Boat Financing Tips from Sterling

When it comes to buying a boat, there has never been a better time than now. Not only are there plenty of great used-boat deals out there, manufacturers are offering big incentives on new models. Plus, interest rates on boat loans are extremely low.

New England Boating recently spoke with marine-financing expert and president of Sterling Associates Tom Smith about what companies like his can offer consumers and why now is a great time to buy.

BL: You’ve been in the boat-financing business a long time. When did you start Sterling?

TS: I founded Sterling 20 years ago, in 1991.

BL: What are some things potential first-time boat buyers should know about the process of getting a boat loan these days?

TS: The most important thing is to do business with a reputable financing company that has a proven track record. Also, look for a company that does business with a wide variety of banks. If you finance through a dealer, chances are you’ll only be dealing with one bank.

Thanks to our volume, we’re able to do business with all kinds of different banks, big ones and small ones, and that translates into getting the best terms possible for our customers. We can leverage our volume to create a custom-tailored plan that best suits the client.

BL: How is the boat-financing landscape different from 5 years ago?

TS: Actually, it’s more appropriate to compare it to 10 years ago. The days of “no-doc” loans and the excesses of the early 2000s are over, and that’s ultimately a good thing for the boating industry. Historically speaking, boat loans were a good investment for banks. That hasn’t gone away.

BL: Are banks overly nervous about giving out loans these days?

TS: Actually, banks are eager to make boat loans again, and there’s a lot of pent-up demand. If you have good credit and equity, you should be able to get a loan—within reason, of course. It’s a very good time to buy a boat, new or used. There are a lot of willing sellers, and the interest rates are low. And don’t forget that the cost of boating has come down. Fuel prices are lower than they were 3 years ago, and marinas are looking to fill slips.

BL: What does a company like Sterling, which specializes in boat loans, bring to the table?

TS: Well, we do more than just boat loans, but part of our philosophy is based on the generational nature of boating. We don’t want to make just one boat loan per customer. We want to gain the customer’s trust and have them, and their children, come back again and again as they progress in boating, as they buy other boats. The no-doc boat loans of recent years made no investment in future boaters. It hurt everyone, both consumers and those in the marine industry.

BL: What are some of the other benefits Sterling customers enjoy?

TS: I’ve already talked about the volume benefits, but in terms of added value, I can only say that when you call our company you’ll speak with someone who knows the boating industry and will handle the call one-on-one. We personally go to closings. We work with the customer to make sure that he or she is qualified for a particular loan. We make sure that the boat they want to purchase is properly valued. Like I said before: We want to get that customer to come back again and again.

Do you have any other questions for Tom Smith?

Write them in the comment box below and we’ll get you an answer.