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How Much Car Can I Afford?

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From “Krazy Kevin” selling used cars on radio commercials to the fancy video ads from the car manufacturers, we’re surrounded by people telling us beautiful cars are available to buy and they can help us get into one.

But you don’t want to buy a car and then only eat ramen until it’s paid off — or have it repossessed. So, when and how do you figure out what you can afford?

Setting a car budget you can afford

When?

Figuring out your budget before you go car shopping is important, so you know under what price range to be looking. Having a number in mind before looking at vehicles could save you a lot of stress.

“If you don’t know what you can afford, that would be dangerous,” said Patrick Holmes, a financial services officer at State Employees Credit Union and a member of the National Association of Personal Finance Advisors in Charlotte, N.C. “I would not go to the dealership first thing because you’ll probably walk out with a $20,000 car when you could only afford $12,000.”

How?

In order to figure out what you can buy, first look at what you’re already buying. “Figure out your month-to-month expenses first.” Holmes said. Almost everyone knows how much they make each month, but few people really know how much they spend in the same time period.
When you get your check, you have two basic options on what to do with the money: Spend it or save it.

See how much you spend by adding up your fixed expenses, like rent, insurance, phone, internet and credit card bills. Then figure out how much you spend on more variable expenses, like food, clothing, entertainment, etc. Try keeping a spending journal, using a budgeting app or reviewing your bank and credit card account statements to get a sense of what you do with your spending money on a monthly basis.

Based on how much you have left over (and how much you want to continue saving), you’ll know how much you have available to spend on a car payment. If you don’t have much left over, you’ll need to make some changes to your spending (or find ways to earn more money) before trying to fit in a car payment.

How much?

Just because you can spend money, doesn’t mean you should spend it all. Once you decide what you can spend on a car, look at what you should spend. After all, you want to be able to have extra cash on hand in case something on the car breaks or you want to take a vacation. The classic rule is to keep your total transportation costs to under 10% of your monthly income. If that’s not possible, it should definitely be under 20%.

Know the 20/4/10 rule

This is the classic and more frugal guideline for car buying. The 20/4/10 rule is to put 20% down, have an auto loan for 4 years maximum and keep total transportation costs under 10% of your income.

Based on this rule, if the car you want is $20,000, you should give $4,000 as a down payment. If you only have $2,000 as a down payment, you should be looking at a $10,000 car. What’s left over after your down payment, the 80%, is what you get an auto loan for, which, according to this guideline, shouldn’t be more than four years (48 months) long. Whatever you do, it definitely should be under seven years (84 months) long. The last part of the rule is that the total monthly cost of the car (including using the car) should be no more than 10% of your income. You can read more about the 20/4/10 rule here and play around with an auto payment calculator here. Disclaimer: This post contains links to LendingTree, the parent company of MagnifyMoney.

Budgeting beyond the sticker price

So you figured out what you should spend monthly for a vehicle. That amount will need to cover not just the car, but gas, auto insurance, taxes and more. A vehicle is likely to cost more than the neon numbers plastered to its windshield. In this section, we’ll tell you the other costs that come into play with buying and owning a car that often aren’t posted upfront.

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Government and dealership fees

When you buy a vehicle, you generally have to pay government fees, including license and registration. A dealer will usually go pay this for you, which is a great convenience because you won’t have to go to the DMV or tax assessor’s office during normal business hours to fill out paperwork and wait in line to submit it. However, the dealer does not do this for free — it charges administrative and processing fees to do this for you. They often are several hundred dollars and non-negotiable.

State and local taxes

Most states charge a sales tax, and your municipality might have one, too. And you probably won’t get away with going to a sales tax-free state to buy your car. Nicolas Ortiz is an auto adjuster and insurance agent for USAA in San Antonio where he also worked in two auto dealerships as a finance manager. He explained that when you buy a car from a different state, you have to pay the taxes for the vehicle based on the state in which you live. “You pay all applicable taxes and fees to the state where you’re registering the car.” Ortiz said.

Most of these charges are percentages, meaning the lower the price of the car, the less you’ll pay. Still, don’t expect to get off lightly. Ortiz explained to MagnifyMoney, “In my experience, if a state has lower fees, it will have a higher sales tax and vice versa. Expect to pay 8% – 10% of the [vehicle’s] sales price in taxes and fees.”

Recurring costs

Gas, car insurance and oil changes are all types of recurring costs. These costs highly depend on which type of car you have and how you use it. If you have an older car and a long work commute, you may have to budget a lot for gas, but it may be cheap to insure. A newer car with great gas mileage will probably cost you less in gas and maintenance, but more in taxes and insurance.

Don’t forget that if you work in a city, you may have to pay to park your car in a lot or a garage close to work. Remember to also account for anything you might add to your loan that you’ll also be paying for monthly, such as GAP insurance or an extended warranty.

Other potential costs

It’s a good idea to set aside money each month for an unexpected car expense, like repairs or traffic tickets (though you should do your best to avoid those). Keep in mind repairs aren’t limited to old cars. For example, the car’s age doesn’t matter much if you run over a nail and need a new tire. Even if a repair is covered by insurance, you may still have to pay a deductible.

Looking at more than just the monthly payment

When you add all of these monthly costs up, it could be tempting to wash your hands of it and say your budget is done. But when you go to actually pick out and buy the vehicle, the best way to stick to your budget is not to focus on the monthly payment.

It’s really easy to justify increases in monthly payments: you may think of a $40 payment increase being equivalent to a nice meal once a month, and you can afford that, can’t you? Turns out, $40 a month for four years, even without interest, is almost $2,000. (To avoid costly errors like this, you could read up on the common car loan mistakes many people make.)

Look at the totals of what things add up to, take the time to shop around for cars, car loans and even car warranties, and don’t be afraid to negotiate. You can shop around for your auto loan on sites like LendingTree to make sure you’re not paying more than you have to in interest.

 

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Jenn Jones
Jenn Jones |

Jenn Jones is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jenn at [email protected]

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Navy Federal Credit Union Auto Loan Review

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If you are shopping for an auto loan, it’s helpful to get quotes from multiple lenders to ensure you receive the lowest possible interest rate and most favorable terms. For members of the military and their families, Navy Federal Credit Union could be an option.

Here’s what we found out about Navy Federal Credit Union and its auto loans.

About Navy Federal Credit Union

Navy Federal Credit Union, which was founded in 1933 and is headquartered in Vienna, Va., serves the military community. Its “once a member, always a member” policy means that you can continue to use the credit union if you or your family member leaves the military.

The following groups are eligible for membership:

  • Active-duty members of the Air Force, Air National Guard, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy
  • Delayed Entry Program (DEP) enlistees
  • Department of Defense officer candidates/ROTC participants
  • Department of Defense reservists
  • Veterans, retirees and annuitants

Parents, grandparents, spouses, siblings, children and grandchildren in a military family are also eligible, as are household members. Department of Defense civilian employees can become members, too.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau action against credit union

It’s important to note that in 2016 the credit union was ordered by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB, to pay $28.5 million after an investigation found that, among other things, it was improperly restricting account access for members with delinquent loans. The CFPB accused the credit union of making false threats of legal action and wage garnishment, threatening to contact delinquent members’ commanding officers and lying about the consequences of falling behind on loan payments. Of that total, $23 million would go to victims who received threatening letters. The credit union was required to correct its debt collection practices.

Navy Federal Credit Union: At a glance

When shopping for an auto loan, it’s crucial to get several quotes, no matter your credit score. If you have an array of loan options, you’ll have more negotiating power with a dealership.

APRs

APRs for Navy Federal Credit Union auto loans, which are based on creditworthiness, currently start at 2.99%.

Here’s a breakdown of APRs based on the type of vehicle:

  • New vehicles: 2.99% to 6.29% for loan terms between up to 36 months and 96 months
  • Late-model used vehicles: 3.29%* to 4.79%* for loan terms between up to 36 months and 72 months
  • Used vehicles: 4.99% to 6.29% for loan terms between up to 36 months and 72 months

Used vehicles older than 20 years are paid back at a collateral loan APR, which can be between 8.09%* and 8.9%* for loan terms between up to 60 months and 180 months. Preapproval isn’t available for this type of loan.

Your rate could be higher, depending on your credit profile and the value of the vehicle.

Active-duty and retired military members may be eligible for an additional discount with direct deposit to a Navy Federal Credit Union account. To get the discount, call or visit the credit union.

Vehicle requirements

Navy Federal Credit Union has specific vehicle requirements for its auto loans. For new vehicles, the minimum loan amount is $30,000 if seeking a term of 85 to 96 months. Used vehicles are 2017 models or older, or any model year with more than 30,000 miles. Late-model used vehicles can be model years 2018 to 2020 with 7,500 to 30,000 miles.

Boat, motorcycle and RV loans

The credit union also offers new and used boat, motorcycle and recreational vehicle (RV) loans. These loans only apply to recreational vehicles, so full-time RVs aren’t eligible. Here’s a breakdown of APRs based on the type of vehicle:

  • New boats: 6.05%* to 8.75%* for loan terms between up to 36 months and 180 months
  • Used boats: 8.05%* to 9.2%* for loan terms between up to 36 months and 180 months
  • New motorcycles: 7.25%* to 8.6%* for loan terms between up to 36 months and 84 months
  • Used motorcycles: 8.09%* to 9.35%* for loan terms between up to 36 months and 72 months
  • RVs (collateral loans): 8.09%* to 8.9%* for loan terms between up to 60 months and 180 months

These rates are based on creditworthiness, so your rate may be higher.

As with auto loans, there are specific requirements when it comes to boats, motorcycles and RVs. Check with the credit union for details.

Refinancing

Navy Federal Credit Union also offers auto loan refinancing.

Here’s a breakdown of APRs based on the type of vehicle:

  • New vehicles: 2.99% to 6.29% for loan terms between up to 36 months and 96 months
  • Late-model used vehicles: 3.29%* to 4.79%* for loan terms between up to 36 months and 72 months
  • Used vehicles: 4.99% to 6.29% for loan terms between up to 36 months and 12 months

Members may be eligible for $200 cash back 61 to 65 days after completing their first scheduled payment when refinancing from another lender.

A closer look at Navy Federal Credit Union auto loans

Highlights of Navy Federal Credit Union auto loans

A down payment isn’t required to get a Navy Federal Credit Union auto loan, but making one could improve your loan-to-value ratio, which could boost your chances of getting approved.

If you have a limited credit history, you may still get approved with a co-applicant.

You could get a decision about your application in just a few minutes. The credit union offers preapprovals, so you know how much money you can spend on your vehicle before you start shopping. If you get preapproved, your rate will be locked for 60 days.

The credit union offers an auto buying program, through a nationwide network of dealers, as a straightforward way to buy a new or used car. You can even get special military prices if members need to buy a new car while overseas.

You can get optional guaranteed asset protection (GAP) insurance for existing or new auto loans through the credit union. It also offers some discounts on GEICO auto insurance, depending on your state of residence.

Lowlights of Navy Federal Credit Union auto loan

If you don’t have ties to the military, you won’t be able to access Navy Federal Credit Union’s services, including its auto loans.

If you are approved for an auto loan, you must either pick up your check in person at a branch or receive it via mail. There may be a fee associated with mailed loan checks. If you had a co-applicant with a different mailing address, the check and promissory note will be sent to them. Some applicants may find this inconvenient, especially if their co-applicant lives far away.

On the credit union’s website, minimum interest rates are noted in detail for used vehicles, new vehicles, boats, RVs and motorcycles. The website, however, doesn’t note its maximum interest rates or discuss specific credit requirements for auto loan approval. The credit union did not respond to emails requesting this information.

How to apply for a Navy Federal Credit Union auto loan

To apply for an auto loan from Navy Federal Credit Union, you’ll first need to become a member. You can apply at a branch or online, and you won’t be charged an application fee.

Make sure to gather contact information for both you and your co-applicant, if you have one. If you’ve picked out the vehicle you want, you’ll need its 17-character vehicle identification number (VIN), the state where it will be registered, the dealer or seller’s name and the mileage reading on the odometer.

If you don’t have a specific vehicle in mind, you’ll need an estimate of the type, age and price of the vehicle you want to buy, including the warranty, title, tax and license fees minus the down payment. You’ll also need to know about how long of a loan term you’d prefer.

The credit union requires personal information, including employment and income details for both you and your potential co-applicant. It’ll ask for your current housing information, too. The credit union already has identity information about its members, and it’ll base its decision on your credit history, the amount of money you want to borrow and the value of your collateral.

You’ll receive a text or email from the credit union to let you know whether it approved your application. Most applicants get a decision in about five minutes.

The fine print

Navy Federal Credit Union’s website doesn’t indicate whether it charges any additional fees for auto loan borrowers. The only fee mentioned is the one that the credit union may charge to mail a physical check to an applicant or co-applicant, as mentioned above.

Who is a Navy Federal Credit Union auto loan best for?

The credit union is a great option for people with ties to the military who want to work with a credit union that has friendly policies and decent interest rates.

Like many credit unions, this one offers competitive interest rates for those with good credit. Even if you are already a member and know you’ll apply for an auto loan with this lender, it’s still important to shop around for the best rates so you can be sure you are paying the lowest possible amount for access to the money you need to buy a car.

*Rate accurate as of August 22, 2019

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Rachel Morey
Rachel Morey |

Rachel Morey is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Rachel here

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Buying a Car: When to Walk Away

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Walk away from car deal
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Buying a car can be a stressful experience for anyone. For some of us, the anxiety begins before we start negotiating financing or even step foot onto a car lot. But no matter how eager you are to get the experience over with, or how persistent a salesperson is, you should never buy a car without being certain it’s right for you.Ron Montoya, consumer advice editor for Edmunds, says that dealerships are good at applying pressure. “There’s always a sense of urgency that ‘today is the best day to buy the car,’” he says. “While that may be true for the seller, it’s not always the case for the buyer.”

According to a 2018 Cox Automotive study, you may be tempted to give in to the pressure after spending a whopping three hours at a lot, which is the average amount of time buyers spend. But no matter the circumstance, you should always be prepared to walk away in the presence of red flags.

How do you negotiate in “good faith?”

Like most things in life, a bit of preparation can go a long way. Here are some of the ways you can reduce your risk before approaching a dealership or private seller when buying a car:

Review your budget and credit

Doing your financial homework can help you determine what price range is truly affordable for you, instead of letting a salesperson decide. Loan payment calculators can also help you get a realistic view of affordability by taking interest rates and fees into account.

Get loan preapproval

Another factor in determining affordability is the amount of financing you get approved for. Having a loan preapproval from your bank or credit union, before visiting a dealer, has several benefits: it sets realistic expectations about the maximum sales price you can shop for and helps you avoid more expensive or even potentially predatory dealer financing. If the dealer can beat your preappoved loan offer either through one of its lender partners or through the manufacturer, you’ll know you’re getting the best deal possible.

Research market prices

Montoya, who purchases fleet vehicles for Edmunds, an auto industry research firm which tests cars, says the best way to prepare for a purchase is to understand the market price of the car you want. You can do this by looking up values through sites like Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds, checking out a variety of ads and car-buying websites, and even by getting a few price quotes, so you can compare them to the offers you get from a dealership.

Research promotions

Having a sense of manufacturer and dealer promotions can not only help you narrow down which models to buy and which lots to visit in your area, but it can also help you understand if the dealer is truly offering a “one day only” sale, or if it’s just a tactic to pressure you into buying.

What are the warning signs that you should walk away from a car deal?

Interacting with a salesperson who’s been trained to haggle and close the deal might leave you feeling outwitted. Some level of stress is normal, but these are the real red flags to look out for:

Prices change after your initial negotiations.

For example, your trade-in value is lower than what you discussed or your monthly payments are higher. You should also look out for add-ons you didn’t agree to, like an extended warranty or a “service contract” that increases the overall price tag. Montoya says it should be a deal-breaker when written terms don’t match what you discussed.

The contract isn’t final.

It’s easy to assume that signing a contract means your deal is final, but some dealers include contingencies, including “spot deliveries” that might be “yo-yo transactions” meant to intentionally deceive buyers.

If your contract states, for example, that your financing isn’t final, you may be asked to come back later and get a different loan with worse terms, for the car you’ve already taken home. If the dealer won’t state in writing that your financing is final, they may be breaking the law. This is a definite sign that you should walk away.

You’re being pressured.

Brent Miller, executive director of a community center where musicians work, practice and perform in San Francisco, recently shopped for a new car. Miller says despite visiting a reputable dealership for his purchase, the salesperson repeatedly pushed him to make unwanted decisions. “It was amazing how much pressure there was to sign the contract without reading everything, even before I had a loan offer,” Miller says.

If you’re encouraged to buy a different car than the one you’re shopping for, or to close the deal without looking over the numbers, Montoya says you should walk away.

The seller is withholding information.

It’s a red flag if your salesperson gives unclear information about pricing and loan terms. If you can’t get a straight answer on what your monthly payment will be, the length of your repayment term or your interest rate, you shouldn’t sign a contract. A good tip is to keep your focus on the out-the-door price of the car — if you get the lowest price possible, a good monthly payment should follow.

Discriminatory practices

If you feel a dealer is attempting to take advantage of you based on your citizenship status, income or other factors, you should go elsewhere. One way dealers do this is by marketing to you and conducting negotiations in your first language and then offering you a contract in a different language, with higher fees. Regardless of the circumstances, never sign a contract if you’re unsure what it says.

How to walk away from a car deal

So you’ve attempted to negotiate a deal with no luck, or you’re simply uncomfortable with the transaction. It’s completely within your rights to walk away at any point before, and in some cases even after you sign your contract.

During negotiations

At this point, walking away is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. Montoya advises that even if the dealer already pulled your credit information, you’re still under no obligation to stay. While you may be concerned about the hit to your credit, know that making multiple auto loan applications within a short period of time will have a small impact on your scores.

If you’re having trouble ending the negotiations, Montoya suggests shutting down persistent salespeople by shifting the blame to someone else, like your spouse…even if you’re not married.

Whatever your explanation, walking away or telling the dealer you’re going to shop around is perfectly acceptable. If you really are interested in buying the car, walking away may also be a useful negotiation tactic.

Once you’ve seen the contract

Regardless of the time and effort invested by both parties, you are under no obligation to sign any contract you’ve been presented. At this point in the process you can still simply say “no” to the dealer.

After signing contract

If you sign a contract and drive away with a car, but then get called back based on a contingency, you may be able to walk away from the deal.

If you’re called back because financing fell through, you can demand to get your down payment back and unwind the entire transaction. To complete the process you’ll need to make sure that the application and contract are cancelled and that you get copies of all the documents.

If, on the other hand, you simply wish to return the car because you’ve changed your mind, your options may be limited. Some state laws may allow you to return your car if you discover it’s a lemon, but contrary to popular belief the “cooling off period” unfortunately doesn’t apply to cars.

In some circumstances you may have a special option to cancel, particularly when it comes to buying used cars. New York state law, for example, gives you a set amount of time to file paperwork and cancel your contract. Your dealer may also have a special clause that gives you time to reconsider and return your vehicle. But if neither your state nor your contract stipulates that you can cancel, your best shot is to ask the dealer to give special consideration to your case.

The bottom line

The best way to avoid a bad deal is to be your own biggest advocate. Educating yourself about market prices, understanding affordability and researching consumer protections in your state, all before you talk to a salesperson, can help you stand up to pressure and recognize red flags quickly.

Ultimately you shouldn’t be afraid to walk away, no matter how difficult the dealer makes it to leave. Both the car and the financing have to work for you. “I want people to buy a car when its right for them and do it on their own time,” says Montoya, “not a dealership’s time.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Sarah Brady
Sarah Brady |

Sarah Brady is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Sarah here