So, you want to buy an expensive sports toy?

OK, you’ve worked hard and done well, but stopping to smell the roses isn’t what you want to do to celebrate — you want to have some fun!

Maybe go messing about in boats, snowmobile the winter away, or follow the Lewis and Clark route on a motorized “personal watercraft.”

Today’s sports toys cost big, big bucks, so before you take the plunge, devise a buying strategy that fits your lifestyle and budget.

“Remember, these are personal items, so they’re going to be costly up front and you’re going to pay a higher interest rate because you’re buying a luxury,” warns Ralph Guthrie, sales manager of Brookside Marina in Naples, Fla.

Let’s consider your options and look at some examples.

Dealer financing: For as little as 10 percent down, you can be in action, but you’ll need good credit and several years of credit history to get a good interest rate.

OEM financing: One option for motorized personal watercraft, as well as all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles and snowmobiles, includes a revolving credit card through original equipment manufacturers (OEM). Not too hard to get, but the interest rate is up there.

Credit card: Quick, easy, accepted everywhere, no credit checks or paperwork. But unless you pay it off quickly, the interest rate on that boat might just sink you.

Co-buying: You and your buddies might buy that ATV jointly, but what happens if someone wants out, doesn’t pay or wrecks it the first time out? Look closely at the “what-ifs” to determine beforehand if your deal — and your friendships — will survive.

Personal loan: Credit unions and community banks can take the whole bill and feed it back to you slowly at agreeable terms. If you own a home, this may be the most cost-effective way to finance your fun.

Cash: Before paying cash, remember that personal sports vehicles lose their value significantly the minute they’re sold. If part of your plan is to keep your new toy in good shape, then resell it next year and get a big percentage of your money back, you may want to reconsider financing it.

Family cosign: Mom and Dad may be willing to help you get that loan, but what would happen if you couldn’t make the payments? Plan on paying this loan back just as if you owed it to the folk themselves — because you do.

“A good walk spoilt”
Mark Twain once described golf as “a good walk spoilt.”

Well, apparently, millions would beg to differ.

According to the National Golf Foundation, there are more than 18 million golfers in the United States alone, spending nearly $600 million annually for equipment to play on some 17,000 golf courses and an equal number of driving ranges. Golf is believed to be the fastest growing sport worldwide.

If you’re looking to tote a bag of Tiger Woods-caliber clubs, figure on spending in the neighborhood of $100 per iron, $200 to $500 per wood and about $250 for bag and shoes.

And figure on paying with cash or a credit card.

“It would be awfully difficult for us to compete with credit cards,” admits Hill Boswell, owner of World of Golf in Naples, Fla. “The credit card has displaced any chance of us becoming financiers.”

Still, even a good starter kit runs just $350, leaving you plenty left over to pay your greens fees.

A hole in the water

Pleasure boating has been described as a hole in the water into which you pour money. That hasn’t deterred more than 77 million Americans from casting off in search of fun on the water.

Whether it’s sailing in the Florida Keys, water skiing in the Lake of the Ozarks, houseboating on Lake Powell or salmon fishing in the Pacific Northwest, if it floats, fast or slow, we’re climbing aboard in record numbers.

In fact, the number of recreational boats in the United States doubled between 1970 and 1990. Today, there are more than 20 million of them. According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, Americans spent nearly $23 billion on boating and related items in 1999 alone.

How can you afford your very own hole in the water?

Where there’s a will — and a credit history — there’s a way.

If you’re looking for a new pleasure boat, you can generally expect to pay $1,000 per foot, depending on features and locale. For most of us, that means financing.

Financing through a boat dealer has been both attractive and popular recently, according to Lenny Rine, finance manager of Back Bay Marina in Bonita Springs, Fla. Terms are competitive and qualifying is generally a breeze, even with borderline credit.

“If I had to pick out of the air, I’d say we’ve probably financed 92 percent of our customers the past few years,” Rine says.

Simple interest

Boat loans are generally simple interest loans of up to 15 years, with 10 percent to 20 percent down and no prepayment penalty. That means if you pay it off in three years, you only pay three years worth of interest. If your credit’s not so hot, expect to pay a higher rate and more up front.

Most dealers solicit your loan from any number of marine lenders, which actually set your rate and terms. Because marine lenders are often a centralized department within major financial institutions, your dealer likely has a better relationship with them than your own bank does.

At Back Bay, the higher the dollar amount of the sale, the lower the interest rate, with steps every $5,000 beginning at $10,000. Rine says his rates on a $25,000 boat currently range from 9.9 percent to 10.75 percent for buyers with good to fair credit, 12.9 percent to 18.9 percent for buyers with poor credit.

Because marine loans are plentiful, Rine advises telling your dealer the terms you want.

“Nothing’s set in stone anymore,” he says.

There are alternatives, however. You might prefer to take out a home equity loan through your bank, a boat loan through your credit union or, if you’re feeling particularly lucky (or loan-averse), there’s good old plastic.

The lease option

Or you may decide to do what many boating enthusiasts do — lease a boat.

No, it’s not like an auto lease; you have no ownership of the boat and no payoff option. Boat leasing allows you to use a boat for specified periods of time during the year; essentially, as an extended, reserved rental. Boat owners often lease their boats to help defray expenses.

Leasing has many advantages over buying. Port and Starboard Boats, which leases 16- to 38-foot power boats on Lake Travis near Austin, Texas, charges $226 a month for nine months for 30 boating days aboard a 23-foot sport boat, which averages out to less than $68 a day. On larger boats with two-year memberships, you can even lease with a buddy and split the costs.

Sure, you’ll have no equity and only fond memories for your investment. But it’s still a dime-to-dollar investment compared to buying the boat and paying your own insurance, moorage, maintenance and repairs.

Before you buy your own waterhole you might want to check into leasing one and make the comparison with real numbers and real boats.

Watercraft shock

Ralph Guthrie says people are surprised to find that it’s more difficult to finance an $8,000 Jet Ski™ than it is a $25,000 boat.

“Financing on personal watercraft is viewed as a true luxury because you’re buying something you absolutely don’t need,” says Brookside Marina sales manager Guthrie. “They’re personal to the guy who is buying them.”

Personal watercraft retail between $5,000 and $8,500; trailers run another $500 to $600. It is estimated there are more than 1.3 million of them in use domestically.

Guthrie says that even with “triple-A, golden” credit, you can expect to pay 12.99 percent to 17.99 percent on a simple interest loan of three to seven years with 10 percent to 20 percent down for a Jet Ski™ loan. Young people with limited credit history can expect to pay the higher end and put 25 percent to 30 percent down.

“It’s probably easier to buy a 25-foot boat than it is to buy a personal watercraft,” Guthrie admits. “You can probably borrow money on a 20-foot boat with less down, lower interest and fewer problems than you could with a personal watercraft.”

Guess what? It’s more expensive to insure them, too.

Insurance agent Jim Bolenbaugh of Naples, Fla., estimates that coverage on a personal watercraft would average $350 a year, while coverage on a $25,000 boat might run $250.

“Jet Skis are a higher risk,” says Guthrie. “It’s easier to steal these things, it’s easier to wreck them. It’s kind of like the guy buying the Corvette vs. the guy buying the four-door sedan.”

Financing options for personal watercraft, as well at all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles and snow mobiles, also include a revolving credit card through original equipment manufacturers (OEM) such as Honda and Yamaha, good on all their products and accessories.

Guthrie warns against them.

“I don’t like them, nor do I use them,” he says. “You’re going to end up in the 21 percent range.”

Nonetheless, if you’re lacking the cash or credit, or if you plan to acquire accessories from the same manufacturer, an OEM card just might come in handy.

What, you’re still reading? Go on — get out there and enjoy yourself!