What can you afford?

Before you buy a car, consider all the costs to determine what you can afford.

MatthewIf you’re one of the millions of people who decide to get a car, the main thing is just be realistic about what it’s going to cost you. When I owned a car a few years ago, it was definitely fun but a major responsibility, too. And a major expense.

CarlosYou know what, I’m right there with you. It’s not just the cost of the car … it’s all the extra expenses that come with it: gas, parking, maintenance, repairs, insurance, taxes, fees. I mean the list goes on. And while you’re paying all this money, the value of your car is going down the more you put miles on it.

MatthewExactly. So that’s why our advice is to research it, think it through, and take the process step by step.

Points to consider

Your needs
Based on your situation, what type of vehicle will fill your transportation needs now and in the next few years? Will a 2-door compact do the job, or do you need a 4-door car, a 4-wheel drive, or maybe a pick-up truck? Are safety and fuel economy important to you? Options such as a sunroof, leather seats, fancy wheels, and a sound system can be great, but they can add a lot to the price of the car.

Consider value
Reference guides such as Kelly Blue Book and Edmunds can help you determine the value of a vehicle. Keep in mind that some features, such as sunroofs and leather seats, may add to a car’s resale value. Safety features are typically not very expensive for the potential benefits they offer, but probably won’t add much to the resale value. Visit Web sites such as autotrader.com to compare models and features. Talk with a loan officer to get more information about car values.

New vs. used
Remember, almost all cars depreciate (go down in value) over time. The value of a new car can drop hundreds or even thousands of dollars the day you drive it off the car dealer’s lot. You may be able to save a substantial amount by finding a used car in good mechanical condition.

Buy vs. lease
Buying a car means paying for it with cash and/or a loan. After you make all the payments, you own the vehicle and can sell or trade it. With leasing, you sign a contract and make monthly payments to have use of the car for a specific length of time and number of miles. After making all your lease payments, you return the car to the dealer. You own nothing and may even owe the dealer more money for any excess mileage or damage. However, monthly lease payments are often lower than loan payments.

Down payment
You’ll probably need some significant cash up front to acquire the car to begin with. This is known as the down payment. Have you set aside the amount you’ll need?

Loan term
If you get a car loan, you’ll have a monthly payment to the lender. Keep in mind that the longer the term of your loan (that is, the longer you have to pay the money back) the lower your monthly payment will be. But this will also mean that you’ll pay more interest over the life of the loan and will end up paying more for the car than you would with a shorter term loan. Make sure you know what your total costs will be and decide if the vehicle seems worth it to you at that price.

Your monthly budget
After you pay all of your other bills, how much money do you have available to pay the ongoing expenses of car ownership such as fuel, insurance, maintenance, registration, parking, and other expenses? Remember, over the years that you own the car, there may be times when your income drops or you’re unemployed. Try to keep your car expenses within a range you can consistently afford through the ups and downs.

Note: How much –- and how quickly –- your car will depreciate (go down in value) will depend on factors including the make, model, year, where you live and how much you drive it.

If you’re considering a car loan, see the topic All About Credit.

To learn more about leasing a car, click the Next button.