Financial Literacy for Everyone
Follow Us
For Editors

Run Nathaniel Sillins's weekly Practical Money Matters in your online or print publication. Subscribe today

For a photo or bio of Nathaniel Sillin, see our press kit.

For Broadcasters

Learn how you can play our weekly Practical Money Matters on your station. Learn more

Play NFL

Challenge yourself with Financial Football
Play our fun video game to test your knowledge about money.
Play now

PMM articles

Practical Money Matters
Disputing a credit card charge? Graduating? Leasing a car? Learn important tips from our weekly article series.
Read now

social media

Connect with us!
For daily money tips, quips and pics, follow us on social media.
Like us on Facebook
Follow us on Twitter

Take the pain out of car shopping

By Jason Alderman

Iíd rather get a root canal than go car shopping. How to choose among so many models, options and financing alternatives? But itís worth a little homework to make sure you get a car you like and can truly afford; plus, you can save you thousands of dollars over the carís life. Here are a few tips:

What can you afford? Look at your monthly budget and determine how much you can comfortably spend on car-related expenses. If youíre forced to sacrifice other essentials like savings for retirement or college, you may need to forego your dream car for now and buy something more practical.

If you donít already have a budget, Practical Money Skills for Life, a free personal financial management site sponsored by Visa Inc., (, shows how to set and follow a budget. The site also features ďBuying a Car,Ē a complete guide to financing options, evaluating credit, negotiation tactics, and much more.

Hidden costs of car ownership. Even if you pay cash, donít forget additional expenses that can significantly impact your budget Ė things like insurance, registration and emission fees, sales tax, maintenance and repairs, and of course, gas.

Know your credit rating. A mediocre credit rating usually translates into higher interest rates and lower loan limits. You can order one free credit report a year from each of the three leading credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), through Order one at least a month before you shop to ensure you have time to correct mistakes.

Arrange financing first. Many lenders will pre-approve you for a loan amount based on your income and credit history. Even if you ultimately go with the dealerís financing, it pays to know what you qualify for first. Try your credit union or bank, but also compare rates on

Do your research. Find out in advance the invoice price (dealerís cost, minus incentives) and bargain up from it, rather than down from the manufacturerís recommended ďsticker priceĒ on the window. You can research invoice amounts online at such sites as Kelly Blue Book (,, and

If youíre not up for a lot of research, Consumer Reports offers a New Car Buying Kit for a small fee, which shows target prices to aim for, provides reviews, and does side-by-side comparisons of different makes and models. Go to

Take your time. Youíll be living with this car for years, so donít rush. Get the dealerís best offer in writing, then call your insurance agent for a quote Ė and sleep on it.

Trade-ins. If you need to sell your current car to buy the new one, treat that as a separate transaction (just as financing is separate). Or, sell it on your own.

New vs. used. New cars lose 20 percent or more of their value the minute you drive off the lot. A late-model used car may provide most of the features you want for considerably less. To make sure itís not a lemon, however, obtain a Vehicle History Report, available from and other sites for a small fee, which traces the carís history by vehicle identification number on a nationwide database.

Buying a car doesnít have to be an ordeal if you do your homework and keep the rest of your financial obligations in mind.

Jason Alderman directs the Practical Money Skills for Life program for Visa Inc. More information about retirement planning and other financial tips can be found at As always, consult a financial professional regarding your particular situation.

Back to Newspaper Columns

Email to a friend

Your Name:
Your Email:
Recipient's Email:
Enter code:

The information that you provide through this e-mail feature will not be stored by Visa for any other purposes. Please refer to Visa's privacy policy for details.