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How to Choose the Best Car For Your Needs and Budget

Shopping for a new car can be exciting, yet nerve wracking. So many makes and models, a wide range of dealers and promotions, and cool feature packages to choose from. Then there’s the interest rate (APR). Where does a car buyer begin?
In this article we’ll cover how to find the right car. Once you decide which car to buy, budgeting and saving for your purchase will be easier.
Credit Union of Southern California (CU SoCal) is one of the fastest growing credit unions in Southern California, providing checking, savings, and loan products with quick pre-approvals, no application or funding fees, and other great member benefits.
Call CU SoCal at 866.287.6225 to schedule a free no-obligation auto loan consultation, or apply today!

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Before You Buy

Make a list of your two or three favorite makes and models. Be sure the list is realistic — we all have a dream car in mind but when it comes to everyday driving, choose cars that you know are realistically suitable for your lifestyle and budget.
Once you have your list, here are some other purchasing factors to consider. As we go through these, you’ll begin to see how some of your car options are a better fit than others.

Buying vs. Leasing

There are pros and cons to both options, depending on your driving habits and needs. For more details on how to choose the best option for you, read Pros and Cons of Leasing vs. Buying a Car and Does Leasing a Car Work and Is it Ever Worth It?

New vs. Used

Everyone would love a new car, but we can’t always afford one. Buying used can be a good option for savings, especially since new cars depreciate dramatically the moment they’re driven off the lot. To help you get started, check out How to Finance a New or Used Car.

Creating a Budget

Whether you decide to buy new or used, you’ll need money for a down payment and other monthly expenses associated with car ownership, such as insurance and maintenance. The more you put down on a car purchase, the lower your monthly payments will be. Auto leases usually require less money down, but you should still create a budget.
While you may already have some money in the bank, we always recommend that you have at least six months reserve funds in case of an emergency or job loss, so you can make your car and rent or mortgage payments on-time and pay your other bills. Your car budget should include savings for a down payment, cash reserves for emergencies, a monthly auto insurance premium, gas, and maintenance. Use the Car Affordability Calculator to help you start planning.

Saving for a Car

Once you have created a budget to limit excess spending, you can focus on putting aside money for your down payment. We suggest saving the amount equal to a monthly payment plus monthly insurance. For more information, read
How to Save Up for a Car and What is a Good Down Payment on a Car?

Improving Your Credit

Bad credit? No problem. Credit Union of Southern California can help! Learn more at How to Get a Car Loan with Bad Credit.
While you’re saving for your down payment you can also start improving your credit. Find out how by reading How to Build and Improve Your Credit Score.
CU SoCal also offers a Credit Builder Loan that’s perfect for those members who are looking for an easy way to improve their credit score.
Our Credit Builder loan is available to members in good standing and features no application fees. What’s more, applying for our Credit Builder loan will not lower your credit score, as no credit inquiry is made.
At the end of the loan, Members receive $1,000 (plus interest), and CU SoCal will report your positive behavior to the nation’s top credit bureaus with each successful payment.

Finding the Right Car

Before you start shopping, be sure you’re clear about what you need the car to do and how it will be used. Are you primarily driving to work? Do you plan to spend time off-road at the beach or in the mountains? Will you be taking road trips or driving in a city? Or perhaps you’ll be driving with children and pets, and want to focus on safety features.
Consider which of these you need most and rank them in the order of importance to you:
  • Off-roading
  • Towing
  • Luxury
  • Electric
  • Fuel economy
  • Performance
  • Passenger capacity
  • All around vehicle 

Narrowing the Field

While there may be several vehicles that you like, there are other important considerations that can help you make a decision about which car will be best.
Affordability: Meeting your budget should be top priority. You may like a particular make and model, yet find that it’s out of your price range. That’s when you’ll need to consider your second choice vehicle. With so many vehicles to choose from, you’ll be able to find one that you love to drive and can easily afford.
Interest Rate/APR: Most people are surprised to learn that the interest rate and APR on a car loan are two different things. The interest rate on a car loan does not include fees charged for the loan. The Annual Percentage Rate (APR) is the total cost the borrower pays on the loan each year, including fees, which are expressed as a percentage. When shopping for a car loan, the number you want to look for is a low APR. A good APR for a car loan is one that is low compared to other rates you’ve been quoted, and one that works for your budget.

For more details read, What’s a Good Interest Rate on a Car Loan?
Buy vs. Lease: As you shop for a car and start doing research into leasing vs. buying a car, there are specific differences between leasing and buying a car that may make all the difference in which option you ultimately choose. To learn more, check out Pros and Cons of Leasing vs. Buying a Car.
How Long Do You Plan to Own the Car?: If you know you’ll be keeping the car for many years, then buying is a better option than leasing. A lease is a limited time agreement, usually two to four years, and when the term of the lease ends, the vehicle must either be returned to the leasing company or purchased for the residual value. Leasing allows you to drive a new car every few years, thus avoiding costly repairs in the long-term.

Shop and Compare

Once you’ve narrowed down the options, the next step is getting prices and loan rates. Traditionally, “cross-shopping” for a car meant going for dealership to dealership getting quotes. These days, there are numerous online retailers gaining in popularity, which means you may find less traffic in dealerships. This could motivate dealers to provide greater discounts.
Shopping for a car during certain times of year can yield you big discounts! Find out when to shop by reading, When is the Best Time to Buy a Car?

Contacting Dealers

Most dealerships now provide online car buying (and leasing) options right from the dealership website. User-friendly, shop-from-home car buying has never been easier, eliminating the need make multiple dealership visits. The car you buy will even be delivered to you.
Local dealerships, as well as reliable online-only retailers, can help you find the car you want at a price you can afford. And, if you want a test drive or in-person service your local dealerships are there to help.
Ready to buy? Credit Union of Southern California can help you get the car financing you need.

Why Savvy Consumers Choose CU SoCal

For over 60 years, Credit Union of Southern California has been proudly serving the Southern California community. We provide our members with checking, savings, personal loans, and other loan products with quick pre-approvals, no application or funding fees, and other unique advantages.
We are known throughout the area for our excellent member service and we are proud to be serving the community where we work and live.

Apply For A CU SoCal Personal Loan Today!

Please give us a call today at 866.287.6225 to schedule a no-obligation consultation with one of our auto loan experts.

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Credit Union of Southern California (CU SoCal) is a leading financial institution empowering those who live, work, worship, or attend school in Orange County, Los Angeles County, Riverside County, and San Bernardino County to reach their goals and build strong financial futures. CU SoCal provides access to convenient money management services and offers competitive rates and flexible terms on auto loans, mortgages, and VISA credit cards—turning wishing and waiting into achieving and doing.


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