How to Afford a Car in College: 11 Useful Car Buying Tips

It’s no secret that getting a college degree these days doesn’t come cheap. No matter if it’s an associate or bachelor’s degree that you are planning on earning, you will surely have to pay top dollar. But the good news is that choosing the right school and applying for financial aid can make a college degree easier on the bank.

The same is true with owning a car in college — there are smart steps you may take to make it affordable.

If you are planning on buying a car to use to drive to and fro the school and your off-campus dwelling or hometown, keep reading. In this post, you will come across 11 useful car-buying tips that can help make owning a car in college budget-friendly. After checking this out, you will find it so much easier to avoid going bankrupt.

Save Early

According to a Maryville University report, students who are planning to have the best possible college experience should start gearing up for it during the first year of high school or even earlier.

The same applies to buying a car in college — the sooner you prepare for it, the better.

Having more money in the bank when it’s time to have your very first car allows you to select from a much wider variety of car options and avoid debt in more ways than one. Stashing away money you get as a gift or an inheritance from family members allows you to get started on the money-saving task without having to wait to have a job.

part time job

Get a Part-time Job

Speaking of which, nothing can make more sense than working in order to make money since cars don’t come free of charge. Whether you are still in high school or already in college, having a job can take you a step closer to your dream of owning an automobile before you get your college degree.

Thanks to the internet, you can earn not only in the traditional fashion but also online.

Do keep in mind that finally owning a car in college can help you earn more to pay for your prized possession. For instance, you may offer ridesharing or delivery service to your co-college students.

Improve Credit Score (to 700 or higher)

credit score

Lower monthly payments can make owning a car in college affordable. And one foolproof way to make your car monthly payment so much easier on the pocket is by having a good credit score — about 700 or higher.

What’s so nice about boosting your credit score is that it can lower those usually steep monthly payments.

It’s not uncommon for college students to have credit scores lower than everybody else’s. But there are certain things you may do in order to deal with it. Some of them are making payments on time, limiting the number of times you apply for new credit and maintaining a credit limit balance of less than 30%.

Opt for a Used Car

If saving money is far more important than owning a car with the latest bells and whistles, then going for a used car rather than a brand new one fresh from the assembly plant is certainly the way to go. Typically, used cars have lower price tags and have lower monthly payments as well.

You may also save on costs associated with car ownership if you buy a used one, such sales tax and insurance.

While the money-saving perks of getting a used car in college are undeniable, there are also a few drawbacks you will have to bear in mind. Outdated problems, hidden problems, higher maintenance and repair costs — these are just some of the things you will have to consider before you buy a used automobile.

Read Also: How Many Miles is Too Much for a Used Car College Student?

Haggle over the price

car buying

One of the nicest things about setting your eyes on a used car at a used-car dealership or independent lot is that the prices are not set in stone. This means that it’s possible to bring down the cost by haggling — it’s when shopping for a vehicle when you can start flexing your negotiating skills that are must-haves in careers such as:

  • Customer service
  • Event planning
  • HR management
  • Marketing
  • Management
  • Purchasing
  • Real estate
  • Recruitment specialist
  • Sales engineering
  • Sales representative

When haggling, don’t be too embarrassed to point out issues with the used car that you are not particularly happy about — wear on the tires, a tattered part of the seat, a small dent on the fender, etc.

Shop in Spring for Better Deals

It’s common knowledge among expert college-level car shoppers that the springtime makes the price tags of cars shoot up. Many of them are also well aware of the fact that the wintertime, on the other hand, makes them drop.

Consider waiting a while until spring comes into being before you shop for an automobile.

There are a couple of things why cars also tend to be at their most affordable in spring. First, this is the perfect time for car dealerships to get the sales momentum going. Second, vendors want to get rid of last year’s models ASAP in order to provide available space for newer, more expensive ones.

Head to a Dealership

car dealership

No other place on the planet holds more used cars in extensive selections in one lot than a used-car dealership. Needless to say, if you are shopping on a budget and there’s a particular automobile type or model you like to get your hands on, chances are that you will find it at a dealership.

Regardless if what you want is something small that can fit into a small space, something spacious to accommodate all your friends or something fast to get you to your classes on time, a good used-car dealership probably has it.

Some other perks to enjoy for heading to a dealership include a history report and all kinds of warranty options.

Shop Around

When building a college list, graduating high school teens fill theirs with many different institutions, each one has its own set of advantages as well as a few disadvantages over the other.

It’s the same thing when buying a car — you should shortlist your various car and vendor options.

Even if you have made up your mind that you want to get a particular model after some thorough research, it’s generally not a good idea to opt for the first one you come across. Chances are that there’s a similar car available elsewhere that carries a lower price tag or comes in better condition.

Stick to a Budget


Creating a budget can help you to not only afford a car as a college student but also to keep your bank account from ending up in shambles. And, of course, besides having a budget, it’s also a must to stick to it.

When budgeting, always keep in mind the so-called 20% rule.

The name of this economizing strategy pretty much sums up everything — only 20% or less of your monthly income should go toward transportation-related costs such as car payments, insurance, taxes, fuel, repair and maintenance. And while you’re at it, also take into consideration other things that require budgeting, such as food and entertainment.

Grab a Co-Signer

Earlier, we mentioned the important role boosting your credit score has in the car-buying process.

But just in case you still have bad credit after everything or you absolutely have none, you may consider having a co-signer with you when buying your very own automobile. Simply put, a co-signer is somebody who agrees to take complete legal responsibility for repaying the loan should you fail to be able to pay it back.

One of the best co-signers on the face of the planet is a parent or another trusted adult. Other possible perks that come with having a co-signer include more loan options, better interest rates and a nicer car.

Get a Fuel-Efficient Model

According to car dealers themselves, gas is one of the main costs associated with having a car. They add that driving your vehicle at a normal rate can dent the wallet around a couple of times per month.

If you want to be able to afford a car in college, avoid vehicles notorious for guzzling tons of gas.

SUVs and pickup trucks are definitely out of the list. On the other hand, opting for a smaller and more fuel-efficient type is a wonderful idea, most especially if you live off-campus and have to drive more often than students who live on-campus. Going for an electric or hybrid car is also a wonderful option.

Being able to afford buying a car in college and keeping it around, too, is easier than you think. It’s just like picking a college or university that’s a great fit — all you have to do is keep in mind some very important factors. Remember the tips above and you can have a car as you work hard on your college degree.

Related Questions

What percentage of all college students in the US own a car?

According to a US News survey, about half of all US college students have cars on campus. At some schools, up to 98% of college students have cars on campus. Colleges with the most car-owning students are Wayne State University, Mississippi State University and Spalding University.

Which cars do most college students drive?

Most college students own cars that are cheap to buy, insure and keep around. Some of the most popular choices include 2003 Honda Accord, 2004 Honda Civic, 2004 Toyota Camry, 2004 Toyota Corolla, 2007 Nissan Altima, 2007 Ford Focus, 2006 Ford Mustang, 2007 Nissan Sentra and 2008 Hyundai Sonata.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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