How to Afford a Car in College (9 Simple Tips!)

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Money can be tight when you’re in college. It can be hard enough to pay for your tuition and books let alone a car. For some, it might make more sense to live close to campus and walk but for others, a car is the way to go. So, if you’re wondering how to afford a car while you’re in college, here are a few tips that will help you out.

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How to Afford a Car in College

Before you start looking for a car, check out these tips to make the purchase a bit more affordable.

1. Check Out Grants

Many colleges offer grants to students who are going to school full-time.

Before you go looking for a car, make sure you apply for any grant money that your college offers.

Some grants will even help you buy a car.

Be sure to apply early as the grants can be awarded quickly.

You’ll have more options if your financial situation is tight when you’re applying for these grants as well.

2. Look for Different Financing Options

If you’re looking to buy your own car, you might want to shop around for some financing options.

Many different financial establishments offer car loans.

Some will even allow you to choose how much and when you pay back the loan.

A payment plan is a great way to get a new car while still having enough money for other expenses.

Rather than paying for the full price of a new vehicle upfront, you can set up payments over time that are manageable.

This is also helpful if you aren’t able to pay the full amount, have limited credit, or are unable to secure a loan from another source entirely.

Check out credit unions, online lenders, and your bank. Don’t get credit from the dealership unless you absolutely have to. 

They tend to charge higher interest rates than other options.

If you buy a car from a friend or family member, they might offer you a payment plan that will save you money and be easier to pay than a lender would.

I did this myself. Years ago, my sister was nice enough to let me buy her used car.

We set it up that I was to pay her $200 dollars a month, but if I was having a tough time financially she would let the payment slide. 

In the end, she got all of her money, but the flexibility in the payments made life much easier on me when I was completely broke.

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3. Buy a Used Car

Buying a used car can be one of the more affordable options if you choose wisely.

You can usually find decent quality used cars at smaller auto dealerships or through classified ads on the internet.

If you do choose to buy from a private seller, make sure to have the car inspected by your local mechanic first so that you’re aware of any problems with the vehicle before you purchase it.

This way, if there is damage or wear and tear, you can negotiate for a lower price or decide to walk away from the deal altogether.

Keep in mind, you want to be sure the car runs well. If you are having to put a lot of money into it to keep it on the road, then you’ll end up spending more than you would if you had bought a newer car.

4. Ask Someone to Cosign Your Loan

If you don’t have sufficient credit, a cosigner can help you get new car financing.

Usually, dealerships will require a co-signer if your credit is below average or you are a first-time buyer.

Cosigners are often a family member or close friend who is willing to take some of the responsibility for the vehicle with you.

If you choose to use a cosigner, make sure they understand the terms of the loan and that both of your names will be listed on the title.

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5. Work on Your Credit Score

If you have a low credit score or no existing credit history, getting a car loan may not be an option for you.

Make sure your credit score is as high as possible before you buy a car.

This can save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

The higher your credit score, the lower the interest rate you will have to pay.

This can make buying a car much more affordable.

6. Get a Side Gig

A part-time job or side gig can help pay for college expenses, buy you some extra spending money, and will even help pay for your car if you decide that’s the route you want to take.

Working for yourself will be easier as you can fit your work schedule around your classes.

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7. Start Saving for a Car Before College

Another option for college students looking to buy a car is saving up money.

If you’re able to save money over time, you’ll be able to buy a car with cash instead of financing.

You might even be able to purchase a more expensive model than someone who has to finance the cost on a loan.

While you’re still living at home, make sure you have some form of income. 

Save that money to pay for a car with cash or as a large downpayment.

It will make buying a car much easier.

8. Be Sure to Make a Car Buying Budget

Different people have different opinions on how much you should spend on a new car.

You want to know how much you can afford before you go to the dealership.

Once there, it can be easy to let the excitement of buying a new car get the best of you.

Before you know it, you have purchased a vehicle that is actually out of your price range.

Also, the salesman will want to encourage you to spend more.

So, have a budget and stick to it.

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9. Ask Your Parents to Help

Discuss with your parents the possibility of getting a car.

They may offer to throw in some money for a downpayment or even buy the car for you.

When I was in college, I wanted a new bike to ride to my classes. 

It was a really big campus.

I asked my mother for a bike and she ended up buying me a car.

Go figure.

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10. Put Down a Larger Downpayment

If you want a new car without the cost of high monthly payments, consider putting down a large down payment.

It is often possible to negotiate with the dealer for an even lower price if you’re able to put more money down upfront.

The Pros and Cons of Owning a Car in College

Keep in mind, there are both pros and cons of owning a car in college. Give them some thought before you decide to buy.

Pros of Owning a Car in College

  1. It can help you get around campus more easily and will be a convenience in case of emergencies.
  2. You’ll have the freedom to go where you want when you want.
  3. It may be safer than riding a bike or walking, especially at night.
  4. Carpooling can cut down on gas costs and is environmentally friendly.
  5. It’s a great option if you work off-campus because it will allow you to carry all your work-related items back and forth from your office each day without having to rely on public transportation or friends with cars to give you rides everywhere you need to go.

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Cons of Owning a Car in College

  1. If you live on campus, there may be a parking fee charged to you by the college for use of the parking lot.
  2. The money you spend on gasoline will quickly add up and can make it hard to keep up with your other college expenses.
  3. You’ll have more responsibility because if anything goes wrong with your car, you’re going to have to fix it.
  4. College is a time to get out of the house and experience new things. Owning a car may detract from this experience.
  5. It’s another thing to worry about when you’re already busy with school, work, and social events. It’s easier to deal with just one responsibility at a time than it is trying to juggle several at once.
  6. You may not be allowed to park on campus if you are a freshman. That was true where I went to school.

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To Sum it All Up:

If you want to make buying a car in college more affordable save up for a larger downpayment, be sure you have a good credit score, and buy a used car.

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