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Your Complete Guide to Buying a New Car

Jenna Taubel

Jenna Taubel About The Author

Jan 23, 2024 5:15:00 AM

Are you currently on the hunt for a brand-new vehicle? It's can be an exhilarating and daunting experience. With so many factors to consider such as choosing between a new or used car and understanding the significance of auto loans, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. But fear not! This comprehensive guide has got you covered. It lays out every step of the car buying process in a clear and concise manner, ensuring that you can make an informed decision with confidence.

Easy Steps for Buying a Car

woman smiling in new car holding key - your guide to buying a new car - first alliance credit union

In this step-by-step car buying guide, you'll learn how to recognize the best time to buy a car and the factors that can influence your decision-making process. We also provide valuable insights into the different types of auto loans and guide you through the application process. Additionally, we'll explain how you choose the best lender to meet your specific needs. And finally, we'll walk you through the exciting process of shopping for your dream car and finalizing the auto loan paperwork. By the time you finish reading this guide, you'll feel empowered to confidently choose the perfect car that fits your lifestyle and budget.

Consider What You Can Afford for a Payment

Before embarking on the journey of purchasing a car, it is important to have a complete understanding of your budget and what you can afford. Knowing your financial limits ensures that you make a well-informed decision that aligns with your financial health.

Start by evaluating your monthly income, considering all sources, and then factor in your existing expenses, including rent or mortgage, utilities, groceries, and any outstanding debts. It's crucial to have a clear picture of your disposable income, the amount you can comfortably allocate towards car-related expenses without stretching yourself too thin, which could make it stressful to make a monthly car payment. 

Consider not only the upfront cost of the car but also ongoing expenses like insurance, maintenance, and fuel. By having a realistic grasp of your budget, you empower yourself to make a car purchase that not only suits your needs but also fits seamlessly into your monthly budget.

Let's Estimate What You Can Afford for a Car Payment!


Deciding Between a New or Used Car

If your car buying budget is larger you many need to consider between for buying a new or used car.  When deciding between a new or used car, it's important to weigh the benefits of each option. New cars come with the latest technology, warranty, and customization options, while used cars offer cost savings like lower prices, reduced depreciation, and potentially lower insurance rates. However for used cars, factors such as maintenance and repair costs, uncertainty of vehicle history, should also be evaluated. Additionally, consider the impact of a new car's higher upfront cost versus the potentially lower total cost of ownership of a used car. 

Benefits of Buying a New Car

When purchasing a new car, you can take advantage of the latest safety features, advanced technology, and improved fuel efficiency. Additionally, warranty coverage offers peace of mind by often covering major repairs and maintenance. Customization options allow buyers to personalize their vehicles, while favorable financing offers and interest rates may lead to potential cost savings over the loan term. The new car smell, the satisfaction of owning the latest model, and the absence of wear and tear further enhance the buying experience.

Advantages of Choosing a Used Car

Choosing a used car offers several advantages that make it a compelling option for many buyers. With a lower initial cost compared to new cars, used cars provide significant savings on the purchase price. Additionally, the depreciation of used cars is less significant, resulting in a higher percentage of the original purchase price retained. Along with generally lower insurance rates, the wider selection of models and trim levels available in the used car market provides buyers with more choices for their next car.

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Understanding the Importance of Auto Loans

If you're like most people, you will be relying on a loan in order to purchase a vehicle, so it is essential to have a clear understanding of your car loan options and how they can effect your monthly payment. 

Defining Auto Loans and How They Work

An auto loan is a great financial option for individuals who want to purchase a vehicle but don't have the full purchase amount upfront. It allows borrowers to obtain funds from a lender and repay the borrowed amount, along with interest, over a specified period. The vehicle itself serves as collateral for the loan, providing security for both the borrower and the lender.

The terms of the loan, including the interest rate, loan term, and repayment schedule, are outlined in a formal agreement between the borrower and the lender. Auto loans can be obtained from various financial institutions, such as banks and credit unions, and the approval and terms often depend on the borrower's creditworthiness. 

An auto loan consists of several components:

  1. Principal Amount: This is the initial amount borrowed to purchase the vehicle. It represents the actual cost of the car.

  2. Interest Rate: The interest rate is the cost of borrowing money and is expressed as a percentage. It determines the additional amount you'll pay over the principal. 

  3. Loan Term: The loan term is the duration over which you'll repay the loan. It is usually measured in months (e.g., 36, 48, 60 months).

  4. Monthly Payments: This is the amount you'll need to pay each month to repay the loan. It includes both principal and interest.

  5. Down Payment: The down payment is the upfront amount you pay at the time of purchasing the vehicle. It reduces the principal amount of the loan.

  6. Collateral: In auto loans, the vehicle itself serves as collateral. If you fail to repay the loan, the lender may repossess the car.

  7. Credit Score: Your credit score plays a significant role in determining the interest rate on the loan. A higher credit score generally results in a lower interest rate.

  8. Loan Agreement: This is a legal document outlining the terms and conditions of the loan, including repayment schedule, interest rate, and any other relevant details.

It's important to review all these components and understand the terms before entering into an auto loan agreement.

Interest Rates and Their Impact on Auto Loans

Understanding interest rates is incredibly important when financing a new car. They have a significant impact on the overall cost of auto loans and the amount you'll end up paying over the course of the loan. Factors like your credit history, loan approval, and having excellent borrower credit can help you secure better rates. The annual percentage rate (APR) gives you a clear picture of the true cost of borrowing, including any fees involved. Individuals with bad credit may face higher rates. It's crucial to fully grasp the interest rates you qualify for, review payment examples, and consider the impact of the loan term to make well-informed financing decisions that still fit your budget.

Steps to Apply for an Auto Loan

writing on paper steps to take when buying a new car - first alliance credit union

To start your auto loan journey, begin by researching different lenders and loan terms that best fit your needs. Look for lenders that offer competitive rates and favorable repayment terms. It's also a good idea to get preapproval online to have a clear understanding of your borrowing power.

Compare loan options from online lenders, credit unions, and traditional banks to find the lowest rates available. Many dealership also offer loans through a network of banks and credit unions, however they tend to charge higher interest rates than if you go directly to the financial institution, we'll touch on this option more in a moment. 

Checking Your Credit Report

When you review your credit report , you gain valuable insights into your financial history before you apply for a loan. This information is essential for loan approval and is used to determine the interest rate you qualify for.  Reviewing your credit report ahead applying for a car loan also allows you to identify any errors or inconsistencies that may affect your loan application.

Additionally, it allow you to take any steps needed to improve your credit score before applying can have a positive impact on your car payment. It's also important to be aware of the auto loan eligibility requirements of banks and credit unions. By being a responsible borrower with a strong credit history, you increase your chances of approval with auto loan lenders.

Applying for Auto Loan Preapproval

Before you start shopping for your next car, consider seeking an auto loan preapproval. It can offer valuable benefits to enhance your car shopping experience. By getting preapproved for a vehicle loan, you'll have a clear understanding of your budget and can stay within it while exploring different cars. It also shows dealerships that you're a serious buyer and gives you the flexibility to shop around more easily.

Getting preapproved is a simple process. Just submit a car loan application as you would if you already had a vehicle in mind. Your chosen auto loan lender will assist you in determining the loan amount you qualify for and discuss payment and loan term options with you. Once you have this important information, you can be confident that you have access to funding for a vehicle that matches your needs and wants. All that's left to do is start shopping for a car that fits within the amount you've been prequalified for!

Comparing Dealership Loan Offers

Dealership financing is a popular choice for those in the market for a new or used vehicle, as it offers the convenience of handling everything in one place. However, it's best to explore other financing options independently before heading to the dealership, as credit unions or banks often provide better interest rates and term options.

It's important to understand that dealer financing involves middlemen, meaning the dealership typically sends your loan application to different banks or credit unions within their network. The dealer may increase the interest rate as a "finder's fee," which can affect your monthly payments and the total interest paid over the loan's duration. While some dealerships may initially offer 0% financing, it's essential to consider potential drawbacks, such as higher overall vehicle costs and inflated interest rates after the promotional period. Choosing credit union or bank financing is recommended for access lower rates in most cases. This eliminates the need for a middleman and can potentially save you money on both the total purchase price and monthly payments.

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Choosing the Best Lender for Your Auto Loan

When comparing auto loan lenders, it's important to consider a variety of factors to make sure you find the best financing option for your vehicle purchase. One key factor to consider is the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) offered by different lenders. The APR takes into account not only the interest rate, but also any additional fees, giving you a complete picture of the overall cost of the loan. A lower APR generally means a more affordable loan.

It's also crucial to carefully review the loan terms offered by lenders. Longer loan terms may result in lower monthly payments, but they can also lead to higher overall interest payments. It's important to assess your financial situation and choose a loan term that aligns with your budget and preferences.

Additionally, understanding the approval requirements of lenders is crucial. Different lenders may have varying credit score criteria, income verification processes, and down payment expectations. By thoroughly researching and comparing these elements, you'll be able to make an informed decision and secure the most favorable auto loan that fits your financial needs.

Considering Approval Requirements

When comparing approval requirements among different auto loan lenders, it's important to pay close attention to factors such as credit score thresholds, income verification processes, and down payment expectations.

Each lender may have their own minimum credit score requirements, which can affect your eligibility for their loan offerings. For example, one lender may accept applicants with a credit score of 650, while another may require a higher score of 700.

It's also crucial to understand the income verification procedures. Some lenders may require extensive documentation, such as tax returns or pay stubs, while others may have more lenient verification processes. For example, auto loan lenders, like First Alliance Credit Union, offer auto loan lending options for individuals with either a Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) or social security number (SSN), many other lenders only lend to people with a SSN.

Additionally, down payment requirements can vary significantly between lenders. For instance, one lender might require a 10% down payment, while another may allow for a lower initial payment. By carefully considering these approval requirements, you can find a lender whose approval criteria align with your financial situation and increase your chances of a successful loan application.

Understanding the Annual Percentage Rate (APR)

Understanding the difference between the interest rate and the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) is crucial when evaluating auto loans. While the interest rate represents the cost of borrowing, expressed as a percentage, the APR goes a step further by including additional fees and charges associated with the loan.

Let's take a look at a basic example of the difference between these two rates. Let's imagine two auto loans with the same interest rate of 4%. Loan A, however, has an APR of 4.5% due to loan processing fees, while Loan B has no extra charges, resulting in an APR of 4%. Even though both loans have the same interest rate, Loan A ends up being more expensive for the borrower when considering the additional costs reflected in the APR. Therefore, comparing APRs instead of just interest rates provides a more accurate assessment of the overall affordability of the auto loan your considering.

Evaluating Loan Terms

When comparing the terms of an auto loan, it's important to consider how they will impact your overall payment. Loan terms refer to the length of time over which you will be repaying the borrowed amount.

While longer auto loan terms can result in lower monthly payments, they often lead to higher overall interest payments. On the other hand, shorter terms may involve higher monthly payments but can save you money on interest in the long run.

For example, let's say you have two auto loans for the same amount of $20,000 and the same APR of 4%, — one with a 60-month term and another with a 36-month term:

  • The 60-month loan may have more manageable monthly payments, of about $370, but you're likely to end up paying more in total interest over the life of the loan, roughly $2,000 total.
  • The 36-month loan would have with a monthly payment of about $590, but with approximate total interest of only $1,200. 

To make an informed decision about auto loan terms, it's important to assess your financial situation, budget constraints, and long-term goals. By doing so, you can determine the loan term that best aligns with your needs and minimizes the overall cost of financing your next car.

Shopping for Your Car

When you start the exciting journey of shopping for a car, there are several important factors to consider to ensure that you find the perfect vehicle that meets your needs and preferences. First and foremost, think about the purpose of the car, whether it's for daily commuting, family trips, or off-road adventures. This will help narrow down your options. Budget is also a key consideration, as it will influence whether you should go for a new or used vehicle. Additionally, think about fuel efficiency, safety features, and maintenance costs. These are all important aspects to contemplate.

Car reviews play a crucial role in this process, as they provide valuable insights from experts and fellow consumers about a car's performance, reliability, and overall satisfaction. By reading and watching these reviews, you can gain a deeper understanding of a car's qualities that may not be apparent during a short test drive. This will help you make an informed decision and ultimately find the perfect car that aligns with your lifestyle and budget.

Things to Consider When Selecting a Car

When it comes to choosing a car, it's important to consider how you plan to use it and tailor your choice to fit your specific needs. For example, if you're a family-oriented car buyer, you may prioritize spacious interiors and safety features, making models like the Honda Odyssey or Toyota Sienna worth considering. On the other hand, if you're a college student buying a car for the first time, you might be more interested in economy style models like the Nissan Versa or Kia Rio.

Budget considerations are also crucial in the decision-making process. You need to determine if a brand-new car, such as the affordable and reliable Honda Civic, fits your financial goals or if it makes more sense to opt for a used car like the reliable and economical Toyota Corolla.

In addition to budget, other key features to consider include fuel efficiency, advanced safety systems, and technological amenities like Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Taking these factors into account ensures that the car you choose not only meets your daily requirements but also aligns with your personal preferences and financial needs.

The Role of Car Reviews in Making a Decision

Utilizing car reviews can help you make an informed vehicle purchase. These reviews offer valuable insights into a car's performance, reliability, and overall satisfaction from both experts and consumers who have owned the vehicle you're considering.

For example, reputable automotive publications such as MotorTrend or Consumer Reports often highlight important details about a car's safety features, fuel efficiency, and long-term reliability. Additionally, user-generated reviews on platforms like Edmunds or Kelley Blue Book provide real-world experiences, giving potential buyers a glimpse into the day-to-day ownership of a particular vehicle.

By reading a range of vehicle reviews, you can gain a comprehensive understanding of a car's strengths and weaknesses, such a known mechanical issues, which ultimately helps you in selecting a vehicle that will meet your car buying needs and keep you from feeling any buyers remorse.

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Finalizing the Auto Loan and Driving Your Car Off the Lot

Once you've selected the car it's time to finalize the loan paperwork, then drive home in your new car! Completing the necessary paperwork typically includes providing proof of identity, income verification, and details about the vehicle. Be prepared to review and sign various documents, such as the loan agreement and any additional forms required by the lender. After completing the paperwork, the lender will process your application and provide the funds for the car purchase.

Following approval, you can expect to have the funds deposited into your account, or receive a cashiers check, for for the cost of the vehicle. You can then write (or bring) a check to the dealer to pay for the vehicle. Once the dealership paperwork is complete, they will hand you the keys to your new car. With the paperwork completed and the loan secured, you're ready to drive your new car home, marking an exciting conclusion to the auto loan and car buying process.

Completing the Loan Paperwork

During this phase of the car buying process, you'll be completing the auto loan paperwork and you'll likely encounter several documents that require your attention and signature. Common paperwork includes the loan agreement itself, which outlines the terms and conditions of the loan, as well as a promissory note detailing your commitment to repay the borrowed amount.

Additionally, you may be presented with documents related to vehicle registration, title transfer, and insurance verification. It's important to carefully review each document, ensuring accuracy and clarity before signing.

In addition to the core loan documents, dealerships, banks and credit union frequently offer optional coverage plan for your vehicle, such as debt protection plans, extended warranties, and GAP (Guaranteed Asset Protection) insurance.

  • Debt protection plans may cover loan payments in the event of unforeseen circumstances like disability or job loss.
  • Extended warranties provide added coverage for mechanical repairs beyond the manufacturer's warranty.
  • GAP insurance covers the "gap" between the car's value and the amount owed in case of a total loss.

While these coverages can provide peace of mind, it's essential to evaluate each option carefully and determine whether they align with your specific needs and budget, as each coverage option will have a cost associated with them, but the peace of mind they provide can be very beneficial.

What to Expect After Finalizing the Loan

After finalizing an auto loan, paying the dealer, and driving home in your new car,  the final step in the process maintaining timely payments throughout the life of the loan. Following the final signing of the auto loan paperwork, you'll receive details about your repayment schedule, including the monthly amount due, due dates, and the options you have for making a payment with the credit union or bank.

To ensure smooth and on-time payments, consider setting up automatic payments or reminders to avoid any payment delays. Most lenders offer online portals or mobile apps to make paying on your monthly auto loan convenient. This step is important to think about because timely payments are crucial for building and maintaining a positive credit history, impacting your financial standing in the long run.

It's important to budget and plan for these payments throughout the duration of the loan, taking into consideration any changes in your financial situation. Keeping a close eye on your progress in paying off the loan and making extra payments can help you pay it off faster. Additionally, staying in communication with your lender is crucial if you find yourself falling behind on your payments.

Keeping these car payment tips in mind will lead to a successful and stress-free repayment experience, allowing you to enjoy your new car without financial worries.

Let's Recap the Car Buying Journey

This complete guide to buying a car covered a lot of information to help you through the car buying and auto loan process. Here's a quick highlight of the key takeaways: 

New or Used Car: When embarking on the journey of buying a car, one of the pivotal decisions is whether to opt for a new or used vehicle. Both options have their merits, with new cars boasting the latest features and warranties, while used cars often offer cost savings.

Auto Loans and Application Process: Understanding auto loans is crucial in this process, as it allows buyers to make informed decisions about their budget. Researching and comparing auto loan lenders is essential to find favorable terms and interest rates. The application process involves providing financial information, and once approved, buyers can confidently shop for a car within their budget.

Finding the Right Car: After securing a suitable auto loan, the next step is to explore various car options and dealerships. Thoroughly inspecting the vehicle's condition and negotiating the price are vital aspects of this phase.

Making the Loan Payments: Making on-time payments post-purchase is key to maintaining a positive credit history and financial stability.

If you're looking for personalize guidance through the car buying process, the professional and friendly team at First Alliance Credit Union can help.  With expertise in financial services, First Alliance Credit Union's Member Advisors can guide your through the complexities of auto financing and help you find an payment that fits your budget.

Wanting more car buying tips? Take a listen. 

We do our best to provide helpful information but we cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information presented in the article, under no circumstance does the information provided constitute legal advice. You are responsible for independently verifying the information if you intend to use it in any way. Additionally, the content is not intended to be reflective of First Alliance Credit Union’s products or services, for accurate and complete details about our product and service information you must speak to an advisor at First Alliance Credit Union.