5 financial steps to take before you buy a car

2. Calculate how much car you can afford

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor/File
Michael Elmassih (right) concludes a sale with Eric Montalvo, who is buying his first car at Quincy International Auto Sales in Quincy, Mass., in this 2008 photo. Mr. Montalvo put down 30 percent of the price and the bank quickly approved the loan.

Consumers carried an average of $15,275 in auto loans in August. Depending on the type of car and your financial situation, be mindful of how much you need to borrow in order to finance your car. If you can’t put down a significant down payment, taking out a large loan and having high monthly payments may mean the car is out of reach for your budget. A general rule to follow is that your monthly car costs, including loan payment, auto insurance, and fuel costs, shouldn’t exceed 20 percent of your disposable income – your money left over after paying bills, living expenses, and debts. Take advantage of free resources like’s affordability calculator to narrow down the price range of cars that fit your budget.

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