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Mommy Vans and Muscle Cars: How to Save Money on Your Next Car Purchase

By Dr. Lauretta A. Farrell, Executive Director, Affinity Federal Credit Union Foundation

Unlike other pricey personal items, cars are rarely an impulse buy. Most of us give a great deal of thought to the car of our dreams before heading out to the dealer. And that’s a good thing, because advanced planning can make the process much smoother. But it’s important to think about your finances just as much as your ideal make and model.

Buying a car can be overwhelming.  At its most basic, we are choosing a method of transportation.  But it is really so much more.  Our choice of car is a statement on who we are (the mommy-van vs. the muscle car) and what is important to us (built-in Bluetooth, or eco-friendliness). By the time you’ve figured all this out, financing the purchase is almost an after-thought. That’s where buyers miss opportunities for better rates and lower payments, and sometimes even sign themselves up for add-ons they don’t really need. Make sure you’re getting the car you want – but at the most bang for your buck – by checking off a few boxes.

1. Determine how much car you can afford. That doesn’t stop at your monthly car payment – you’ll also need to factor in the cost of fuel, car insurance, and regular maintenance. Online calculators are available to help kick start this step. Also, certain foreign cars tend to have more expensive parts, so buying a replacement tire for a Mercedes-Benz, for example, will have a much different price tag than one for a Honda.

2. Apply to get pre-approved for an auto loan. That’s right, just like you would for a mortgage. By getting pre-approved, you know what you can afford and how much your payments will be.  In addition, dealers often offer rebates that do not apply if you take their financing.  The lowest rate is not always the best deal. Remember: Car dealers often offer commission to sales representatives who coordinate car loans, so they have incentive to sell you their services. By doing your homework in advance, you’ll be able to see which option is truly best for you.

3. Compare leasing vs. buying. There are plenty of pros and cons to explore when debating to lease or buy a car. At the end of the day, the two most important factors are (1) How often and far you drive, and (2) How much of a monthly payment you can afford. Your pre-approved auto loan will help you weigh these options carefully before landing on your decision.

Don’t let a dealership drive off with your hard-earned cash. Doing a little financing pre-work can help you save money and score your dream car.

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