Imagine you're cruising down the highway, wind in your hair, sunshine beaming on your face, driving your very own car on an adventurous road trip. It's a dream; actually though, it may only be a dream.
The prospect of owning your own car is a daunting thought, and some may even think it’s an impossible goal, at least right now as a young adult with the possibility of student debt piling up. However, there are ways to plan out your finances and options to bring your dream drive away and getaway a little closer to reality.
It's easy to turn on the television and see a brand new Porsche speeding down the road and think, “Wow, I want that car.” The tantalizing low money down offer seems so appealing it almost might be attainable. However, ads can be deceiving. The first step in planning to purchase a car is to be realistic about your dream vehicle. Think about what features you really need, like good gas mileage, easy maintenance, safety features, and be honest with yourself about what features you could do without (the convertible top or 0 to 75 in 0.5 second capability).
Once you can narrow down the style of car you want, the key is to assess how easily you'll be able to afford the vehicle. Keep in mind not only expenses the vehicle itself may come with, but also additional expenses that come with owning a car like insurance, gas, parking permits for school, as well as unexpected repairs and maintenance costs like oil, brake pads, etc..
Two of the most common places to purchase vehicles are dealers and individual sellers. Used car dealerships often offer more affordable vehicles, whereas new car dealerships tend to have more expensive vehicles. Loans can be arranged through the dealership who works with banks and credit unions to take out a loan for you, but your own bank may also be able to finance you a loan. With a loan, essentially the bank pays the dealer the cost of the car, however each payment you make goes towards refunding the bank for the loan amount. Specifics rates and requirements of a car loan can be explained to you by your bank. Make sure you understand your bank's loan terms to avoid late fees or additional complications. A car lease is different from a loan and can allow you to drive a newer car, but payments you make are essentially like a car rental. You don't own the car at the end of the lease like you do with a loan, and restrictions on mileage can limit how often you drive. Some companies lease cars for their employees, but this option isn't available for everyone. You can buy out the lease at the end of the term, but it is possible that the lease cost will be more than the cost of just buying the car with a conventional loan.
Keep in mind that if you choose to purchase a vehicle from an individual seller from an ad or the car parked on a street corner with a “For Sale” sign, often the seller wants the total cost of the vehicle upfront. If you need a longer time to pay for the car, taking out a loan may be a better option. Any used car is going to have issues that a new car may not have, so keep in mind the car's mileage, the stability of the engine, any leaks or faulty features, etc. It's a good idea to test drive the car and have a mechanic check it out before you hand over the money.
Buying or financing your own car may seem like a distant dream, but it can be a reality if you plan accordingly. Don't be afraid to ask questions during the process and write down information you find important and useful. Soon enough you'll be on the road cruising Route 66 off to a new adventure.