NEW YORK (MainStreet) — You've picked out the perfect car, taken the test drive, haggled over the price – and now the wait begins. The salesman has taken the paperwork back to "F&I" (finance and insurance) to seal the deal, and that's when the real work begins. In an attempt to close a "60 minute deal," the F&I manager – often the highest paid employee in the dealership, next to the general manager – quickly places your loan out for bid to several lenders.

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All an effort to gain you the best loan rate possible, right? For many dealers, it's an attempt to sizably fatten the margin of a sale. Taking the interest rate offered by a third-party lender and padding it for a higher profit – a "dealer markup" – is a practice consumer groups are looking to outlaw.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) says such policies increase the risk of dealers charging consumers different loan rates regardless of creditworthiness; instead pricing them based on race, national origin or other discriminatory factors. The CFPB wants to impose regulations limiting or eliminating dealer markups and is scheduled to present its findings regarding auto loan discrimination to Congress before the end of the summer.

These markups, also known as "dealer reserves," cost American consumers nearly $26 billion each year, according to the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL). But how are consumers to know the interest rate they really qualified for, compared to the higher rate the dealer is offering? Until now, that has been a closely held secret between lenders and dealers.

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But the CRL is offering a free tool that may provide a clue. By using its "Auto Dealer Markup Calculator" a consumer can input the sales price of a new or used car, their down payment and loan term, along with the range of their FICO credit score to determine the potential extra costs from APR markups and kickbacks.

Knowing your credit score is critical to obtaining the best finance rate. FICO, the widely known credit rating company, can compare your credit score to the lending tiers that define current loan rates. For example, a score ranging from 690-719 currently qualifies for a 4.5% 48-month auto loan. However, a higher score of 720-850 will earn a 3.2% interest rate for the same loan term.

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Knowing the rate you deserve and comparing it to the rate you are offered by a dealer or local lender will help you decide where your best loan offer lies.

--Written by Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet