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Millennials still need cars; how to save money on new autos

Millennials who need a car are advised not

Millennials who need a car are advised not to go into debt. These cars are on a lot in Florida on Nov. 3, 2015. Credit: AP / Chris O'Meara

Millennials need cars just like the generations before, and recession-era grads are showing up at car dealerships. Of customers who bought or leased new cars, the share who were ages 21 to 38 rose from 17 percent in 2010, to 28 percent in 2015, according to data from the Power Information Network at J.D. Power.

If you need your own set of wheels, these tips can keep you from getting mired in debt.

Buy used

Straight from Captain Obvious herself comes this piece of advice: Buy a used car. Go for a 2, 3 or 4-year-old model. You’ll save almost $8,000 when you buy a 3-year-old midsized sedan instead of the latest model, according to data from car-advice website Edmunds.

Try one of the growing number of trusted websites and apps to search used cars in your area. Ask the dealership, or the private seller if you’re buying from someone else, for a Carfax vehicle history report for the car you’re interested in. Make sure the car has had as few owners as possible, that it hasn’t been in any major accidents, and that the owner has kept up with scheduled maintenance. Consumer Reports publishes lists of the best used cars for various budgets, starting at less than $10,000.

Compare more than sticker prices

  • Before you buy, compare cars based on how much they’ll cost you over time using the five-year cost calculators on the Edmunds and Kelley Blue Book websites. When you look up the total cost of owning a car, you’ll see how much you can expect to pay in interest on your car loan, gas and maintenance.
  • If you need to finance your car, a higher credit score will save you money. In most cases, good credit will get you a lower interest rate, potentially as much as several percentage points lower, a lower monthly payment and a shorter loan term. Keep your credit score in top shape by paying your bills on time, maintaining low credit card balances, and avoiding applying for additional lines of credit in the months before you get a car loan.
  • Most importantly, get preapproved for a loan before you enter a dealership. Shop around with your bank, credit union or a trusted online lender to get a quote.

Minimize ongoing costs

Use an app like GasBuddy to compare gas prices on your route.

And consider using a credit card that gets you cash back on gas purchases. But take that step only if you’re prepared to pay the balance in full every month. Rewards are a lot juicier when interest charges don’t eat away at them.


New wheels will come with extra expenses beyond the cost of the car itself, like insurance. Compare auto insurance rates and look for discounts, including going to traffic school to remove points from your license, which lead to higher monthly premiums. Check insurance rates before you buy your car, too, because some models might cost more to insure.


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