Car Buying: Military Edition

By Selena Garrison and Michael S. Gutter 

While there are many factors to be considered by anyone who is considering purchasing a vehicle, there are some special considerations that need to be made for service members. The bottom line is that a vehicle is a major investment, and military members and their families need to be armed with the right information before jumping into purchasing a vehicle.

Budget

First, you need to know how much car you can afford. Remember that when you purchase a vehicle, you need to calculate not only the cost of the vehicle, but also the cost of gas, registration, insurance, and maintenance. In addition, be sure not to negotiate based on the monthly payment. You want to get the best price possible on your new car, and if you negotiate based on how much you can afford to pay monthly, the dealer may just extend the terms of your learn, effectively lowering the monthly payment, but costing you a lot more in the long run.

Avoid Gimmicks

When shopping for a vehicle, military personal should be keenly aware of any gimmicks that may be geared toward them. Examples may include “special financing” with no or low credit (which will end up costing a lot more than necessary), praising military service to lower resistance to a sales pitch, and attempting to sell the individual more car than they can afford because they have “earned it.”

Credit

Generally speaking, most people take out a loan to purchase a vehicle. A huge factor affecting financing will be your credit score, so it is important to pull your credit report and see if there are any areas that may be negatively affecting your score. If you have little or poor credit, it is better to buy a less expensive, used car as a temporary solution instead of getting locked in to a high interest loan. This will give you time to improve your credit, save some money, and be able to purchase the car that you really want without paying way too much for it.

Negotiate

There are several factors involved in negotiating a good deal on a vehicle. First, shop for financing in advance and know what you can afford. Check with a local credit union or lender that specializes in military car buying and then compare the offers you receive with the offers the dealership puts forward. Next, do your research and compare prices in advance. Know what kind of car you want, how much it has been selling for in your area, and how much you are willing to pay for it. You can use websites such as www.kbb.com and www.edmunds.com to do your price shopping. Lastly, for the reasons that were mentioned earlier, do NOT negotiate based on monthly payment. In fact, do not even tell the salesperson how much you want to pay monthly.

Walk Away

Once you have driven the vehicle, negotiated a good deal, and secured financing, you are good to go, right? Wrong. Take a few hours or a night to make sure that this is what you really want to do. Too often, people get swept up in the excitement of purchasing a new car and end up in a situation that is damaging to them financially. Taking a step back and reviewing the decision you are making can only help you.

 Special Considerations

Military members have several additional issues that need to be considered when purchasing a vehicle. First, many military car-buyers are young, first time buyers with little experience managing finances or making big financial decisions. Remember that just because you have money doesn’t mean it needs to be spent on a car. Second, deployment can cause added financial stress and unique issues that can be difficult to resolve. Remember that being deployed does not mean that you do not have to make a car payment. It is important to designate someone to take care of these financial issues for you while you are away. Lastly, The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently opened the Office of Servicemembers Affairs (OSA). The OSA is an important tool to help you stay informed about your financial rights and to protect you from abusive practices.

This post was published on the Military Families Learning Network blog on April 17 2014.

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