First-Time Car Buyer? Here Are a Few Car-Buying Tips

If you’re a first-time car buyer, then it can be tough to navigate through the car sales process, especially if you don’t have any credit history. Don’t worry, you’re not alone as the car-buying process can daunting if you’re just getting familiar with it. Here are some tips that can help out when it comes to buying your first car.

Know your budget and do your research

Picking out the car that you want is fun and exciting, especially if it means that you finally get to possibly the car that you have wanted for years. However, you should keep in mind how much the car will actually cost with all of the taxes and fees attached to the price. Also, if you’re planning to finance or lease the car, then you need to budget the payments accordingly.

According to Experian, it’s a good rule of thumb to keep your car payment to around 10 percent of your total monthly income after taxes. By following this rule, you can ensure that you won’t bite off more than you can chew when it comes to paying your car payment. It also could mean that you can’t afford that Toyota Supra you have always wanted, but that’s OK, a Honda Civic will suit you just fine.

A person doing car buying research on their laptop.
Car research | Joseph Branston/Future via Getty Images

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Building your credit

Another factor when it comes to buying your first car is your current credit situation. Unless you plan on paying for the car in full, you’ll need to have at least a decent credit score and history to qualify for a loan. But what if you don’t have any credit?

Fortunately, there are ways to build your credit to ensure that you will be approved. You can apply for a credit card in order to rack up a small debt and pay it off, which will show lenders that you’re creditworthy. Or you can even open up a credit-builder loan from Self, which is basically an account that you pay monthly installments to for a prescribed amount of time, only to withdraw that money after the time is up.

The account and payments are reported to the credit bureaus, which builds your credit history and shows that you can be trusted with a larger car loan. The bonus part is that you can use the money that you saved in that account as your down payment for the car.

Buy from less popular brands

Another tip from Ari Janessian, a Youtuber and auto broker, recommends is to buy from less-popular brands like Nissan, Kia, and Hyundai, because they are less expensive and easier to buy from. Also, if you’re new to car buying and the credit game, then financing a car will be easier than leasing one, just note that your initial finance interest rate will be high (maybe 15-20%), so you can count on refinancing the loan to get a better rate after a year or so after you built your credit a little more.

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Ask for a larger discount

If you apply for a loan and get approved with a high-interest rate, don’t worry. Janessian advises that as long as you can get approved, you could leverage the dealer into giving you a bigger discount. For example, if you get approved at a 15% interest rate, then your monthly payment will be much higher than it would be at 4%. However, you can always tell the dealer that you’ll accept the rate and buy the car if they discount the price of the car by another $2,000 or so, which will offset the higher cost of interest. It never hurts to ask.

Your income matters

Keep in mind that when it comes to applying for a car loan, the lenders at the bank are not just checking your credit rating, but also your income. The bottom line is that they want to ensure that you can pay the loan back under the prescribed terms, so they want to see that you’re working at least 25 hours a week, or making about four to five times the loan’s monthly payment. Getting money from your parents or relatives is OK, but having a steady income is necessary to get approved for a loan.

A pair of shoppers looking at new cars
Car buyers looking at new cars | Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Find a co-signer

If you don’t have a job or a steady income yet, then you can always find a co-signer to help you get the initial approval for the loan. A co-signer should have a good credit standing as they will take on part of the responsibility of the loan being paid if you are unable to. If anything, you can always work it out with your co-signer that you’re going to re-finance the loan under your own name after a year or so.

Used cars on car lot
Cars for sale | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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Being a student can help

Lastly, if you’re currently a college student, or just recently graduated from college, then you might qualify for “college grad programs” that automakers like Toyota and Honda currently have. These programs are designed to help college students get approved for a loan, typically at lower rates, even though they’re just starting out in life.