Mercedes-Benz Financial becomes the first automotive financial services company to let customers pay their car loans using hand-held iPhone and iPod Touch devices.

It's the next step in a trend of more consumers using the Internet for banking and bill-paying, says Jennifer Springer, manager-dealer and consumer point of sale for Mercedes-Benz Financial.

“Fifty percent of our loan payments come from an online channel already, and people are going in the direction of mobile hand-held devices,” she tells Ward's. “It allows users to pay anytime and anywhere.”

A marketing campaign will tout it as “the coolest way to pay.”

The new setup also lets customers use the devices to view their account summaries and request payoff information.

Free downloads are available, but for security purposes account holders must first register online at Mercedes-Benz

All iPhone and iPod Touch users — even those who aren't Mercedes-Benz Financial customers — can locate the nearest Mercedes dealer, contact a customer-service representative and get updates.

“The iPhone App provides our customers with another means to communicate with us,” says Franz Reiner, vice president of the captive lender, which plans to expand the program to other hand-held devices, such as Blackberry and Palm products.

“Customers have been asking for this,” Springer says. “We did a survey asking what we could improve upon. High among responses was ‘give us more options to pay our bills.’”

Potential future enhancements for vehicle shoppers include a payment estimator and an application that helps determine lease rates, Springer says. “We would like to help drive traffic to dealer showrooms.”

Mercedes-Benz Financial provides financing and leasing services to about 450,000 drivers in the U.S.