7 Tips for Deciding How Much Car You Can Afford

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According to the most recent State of the Automotive Finance Market study from Experian, the average new car loan surged to a shocking $30,534 during the first quarter of the year. Unfortunately, those purchasing new cars didn’t lower their expenses that much. The study noted that the average used car from a franchise set consumers back $20,904, whereas the price of the average used car purchased independently climbed to $16,612.

But what’s really astounding is how long people promised to pay their loans back. New car loans—for both new and used vehicles—lasted an average of almost 69 months, the report noted. Obviously, this is a lot of cash, and there are borrowers who can’t truly afford these loans.

If you’re getting ready to purchase a car and don’t want to overspend or borrow too much, here are seven tips that can help.

#1: Review Your Budget

Whether you plan to finance your car or pay entirely in cash, you need to make sure you understand the financial implications of the purchase. Figure out how the monthly payment will affect your monthly budget or how paying in cash might affect your finances over all.

If you’ve been paying a $400 or $500 monthly car payment all along, you might already know what you can handle. But if you’re financing a car for the first time, you’ll want to sit down and write out a budget and your expenses to gauge how much you can truly afford without forsaking your other financial goals.

If you’re paying for a car in cash, make sure you’re not depleting your emergency fund—and that you’re leaving enough money behind for your regular bills and living expenses.

#2: Consider the Interest Rate

While the total cost of your new or used car is a good place to start your comparison, you should also check to see what interest rate you qualify for. Generally speaking, the interest rate you qualify for will depend on the quality of your credit score. (You can view your free credit report at Credit.com to get a sense of how your credit score may affect your rates.)

And if you think it doesn’t matter, think again. Even a few percentage points can make a huge difference. If you borrow $25,000 at 8% APR, for example, you’ll pay $506.91 per month and incur a total loan cost of $30,414.59. If you take out the same loan but qualify for 4% APR, on the other hand, you’ll pay $460.41 per month and only $27,624.78 over the life of your loan.

#3: Don’t Forget about the Length of Your Loan

While it’s important to gauge the affordability of your new car’s payment and the interest rate you qualify for, don’t forget about the length of your loan. Taking out a longer loan can help you qualify for a lower payment, but you may pay a lot more interest due to the longer stretch of time it takes you to repay.

And if you need to borrow for longer than you really want, it might be worth asking yourself if you’re spending too much.

“If you must borrow money for a car, make sure it is an amount that can be paid off in three to four years and the payment will comfortably fit within your monthly budget,” says financial planner Matt Adams of Money Methods. “If you need to finance a vehicle for anything longer than four years to simply get the payment within reach, you are likely buying more vehicle than you should.”

#4: Remember the Higher Ongoing Costs of New Vehicles

In addition to the sticker price of vehicles you’re considering, it’s smart to look into other costs you might incur, says financial adviser Ryan Cravitz of Milestone Wealth Management.

“Make sure that you don’t forget to account for the many so-called hidden costs when buying a particular car,” he says. “Factors such as the cost of insuring the vehicle, the average maintenance and repair costs, the fuel economy ratings, and whether you should buy the extended warranty are just a few things that should not be ignored.”

Also, don’t forget that a lot of these costs can be higher if you purchase a new car right off the lot. Auto insurance rates in particular tend to be heftier than you might expect when you purchase a newer, more expensive vehicle.

#5: Ask Yourself about the Trade-Offs

Taking on a new car loan is often one of the easiest ways to get into the car you want. While it’s difficult and time-consuming to save up tens of thousands of dollars in a new car fund, you can visit a dealership, finance a car, and drive off the lot in a matter of hours.

Unfortunately, you’ll likely pay a pretty penny for the privilege. While you may theoretically be able to afford the payments on your new car, something usually has to give. And that something might be an expense you miss being able to afford like you were back in the days you didn’t have a huge car payment hanging over your head.

“Remember that whatever you spend on your car, that’s money you won’t have for clothes, food, or going out with your friends,” says financial adviser Anthony Montenegro of Blackmont Financial Advisors. “So, weigh out the trade-off carefully and spend wisely.”

#6: Set a Firm Limit and Consider Your Options

While any of the tips above can help you figure out how much you can afford to spend on your new ride, some financial advisers suggest simplifying the process with a firm limit.

For example, New York financial adviser Joseph Carbone of Focus Planning Group recommends that his clients never take out a car loan that exceeds 10% of their monthly income. “Of course, everyone’s situation is different,” he says. But this situation can truly work if you let it.

Let’s say your take-home pay is $4,500 per month. Using this rule, your car payment should come in under $450 per month. That may not be enough to get you into the car you want, but it’s enough to get you into the car you need.

Financial adviser Brian Hanks also suggests considering more than one car as you make your final selection.

“After you choose a model car you think you want, pick your second favorite,” says Hanks. “Compare the monthly costs of your first and second choice cars side by side. Without a tangible second choice to compare against, it’s too easy to justify higher monthly costs for your first choice.”

#7: Spend Less Than You Can Afford

If you’re still struggling to decide how much to spend—or you’re worried about overextending yourself—take a step back. Unless you need a new car today, there’s nothing wrong with thinking through your decision for weeks or months until you know exactly where you’re at.

And if you still can’t decide, try to err on the side of spending less than you can afford, says financial planner Mitchell Bloom of Bloom Financial, LLC. Bloom says he sees a lot of people who under-budget for and overspend on cars to the point where it puts them in financial peril. Fortunately, this situation is completely avoidable if you do some legwork.

The bottom line: Keep your expenses low, save as much as you can, and have a long-term plan. And if this advice doesn’t mesh with the car you want to buy, you’re probably spending too much.

 

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Leasing a Car: 7 Reasons Why You Should Consider It

7 Reasons Leasing a Car May Be Smarter for You

Would you like to spend less money up-front, drive away from the dealership in a brand-new car, and spend less time and money on vehicle maintenance?

Consider leasing your next car.

What Does Leasing a Car Mean?

Leasing a car is a lot like renting one—but for a much longer period of time. When you buy a car, you own it after you’ve made all your monthly payments. When you lease a car, you make monthly payments, drive it for a set amount of time (usually about three years), and then give it back to the dealer when that time is up.

Then you get to decide what you want to do next with no strings attached—do you want to lease again or buy a car this time?

While leasing isn’t the perfect solution for everyone, it is absolutely worth considering. Here are seven reasons leasing a car might be the better option for you.

1. You Get to Drive Newer Cars

If you’re the kind of person who likes driving a new car, leasing your vehicle may be a better option than buying one. Cars depreciate quickly, so if you buy a new car, you’ll probably owe more than it’s worth not long after you make the initial purchase.

If you lease instead of buy, you can keep driving new cars indefinitely—just trade in your old lease for a new one every few years. That means you’ll have access to the latest features, like better navigation, back-up cameras, or music players. You could even lease an expensive car for an affordable monthly payment.

2. You Probably Pay Less Up-Front

Traditional car loans usually come with somewhat hefty down payments. But if you lease instead, you’ll likely have a lower down payment than you would with a normal loan. In fact, some dealers may not require a down payment at all.

This means you pay much less up-front so you can put that extra money toward home repairs, a vacation, or paying down existing debt.

3. You Get to Drive a Safer, More Reliable Car

When you lease, you’ll probably drive a newer car, which can be safer and more reliable. The newest cars have the most recent safety features and are compliant with current safety regulations that older cars might not meet.

Plus, since a newer car has less wear and tear, it’s less likely to break down and leave you stranded in an unsafe situation on the side of a fast highway or miles away from civilization.

4. You’ll Likely Spend Less on Repairs and Maintenance

Usually, a newer car needs fewer repairs, but when issues do come up, repairs will often cost less if you lease your vehicle. Most of the time, the vehicle you’re leasing will still be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty, so you won’t have to foot the bill for expensive repairs. There’s a good chance that basic maintenance, like oil changes, will also be covered in your lease agreement or car warranty. 

5. Your Monthly Payments Might Be Lower

When you lease a vehicle, you pay for the vehicle’s depreciation during the lease. When you buy, you’re paying taxes, fees, special finance charges, and the full price of the vehicle.

This means that monthly lease payments are usually lower than loan payments.

6. You Don’t Have to Worry about Selling Your Car

Selling a used car can be a hassle. With leasing, you skip it entirely. Instead, you drop the car off with the dealer when the lease is up. Then you’re free to lease a car again or purchase a new one without worrying about trade-in value or an ownership transfer.

7. You May Pay Less Sales Tax

If you buy a car, you pay taxes all at once for the full value of the vehicle. When you lease, you pay taxes on your monthly payment and spread that cost out over time, so there’s a good chance you’ll pay less sales tax.

Things to Remember about Leasing a Car

There are lots of great perks about leasing instead of buying, but it isn’t the perfect solution for every person. If you decide to lease a car, there are a few things you should remember.

  1. You Still Need to Get through a Credit Check

Leasing isn’t the same as a normal car loan, but it is still a form of financing, so a dealer will check your credit to make sure you’re eligible for a lease. In fact, you might need a higher credit score to lease than you would need to buy.

If you have a low credit score, you may pay a higher interest rate or be denied financing altogether. It is always wise to keep an eye on your credit report throughout the year to look for errors or other problems. For the best rates, make sure your credit is in good shape before you apply for financing.

  1. You May Have to Stick to a Mileage Limit

Leases come with mileage limitations. In most cases, that limitation will be somewhere between 10,000 and 12,000 miles per year. If you go over that limit, you pay extra fees for every extra mile—which can be costly.

Before you sign up for a lease, think carefully about how much you drive each year. Your daily commute is probably the biggest thing to consider, but all those little trips to the grocery store can also add up. If you drive more than 10,000 miles in a year, you may want to pay for extra miles or buy a car instead.

  1. You Get Charged for Extra Wear and Tear

Leases require you to keep the vehicle in good condition. If you turn it in with stains, scratches, dents, or dings, you’ll have to pay extra charges. Should you lease a car, take extra good care of it.

  1. You Could Be Penalized for Terminating the Lease Early

Car leases work a lot like other lease agreements. If you terminate your lease early, you may be subject to significant penalties and fees—just like you would be if you broke an apartment lease early.

  1. You Can’t Modify the Vehicle

Lease agreements have strict rules, and if you violate the agreement, you’ll be fined. Modifications will likely violate the warranty or lease terms—even if they’re modifications that you consider upgrades, such as shiny new rims or a more powerful sound system.

Should You Lease or Buy a Car?

Leasing is an excellent option if you’re comfortable with the limitations that are spelled out in the lease agreement. If you’re still on the fence, ask yourself the following questions to determine whether a lease is best for you:

  • How much do you drive each year? If you love going on epic road trips, leasing may not be the best option, but if you just need a car to get to and from work and around town, a lease would work well.
  • How much do you want to spend up-front? If you don’t have a large down payment saved up, you could get into a new car faster by leasing instead of buying.
  • Is driving a new car important to you? If you’re okay driving the same car for the next 10 to 15 years, you should probably just buy one. However, if you want to consistently drive newer vehicles, leasing is one of the easiest ways to do that.
  • Does vehicle maintenance frustrate you? Because leased cars are newer, they usually have fewer maintenance issues. And when those issues do come up, they’re often covered under the manufacturer’s warranty. If you don’t want to think too often about maintenance, leasing might be a good call.
  • Do you have good credit? Sometimes, you need better credit to lease a car than to buy one. If you’re still working on repairing your credit, you may have to purchase a car instead of leasing one.
  • Do you care more about short-term or long-term savings? Leasing is a great way to save on up-front costs. It also usually results in smaller monthly payments, which makes leasing a perfect option if you want to save money right now. However, in the long run, leasing may cost more than buying since you don’t own any property at the end of your lease.

When deciding whether leasing or buying a car is better for you, carefully consider all the various factors. It’s important to take your own needs and preferences into account to determine which is the most reasonable solution. Use the tips above and research local leasing options to ensure you pick the best one.
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4 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Leasing or Buying a Car

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When you’re looking for a new car, it can be difficult to decide whether buying one outright or leasing one for a period of time makes more sense. It’s true that cars only go down in value the longer you own them, but there are still some solid arguments for owning one outright rather than essentially renting one.

Car-related decisions can be stressful, and there’s a lot you need to know before buying or renting, but don’t worry. If you’re in the market for a new car and aren’t sure which way to go, you can use the following questions to help you make the best decision for your situation.

Question 1: How Much Will I Be Driving This Car?

If you only need a car for weekend adventures and plan to use public transportation or to carpool during the week, then leasing might be the better option for you, if you can get a good deal. Most lease contracts come with stipulations on how many miles you can put on the car while you’re using it, but if you’re only using it for a few quick trips each week, you likely won’t come close to hitting that mileage mark. Still, you’ll want to pay close attention to that number if you do end up going for a lease. Always ask what happens if you go over the mileage count, since the penalties can be steep. On the other hand, if you have a lengthy commute to get to work and you need a reliable car to get you there—or you just aren’t interested in tracking miles—buying might be better for you.

Question 2: What Do I Plan to Use It For? 

You probably wouldn’t go into a car purchase intending to rough up the car, but stuff happens, so you’ll need to decide what you plan to use your car for to know if leasing is right for you. If you lease a car, the dealer generally allows normal wear and tear upon return at the end of your lease, but you’ll be charged extra if they think the car has been more weathered. Be sure to get the specifics from the dealership on what exactly they consider “normal” wear and tear, and if that doesn’t match your plans for the car—if you plan to off-road in the Colorado Rockies on most weekends, for example—it might be better to buy.

Question 3: How Long Do I Plan to Keep It?

One appealing thing about leasing a car is that most car leases end after three years—so you have the opportunity to upgrade to a new model every three years if you’d like. Of course you could buy a car and upgrade that way, but it can be harder to deal with the sale of a car than it is to just turn your lease back over to the dealer.

Question 4: How Much Can I Afford to Put Down?

Most lease agreements will come with lower down payments than buyer agreements have. In some cases, if you lease a car, you may even be able to negotiate with the dealer to skip a down payment altogether. (Keep in mind, though, that this will likely result in higher monthly payments.) Either way, if you really need a car now, and you don’t have the cash for a decent down payment, then going with a lease may put you in the driver’s seat faster than if you waited to buy a car.

Buying a car is a very personal decision, and whether you lease or buy will be determined by a number of factors. At the end of the day, buying a car is almost always the cheaper option if you need a car for the long term, but signing up for a short-term lease can be a solid option depending on your needs. Putting in a little bit of extra thought before searching for your next ride can ensure you make the right decision.

Whatever move you decide to make, be smart in how you approach car buying or leasing. Don’t forget that having good credit will improve your car-buying experience, so before you make car-related decisions, check your credit and see where you’re at. You can always check your credit for free at Credit.com.

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How to Deal with an Underwater Car Loan When You Can’t Sell

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According to experts at the automotive website Edmunds, a new car loses up to $7,419 of its value during the first year on the road. Over the next three years, new cars lose an average of $5,976 in value, mostly due to age and wear and tear.

This shows just how quickly a fancy new car can depreciate in value—and how quickly it can become worth a lot less than what you owe. After all, if you financed that new car without a down payment, the average car owner would have to pay $7,419 in principal payments the first year just to keep up with rapid depreciation.

But what if you want to sell your car and your loan is underwater? Unfortunately, this is a real issue, and one that happens all the time. If you’ve financed a car and can’t afford the monthly payment, if you need a different vehicle to fit your family or job, or if you just want a do-over, it may be difficult to find a solution without taking a loss.

If you’re underwater on your car loan and can’t sell, here are some potential solutions and why they may or may not be a good fit for you.

1. Trade in Your Car

According to another study from Edmunds, 32% of all automotive trade-ins were underwater during the first quarter of 2016. Car owners who owed more than their cars were worth had an average of $4,832 in negative equity before they traded up to something shiny and new.

This just goes to show that if you owe more than your car is worth, you’re in good company. But that doesn’t mean trading up is good for your wallet. The dealership you work with may be able to wrap your debt into your new loan, but unfortunately, you’ll remain underwater, even with the new loan.

If you’re trying to get out from under an oppressive car loan, this isn’t the solution. The only time to consider this option is when you need a different car to accommodate a changing life situation, such as with your job or your family.

2. Make Extra Payments

If you’re tired of being underwater and just want to sell your car, some experts advise making extra payments on your loan to pay it off faster.

However, if you’re struggling to come up with cash, you may want to consider halting your investment or retirement contributions to free up cash, notes Joseph Carbone of Focus Planning Group. According to Carbone, while it might sound over the top to stop investing for a while, this strategy might be the best choice, especially if the interest rate on your car loan is over 10%. Once you pay down your car loan and sell your vehicle, Carbone says, you can resume investing as usual.

Another option is to go on a limited-time spending freeze, says Texas financial planner Matt Adams.

“If cash flow is an issue, then it is time to tighten your budget and/or find a way to earn some additional income to pay the note down,” he says. This might be a good idea if you want to free up cash without changing your investment strategy.

3. Refinance Your Car Loan

While it might seem counterintuitive to take out another loan, refinancing your loan can make sense in certain situations, says Anthony Montenegro of Blackmont Advisors.

If you’re struggling to keep up with outrageous payments, for example, a new car loan could help you score a lower monthly payment, so long as you’re willing to extend your repayment timeline. It can also make sense to refinance if you have a high interest rate and you’ve improved your credit enough to qualify for a new loan with a significantly lower rate.

Before you refinance, make sure you look around for auto loans with no or low closing costs. Also, read the fine print on your new loan to make sure you understand your new payment and when the loan will be paid off.

4. Use Your Car to Make Money

Consider using your car to earn some extra cash. One way you can is with Turo.com—a website that lets you rent out your car. Alex Whitehouse of FinHealthy.com says that Turo.com is like “Airbnb for your ride” and notes that according to Turo, “hosts can typically cover their car payments by renting out their cars just nine days a month.”

If you have some spare time for a side hustle, you could also start driving for a rideshare company like Uber or Lyft. Financial planner Charles C. Scott says that you can “let your car work for you” this way. And since this side gig is flexible, those extra hours can fit nicely into your regular work schedule and social calendar.

5. Keep Your Underwater Car

Whatever the reason for wanting to ditch your underwater car loan, keep in mind that your alternatives may not be perfect. Sometimes it makes the most sense to just keep the car and pay it off the slow and painful way, says Ryan Cravitz of Milestone Wealth Management & Insurance Solutions.

If you’re able, paying your car off at a regular pace would eventually put you in an enviable situation—being free from car payments completely. The challenge at that point would be to avoid trading in your paid-off car and starting the whole process over.

The Bottom Line

The next time you find yourself itching for a new car, try to avoid a situation where you’re buying more than you can afford. According to Steven Rocha of Define Financial, “If possible, take your time and save money for a larger down payment,” and “doing so will make the purchase feel more real and might make you reassess just how much car you really want.”

Regardless of how you deal with an underwater car loan, keep in mind that you could easily make this mistake again if you’re not careful. Car dealers are more than happy to sell you one overpriced car after another, and you could spend most of your adult life owing money on cars that depreciate at lightning speed.

If you find yourself stuck in a pattern of underwater loans, or if you just want to get better at managing your debt, you can find more information online that may help. And before you buy another car or make any other big purchase, take a look at your credit report. You can see your credit report for free at Credit.com.

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My New Car Is a Piece of Junk. Can I Return It to the Dealer?

My Car Is a Piece of Junk. Can I Return It to the Dealer?

Once upon a time, you loved your car. You loved it so much that you agreed to the payment terms and drove it home from the dealer or, dare we say, a private seller. But now, that love has grown cold and you wish you’d never laid eyes on it. And to make matters worse, you’re bound to its existence and monetary depreciation—thanks to that sweet-little-pain-in-the-butt payment book. Or at least, that’s what you’re afraid of.

If you’re wondering if you can return your unwanted car without any more financial obligation, read on. We’ll discuss whether it’s possible and what you can expect.

Can I Return My Car?

Readers have asked us if they can just “give the keys back” and get a car that is reliable and without unanticipated problems—specifically, a vehicle they can confidently drive with their family, friends, or pets in tow. The short answer is yes, but there’s a variety of potential repercussions and unseen problems.

Before you do anything, find out the following:

  1. If you purchased your car through a private seller, does your state have a “lemon law”?
  2. If you purchased your car through a dealership, does the dealer have a return policy?

If you can answer “yes” to either of these questions, look into these options further to see if your circumstances apply and what you’re entitled to.

However, if you have no recourse under your state’s lemon law and your situation doesn’t qualify for a dealership’s return policy, returning the car is going to be a little tricky and could have credit implications—which you’ll want to consider, especially if you plan to lease or purchase another car once you give the other one back.

Returning the Car to the Dealer

Despite how liberating and freeing a car return may feel, giving the vehicle back to the dealer won’t erase your debt. In fact, the consequences could be just as frustrating as the junk car itself.

“Technically, if you give the car back, it is the same as a repossession,” Matt Briggs, co-founder and CEO of RentTrack, explains. “Keep in mind you have a legal obligation to pay the terms of the loan and the car dealer is typically not the finance company who holds the loan (unless they are ‘buy here pay here’). Either way you cannot simply ‘give back’ the vehicle to a dealer and walk away.”

So look at it this way: to simply give the car back is to consent to automobile repossession—meaning the car would be sold at auction, and you would be responsible for the difference in what the car brought at auction and the amount you still owe on the car.

Plus, you’d be on the hook for expenses involved in this process, such as repossession, towing, title and sale, and storage. So if you leave the car at the dealership, you still owe the debt—which could total to more than the dang clunker is worth—and you’re out a working vehicle.

Concerned about what could happen to your credit score? According to Experian, a car repossession stays on your credit report for seven years—even after the original account goes delinquent. You can see how your debt has affected you by getting a free credit report summary on Credit.com, which will explain what factors influence your credit score.

Car Debt and Bankruptcy

There is a way, however, to force a dealer to “eat steel,” says Eugene Melchionnne, a Connecticut bankruptcy attorney. To do so, you can surrender the car and discharge the debt in bankruptcy—but then you’d have to apply for bankruptcy. “There is also a process for ‘cramming down’ the debt to the value of the car in bankruptcy, and in a Chapter 13 case, you can spread the balance owed over an extended period of time,” he says.

“For example, if the car loan is for $20,000, but the car is worth $10,000, the loan can be reduced to $10,000, and if there are, say, four years left to pay at $500 per month, the payments can be spread out to a maximum of five years on the lowered balance, resulting in $330 or more a month savings,” Melchionne explains.

Selling or Trading the Car Instead

With all that said, it might be simpler and cheaper to sell the vehicle yourself or trade it in for something else, which is what Matt Briggs suggests you do.

“[At] most repossession auctions, the cars sell for a much lower price than the retail value, so you may end up owing more than you would if you sold it [as a] private party (using a website like AutoTrader, eBay, or Cars.com) or if you traded it in on a different vehicle.”

The Bottom Line

For most of us, simply driving the car back to the dealership and handing over the keys, however tempting, is not a workable strategy. So after you dig yourself out of this mess, do as much due diligence as possible before you buy next time.

“Bottom line,” Briggs said, “you have a legal obligation to pay the car loan in full, so make sure you are getting a good deal before you sign on the dotted line.”

 

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10 Things You Need to Know before Buying a Car

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Buying a new or used car can be an intimidating experience. Many car salespeople may pressure you to leave the lot with a purchased vehicle, so it’s crucial you’re armed with information about the cars you are interested in, the budget you can afford, and the value of your trade-in—if you have one. With these details, you have all the tools you need to negotiate properly.

Here are 10 tips and strategies for making sure you get the best-quality vehicle at the lowest price.

1. Think about Financing

Prior to visiting any dealership, have a sense of what kind of deposit you can put down and what monthly payment you can afford. It also helps to do some research on available auto loans to get a sense of what you qualify for. Or try a service like AutoGravity, which allows you to select rates and terms that fit your budget and then obtain offers from lenders.

2. Check Your Credit Score

Knowing your credit score can be helpful as well. Justin Lavelle, chief communications officer for BeenVerified, says, “Having a good idea of your credit report and credit score and the interest rates available can help you negotiate a good deal and save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.”

3. Shop Around

Research the cars you might be interested in before you head to a dealership, rather than going in unprepared. To determine what kind of car you want, use resources like US News Best Cars, where you can search anything from “best cars for families” to “best used cars under 10k.” Another resource is Autotrader, which can be used to search new and used cars in your area by make, model, price, body style, and more.

4. Compare Prices

Lavelle also stresses getting detailed pricing info in advance: “Price the car at different dealerships and use online services to get invoice and deal pricing.” A reliable tool is Kelley Blue Book. Use the site’s car value tool to find out the MSRP and the dealer invoice of a car as well as a range of prices you can expect to see at dealerships. TrueCar is also helpful to use. You can search for and request pricing on any make, model, or year of car. You may get a slew of phone calls, emails, and texts from dealers immediately after, but having information from different dealerships can help you negotiate prices. You should also visit dealer sites to look for rebate offers.

5. Research Your Trade-In’s Value

If you have a trade-in, don’t wait for the salesperson to tell you what it’s worth. On Kelley Blue Book, you can get a sense of the value ahead of time so you know if you’re receiving a good offer. Or try the Kelley Blue Book Instant Cash Offer feature, where dealers will give you a guaranteed price for a trade, eliminating complicated haggling at the dealership. 

6. Test Drive Potential Purchases

You may want to pass on the test drive if you’re familiar with a particular make and model, but Lavelle recommends taking the time to do it anyway. “It is a good idea to inspect the car and give it a good test drive just to make sure all is working and there are no noticeable squeaks, rattles, or shimmies that could cause you headaches after your purchase,” he says.

7. Look at Car Histories

Before selecting dealerships to visit, search for consumer reviews so you can avoid having a bad experience. However, Lavelle warns that just because a car sits on a reputable, well-reviewed lot does not necessarily mean that the car is issue-free. So he recommends digging deeper, especially for used cars. “Services like CARFAX represent that they can tell you about the car’s life from first purchase forward, so that might be a good place to start,” he says. He also recommends checking the title, which you can do online via the DMV.

8. Find Repair Records

In addition to checking the repair history on the specific car you are interested in, Autotrader suggests looking up the repair record of the make and model. “Check J.D. Power and Consumer Reports reliability ratings to see if the vehicle you’re considering is known to be a reliable one,” the site states. It also recommend Internet forums and word of mouth.

9. Spring for an Inspection

Autotrader also suggests telling the seller you require an inspection from a mechanic before purchase to ensure there aren’t any problems. “While a mechanic may charge $100 or more for such an inspection, it can be worth it if it saves you from thousands of dollars in potential repairs,” it recommends. Some sellers may try to dismiss a mechanic’s inspection. Don’t give in—the seller could be covering up a serious issue with the car. Insist an inspection is done, or rethink your purchase.

10. Know Your Rights

For any new or used car, take the time to get familiar with the warranty package and return policies. Do you need to supplement the warranty? Is there a lemon law in your state? Currently, there are only six states that have one, so be sure to check.

Shopping for a car can be frightening, but with the right research and preparation, you won’t have any regrets. Use the tips and resources above, and snag a free credit report from Credit.com so you know what kind of financing you can expect.

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Looking for Auto Insurance? Here Are 6 Things You Need to Know

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Let’s get one thing out there: no one is especially psyched to get car insurance. You get it because it’s a financial safeguard against damage to your car or injury to you or others (and maybe because it also happens to be legally required in some form nearly everywhere in the US). Car insurance is complicated, and drivers often don’t know what to expect from the process.

Let us break down the basics so you’re better able to find the right coverage for you. Here are six things you need to know.

1. What Car Insurance Is 

As a licensed insurance agent, I find that many people I talk to don’t quite understand what insurance is or why they need it. I get it. After all, insurance is rather abstract—it’s not a physical object you buy at a store. Further, if all goes well for you, you won’t ever have to use the coverage you paid for. So it’s often hard for people to see the value.

In the simplest terms, insurance is a promise from an insurance company to support you financially in the event that something unfortunate occurs and causes you financial loss or other damage. You pay an insurance company money (your premium) for a policy that details your coverage (who/what is protected and to what dollar amount), and the insurance company is responsible for paying if something happens and you incur a loss (damage to your car, a broken leg, etc.). Insurance companies do this by pooling risk among all the people they insure, collecting premiums from everyone and using those funds to pay claims for those who need it.

Of course, there are many other details that go into the whole system, but we’re keeping it simple.

2. What Different Insurance Types Cover

The type and amount of coverage each person needs varies, but these are the coverage basics you should know.

Liability coverage is legally required for drivers in almost every state. It covers the other driver in a crash you cause, and it includes injury and property damage. If you see numbers like 25/50/10 or 30/60/25, that shows the liability coverage limits for (1) bodily injury per person, (2) bodily injury per accident, and (3) property damage—each in thousands of dollars. For example, 25/50/10 means your coverage will extend up to $25,000 per individual injured in an accident, $50,000 for all persons injured in an accident, and $10,000 for property damage.

In no-fault states, you are required to carry coverage (normally personal injury protection or PIP) for your injuries regardless of who caused the accident.

Collision coverage, which covers damage caused in a crash, and comprehensive coverage, which covers damage from other events including weather (fire, flooding, etc.) as well as theft, are often collectively called full coverage.

Other coverages include uninsured motorist coverage, which protects you and your vehicle from damage caused by people who don’t have insurance, and medical payments coverage, which covers select costs for injuries you and your passengers sustain in a collision.

3. How to Get Car Insurance

You can easily go online, call a company or two, or even walk into a local insurance agent’s office to talk to them about getting coverage. But how do you know which company to contact?

Insurance companies spend billions of dollars every year on advertising, so you could probably rattle off a few big car insurance brands you’re familiar with. But it’s important for consumers to know that not all insurance companies are the same—in fact, they all have different ways of pricing policies, and many look for certain types of customers with certain risk profiles to do business with.

This is why it’s more important than ever to compare car insurance quotes from as many companies as possible. Getting multiple opinions and understanding the market will help you find the best rate around.

4. Why You Pay What You Do

Insurance companies determine what you pay for insurance based on dozens of “rating factors”—all having to do with who you are, where you live, what you drive, and other details of your history, both on and off the road. Everything is about statistics, and insurance companies assign certain levels of risk to each of these factors to gauge the likelihood that you will file a claim.

For example, teens are considered high-risk drivers because they have so little experience behind the wheel and are statistically likelier to be in an accident—and thus file more claims—than older drivers, so they often pay much more for their premiums.

Other risk indicators include some obvious ones (like your driving record) and some less-obvious ones (like your ZIP code). There are also certain factors, like your credit score, which only some states allow to be used in determining your rate (it’s prohibited in California, Hawaii, and Massachusetts).

5. How to Lower Your Risk and Your Rates in the Future

You can’t change certain insurance rating factors, like your age, but you can make a few changes to reduce your risk in other areas. Here are a few tips:

  • Drive safely and maintain a clean driving record.
  • Consider sharing a policy with someone you live with.
  • Bundle your renters or homeowners policy if you can.
  • Pay your premium in full at the start of your policy or sign up for auto-pay.
  • Maintain insurance coverage with no lapse between policies (even for a day).

6. When to Get Insurance 

The obvious time to get car insurance is when you’re getting a car, but it’s critical that you don’t have a lapse in coverage between insurance policy terms. I highly recommend shopping around for car insurance before you begin the car-buying process. Shopping early also allows you to account for your premium in your car-related expense budget.

Other times to switch insurance could be if you get married, move, or have another big event in your life; if your rates increase for no apparent reason; or if you need to add a new teen driver to your policy.

Additionally, it’s important to compare rates every six months to make sure you’re staying up to date on any changes that might occur if you move, get a speeding ticket, or even have a birthday.

Once you’re ready to start your insurance search, you can use Credit.com’s comparison tool to get a car insurance quote and compare rates.

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7 Things to Know About Giving (or Getting) a Car for Graduation

If you're planning to buy a car for the new grad in your life, here's some advice on making the right choice.

Behind every diploma bestowed at high school and college graduations is a lot of hard work. And for some lucky grads, that hard work gets rewarded with a milestone gift: their own car. If you’re planning to buy a car for the new grad in your life, we’ve got some advice on making the right choice. And if you’re the recipient, we’ll share a few tips to help you drive into the future with confidence.

What to Consider If You’re Giving a Car to a New Grad

You’re so proud of your new grad for all their hard work that you’ve decided to shell out for a set of wheels to carry them on to their next adventures. Whether you’re getting your grad started with a well-loved (read: used) older car you bought from a neighbor or you’re splurging for a brand-new ride with all the bells and whistles, it’s important for you, the buyer, to take a moment to consider the realities of this major purchase — and of the needs of its soon-to-be owner.

1. Consider Total Cost of Ownership When Choosing a Car

First, let’s talk money. The car you buy should fit into your own budget, of course. But you also have to consider the total cost — including ongoing costs — of the car. Here are some things to think about.

Gas: If, for example, your child will be driving the car back and forth between home and an out-of-state university, would they (or you, if you’re footing the gas bill) be burdened by the costs of a gas-guzzling vehicle? If so, a fuel-efficient car might be a better option.

Insurance: This is the most expensive consideration after the vehicle itself. Neil Richardson, licensed insurance agent and adviser for The Zebra, says to keep insurance in mind right from the start as you shop for cars. If insurance is an afterthought when you’ve already purchased the car, you could be in for some unpleasant surprises. Further, the car you select will affect your insurance premium if your grad will be on your insurance policy (more on this below).

Maintenance: Consider the expenses related to repairing or replacing parts on the vehicle if it’s damaged in some way. Foreign car repairs may be much more expensive than domestic, but that’s not a hard-and-fast rule. Further, new cars may include manufacturer warranties or maintenance as part of your package, but if your grad is savvy with tools or has an interest in cars, they can take care of plenty of at-home car maintenance issues.

2. Prioritize Safety & Utility

When car shopping, safety should stay top of mind. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ranks the safest cars in different categories, from minis to large pickup trucks.

Also think about where and how much your recipient will be driving. If they’re headed for college or a new job in a crowded city, they’ll need a car that fits cramped streets and narrow parking spaces. A new college grad with a quick commute will appreciate a different kind of car than one whose new job requires them to be a road warrior.

3. Insure it

If your gift recipient is a high school grad who lives at your residence, they may get lower premiums if they stay on your policy, but whether that’s possible depends on your situation. If they’re headed to an in-state college or university, they can stay on your insurance policy as long as their primary residence is still your home address, Richardson says. Students leaving the state for college, though, may have to get coverage on their own, as rates are dependent on where the driver lives and “garages” the vehicle.

Remember that if your new grad is on your insurance policy, you could be held liable for damage they cause in an accident. For this reason, Richardson says it’s generally a good idea to go beyond the state-required minimums in liability coverage.

4. Get Your Paperwork in Order

Getting close to a decision? Before you seal the deal, prepare for some extra paperwork. Whether you’re heading to the dealer or buying a car privately, you’ll need to be prepared with the right documentation, such as the recipient’s driver’s license and current insurance, an IRS cash-reporting form and a security report. (Questions? Read more details about each of these documents.)

If You’re a New Grad Who’s Been Gifted a Car

So now you’re the proud owner of a new diploma and a car. Sweet! Take a moment to savor the payoffs for your hard work and generosity of your gift giver.

Once you’ve posted lots of photos of your new ride, you might be thinking about all the new freedom your car gives you or how you’re going to upgrade the stereo system. But there are some other things you need to keep in mind when it comes to how this car will affect your life. Nail down these details and you’ll be well on your way to acing this whole “#adulting” thing.

1. Know the Impact on Your Wallet

Even if you aren’t making payments on your new vehicle, a car can still have a huge impact on your wallet. (Here’s how car insurance affects your credit.) How much will you need to budget for gas, parking, insurance, registration and regular maintenance? Your folks or your generous benefactor may be picking up some of these expenses for you, at least in the short term. Be sure to establish clearly with others about who’s paying what and check in regularly to make sure necessary expenses related to your car are taken care of.

2. Your Insurance History Starts Now

We know that dealing with auto insurance for the first time is complicated, so it’s extra important to be clear on how your policy works, whether it’s in your name or you are on your parents’ policy for now. If you’re a registered driver of a registered vehicle, your insurance history starts now (even if you’re not paying for it), and a clean driving record and demonstrated history of continuous insurance coverage will mean huge savings on your insurance in the future.

If you’re in college, you can start building your insurance record by staying on your parents’ or legal guardians’ policies if they OK it. According to Richardson, as long as the parents’ address is still the primary residence of the student, on-campus housing is considered temporary since students have to leave at the end of each semester, so students can still be covered on their parents’ policy. Once they move off campus to a more permanent situation, i.e., a house or apartment, then they will need their own coverage. (Here are the states where your credit score really matters for car insurance coverage. No matter where you live, it’s a good idea to know where your credit stands — you can find out for free on Credit.com.)

If you’re not in college and you’ve moved away from your parents or guardians altogether and no longer share an address, you’ll have to have your own policy.

3. Keep That Car in Tip-Top Shape

Finally, regular preventive car maintenance will probably be the last thing on your mind as you adjust to college life or settle into a new job. So go ahead and set some reminders in your calendar to take care of oil changes, wiper fluid and other routine maintenance for your car. You’ll prolong the life of the car and make it less likely that problems will pop up just when you don’t need them — like on your Spring Break trip or on the way to a job interview.

Car not in your budget for a graduation gift? Consider these eight graduation gifts your kids will actually use. 

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The 10 Safest (& 10 Most Dangerous) States for Teen Drivers

An analysis found Mid-Atlantic states were among the safest for teen drivers.

Teen drivers are safer in the Mid-Atlantic states than in the Midwest, according to an analysis by CarInsurance.com.

The website analyzed the number of teen driver fatalities per capita, the strength of each state’s Graduated Driving License (GDL) laws, teen drinking and driving rates, teen emailing/texting and driving rates and average annual insurance costs for teen drivers.

In 2015, 2,898 teens’ passenger vehicle drivers were involved in fatal vehicle crashes nationwide, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). While that represents a slight uptick from the prior year, teen drivers are much safer than they were in the 1970s, when they were involved in close to 10,000 crashes a year.

GDL Laws

CarInsurance.com found that states with strong GDL laws, which limit young drivers, tended to be safest for teens. Strengthening laws in states where they are weak would save lives, IIHS said.

No matter where teens live, they are considered among the highest risk drivers on the road, because of their inexperience. That makes them very expensive to ensure. However, many insurance companies offer discounts to for students with good grades. Check out these other car insurance discounts you should ask about, and remember that many factors, including your credit score, can impact your auto insurance rates. (Your score can also affect your auto loan rate. Check two of your credit scores free on Credit.com.)

Here are the 10 safest and 10 most dangerous states for teen drivers, along with results from a Centers for Disease Control survey asking teens about whether they drank alcohol while driving and texted or emailed while driving.

10th Safest State: Vermont

Teen drivers drinking and driving: 7%
Teen drivers texting/emailing and driving: 33%

9th Safest State: Maine

Teen drivers drinking and driving: 5%
Teen drivers texting/emailing and driving: 39%

8th Safest State: Hawaii

Teen drivers drinking and driving: 7%
Teen drivers texting/emailing and driving: 41%

7th Safest State: Virginia

Teen drivers drinking and driving: 7%
Teen drivers texting/emailing and driving: 31%

6th Safest State: California

Teen drivers drinking and driving: 7%
Teen drivers texting/emailing and driving: 32%

5th Safest State: Massachusetts

Teen drivers drinking and driving: 9%
Teen drivers texting/emailing and driving: 40%

4th Safest State: Connecticut

Teen drivers drinking and driving: 7%
Teen drivers texting/emailing and driving: 30%

3rd Safest State: Pennsylvania

Teen drivers drinking and driving: 5%
Teen drivers texting/emailing and driving: 35%

2nd Safest State: New York

Teen drivers drinking and driving: 8%
Teen drivers texting/emailing and driving: 29%

Safest State: Maryland

Teen drivers drinking and driving: 7%
Teen drivers texting/emailing and driving: 26%

10th Most Dangerous State: South Dakota

Teen drivers drinking and driving: 8%
Teen drivers texting/emailing and driving: 63%

9th Most Dangerous State: Louisiana

Teen drivers drinking and driving: 7%
Teen drivers texting/emailing and driving: 39%

8th Most Dangerous State: Iowa

Teen drivers drinking and driving: 7%
Teen drivers texting/emailing and driving: 39%

7th Most Dangerous State: Nebraska

Teen drivers drinking and driving: 10%
Teen drivers texting/emailing and driving: 49%

6th Most Dangerous State: Mississippi

Teen drivers drinking and driving: 7%
Teen drivers texting/emailing and driving: 44%

5th Most Dangerous State: Alabama

Teen drivers drinking and driving: 11%
Teen drivers texting/emailing and driving: 44%

4th Most Dangerous State: Wyoming

Teen drivers drinking and driving: 10%
Teen drivers texting/emailing and driving: 52%

3rd Most Dangerous State: Kansas

Teen drivers drinking and driving: 9%
Teen drivers texting/emailing and driving: 39%

2nd Most Dangerous State: North Dakota

Teen drivers drinking and driving: 8%
Teen drivers texting/emailing and driving: 58%

Most Dangerous State: Montana

Teen drivers drinking and driving: 11%
Teen drivers texting/emailing and driving: 55%

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The 20 Worst States for Filing an Auto Insurance Claim

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