"Sorry, but your credit sucks"

Those free credit report ads on TV do make one good point. No, not that you should sign up for their services but that you actually should understand your credit.

That way, when you go car shopping, no-one can tell you your credit's not good enough to get the best possible auto financing. Unless, of course, it isn't. If you really do have bad credit, well, that's all the more reason to be careful.

The best approach is to shop for credit before you shop for a car. Having pre-arranged financing puts you in the best possible bargaining position.

Last updated June 23 2011: 6:33 AM ET
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