgage to a 20-year or even a 15-year term can earn you a lower mortgage interest rate, not to mention reducing interest payments over the life of the loan.

“A lot of people don’t know that,” Daly adds. She tells of customers who were considering several options on a mortgage. They had 10 years left on their loan, and they thought it wouldn’t make sense to refinance. Daly showed them that refinancing to a 10-year loan term with a lower mortgage rate would save $45,000 in interest, without significantly changing their monthly payments.

“They were just thrilled,” Daly says, “paying a little bit more [each month] but saving all of that money.”

6. Resist the urge to take cash out

A cash-out refinance allows you to draw some of your home’s equity as a part of a new loan. But it also increases your loan-to-value ratio. That will raise your interest rate in most cases, Daly says.

» MORE: Calculate your refinance savings

7. Lock in your best refinance rate

“Sometimes, believe it or not, we have a little bit of a crystal ball” about how mortgage rates may behave in the very short term, Daly says. That can be tied to major economic news, policy announcements or government reports.

After conferring with your loan advisor about an estimated time to closing, ask about a mortgage rate lock, which will prevent rising rates from affecting your mortgage while the loan is being processed — which can take weeks.

8. Consider how long you’ll live in the home

“One of the questions that we’re always asking people is, ‘How long do you plan on staying in the home?'” Burke says. “I think that’s a very important question that a lot of people don’t ask.”

For example, if you know you are going to be selling your home in five to 10 years, an adjustable rate mortgage, with an introductory rate lower than that of a fixed-rate loan, may be the right choice, Daly adds.

9. Shop rates — and know what they mean

Shopping more than one lender may be the most powerful way to earn the best refinance rates. Getting just one additional rate quote could save borrowers an average $1,500 over the life of a loan, according to research by Freddie Mac, a government-sponsored entity that helps fund the mortgage market.

But advertised rates that seem unusually low may have discount points built in — that’s when you pay upfront to get a lower interest rate. For the lender, factoring in discount points may be a ploy to drive business, but for borrowers, the points can be a part of a loan strategy.

“Most of the time, we find that the buy-down doesn’t make sense,” Daly says. To see if discount points work in your situation, consider your monthly payment savings against how long it will take to recoup the fees — and how long you expect to stay in a home.

Burke says borrowers often fixate on a low rate but miss important details in loan terms disclosed in the fine print.

“Looking at APR is absolutely one of the best ways to go,” he says. The stated annual percentage rate of a loan includes the interest rate you’ll pay on the loan, plus all fees. You’ll have to complete an application with each lender you’re considering to get all the information that impacts your offered APR.

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How To Prevent Home Break-Ins

Alarm systems and motion detectors can offer you protection and security, but there are other steps you can take to prevent your home from being burglarized.

According to Statistics Canada, alarm systems have helped reduce the number of home break-ins. Insurance companies favor those who have such security systems in place, however, follow our additional steps to further prevent home break-ins.

Doors and windows MUST be locked.

To prevent a break-in, always lock your doors and windows, especially when you aren’t home. Make sure that windows can’t be open from the outside, but that you can unlock them from the inside in case of an emergency. It’s important to change your locks or combinations if you move into a new home or lose your key. You can also use security bars on basement windows or sliding doors. If you have a spare key outside your home, make sure it’s well hidden.

Keep valuables out of sight.

Closing your blinds and curtains at night can stop people from seeing in, but you should also keep valuables out of sight. If a thief can see valuable items, such as jewellery or electronics, they are more likely to break-in. Small valuable items can easily be taken from your home. Keep these items in a safety deposit box or an unlikely place. It is always a good idea to take an inventory of your valuables in your home with videotapes or photographs.

What to do while you are away.

Home break-ins are less likely if it looks like someone is home. Before leaving for vacation, stop your mail or have someone pick it up for you. To make your house look lived in you can keep your grass cut, a shoveled driveway, and a car in the driveway. You can also use timers on your lights. If you have a good relationship with your neighbour, let them know how long you will be away so they can keep an eye on your home. Avoid posting on social media that you are going away and wait until you are back to post those great vacation pictures!

Remember to limit the number of people who know you will be away from your home. We hope you have found our prevention tips useful!  

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Five Things You Should Be Doing to Ensure a Safe Holiday Season

There’s nothing like spending time with family during the holidays. It’s one of the few times we get each year to truly unwind and appreciate the presence of the ones we love. However, burglars have also found this time of year excellent for taking advantage of homeowners who aren’t expecting disaster during such a happy time. Following these five tips will help you ensure the holidays are secure for your family:

1. Take Care with Packages

Ordering gifts to be delivered through the mail is becoming as common an activity as going to the store to pick them out, and large boxes are a beacon for burglars. If you’re expecting packages, avoid leaving them on your doorstep for extended periods of time. Try to schedule delivery to coincide with times when you’re home for maximum safety.

2. Conceal the Anticipation (Slightly)

A pile of gifts and an array of decorations do a good job of getting the family excited about the upcoming celebration, but they also tend to attract unwanted attention. Eliminate visibility of expensive-looking holiday gifts and ornaments from the outside of your home.

3. Remember Fire Safety

If you’re lighting extra candles for the holidays, make sure to keep your basic fire safety procedures in mind. Keeping flames out of the reach of pets and small children are a must. Also remember to put candles out before going to bed.

4. Make Your Whereabouts Secret

If you plan to spend time out of town, find a way to make your house looked lived-in. There’s nothing burglars like to see more than an unoccupied home. Consider having a neighbor stop by periodically to create the allusion of activity on your property. You could also schedule your lights to be turned on and off using home automation.

Consider a Home Security System

If you want to ensure that the safety of your home is being monitored at all times, consider installing a home security system. A wireless home security system will empower you to receive alerts about activity on your property, call for help when it’s needed and even control lights and locks remotely.

LiveWatch home security systems come fully equipped for holiday safety and can easily be upgraded to include home automation services for added convenience. LiveWatch security consultants are here to help you pick a system that fits your needs.

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Replace Your Transmission With An Auto Warranty

The transmission is an essential part in your car. It is also one of the most costly parts to replace or repair. If you have owned your car for a long period of time, it is a possibility that you will eventually need to replace or repair the transmission. Here are some telltale signs that your transmission needs replacement:

The first sign is that your car is leaking transmission fluid. Check under your car while it is parked. Look for fluid pools that have a reddish color. After, check to see if there is any metal in the fluid. If there is, it is important to replace the transmission since broken metal is a sign that the transmission is worn down.

In addition, inspect the fluid levels in your car’s transmission. If you have low levels, this may be an indication that your transmission is burning too much fluid or that it is overheating.

Also, if there is a rough transition between gears when driving, this is an indication that your transmission needs replacement. It may take longer to switch between gears or the gears may slip. This will reduce the acceleration in your car.

Transmission replacements can be costly. Therefore, it is smart to look into an aftermarket auto warranty company that you can buy an extended auto warranty from. The auto warranty will help reduce the costs of your repair bills. Lastly, be sure that you purchase an auto warranty that provides the proper amount of coverage for your car.

 

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