Temperatures are dropping, the sky is icy blue, and the slopes are draped in fresh powder anew. It's winter sports season and the lure of black diamonds is a powerful thing for the athlete who loves to ski, snowmobile, skate, fish and shoe.
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And so is the urge to grab some sleek new gear.
Winter sports are big business. SnowSports Industries America pegged consumer outlay in the 2012–2013 season at some $3.4 billion. A full complement of new ski equipment can cost $1,000 or more. The hottest snowmobile models can put you back $10,000 plus.
So, what's a winter-sports addict to do?
One answer may be to finance your season's gear. But to do that you want to make sensible choices that won't leave you with bills you'll regret long after the ice has melted. Let's look at some option when it comes to financing winter sports.
1. Credit Unions
Shopping around with credit unions, if you have a strong enough credit score, can reap low interest rates on loans for big ticket items such as snowmobiles (which can cost as much as $15,000). Depending on your age, a score in the mid-600s or above may net you a rate ranging from 2.5%–6.9%. But think twice before sinking your monthly budget on a hot sled for the next five to seven years. If you can afford to put down a few thousand upfront, you'll cut your payments and maybe get a better rate.
2. Manufacturers Plans
Big equipment makers such as Ski-Doo typically want to move gear, and a lot of it. So, they tend to offer rock-bottom rates to buyers who finance directly through them. If you can absolutely keep to a short-term — say, a six-month — repayment schedule, you'll likely get through the deal with interest as low as 2.9 percent. But be careful, late payments tend to incur significant penalties on these kinds of plans.
3. Retail Credit Cards
If your credit score is in good shape, picking up a fresh ski package or new snow shoes from a store such as REI can be a relatively painless experience. In-store card offers often feature APRs as low as 10.99 percent, no annual fees, and 1%–5% cash back for purchases within the chain.
4. Bank Loans
Whether you're financing new ski gear, or an ice fishing package, bank loans may be the answer when rates are low. Putting $5,000 on a 72-month loan at 3 percent means you're paying just about $80 per year in interest. Your monthly payments are likely to be less than $100 and if you can make double or triple payments now and then you'll get ahead of that rate in no time when it comes to repaying the principal.
And one more thing. It might make sense to wait a little longer before springing for the newest gear.
Demand is huge in December and January, and sales are hard to find, but when the winter season winds down in March, April, and May, you can often find winter gear discounted by 50%–60%. If last year's snowboard will cut it for a little while longer, it may be worth it to wait until season's end to put down your hard-earned cash.