7 Things to Know About Giving (or Getting) a Car for Graduation

If you're planning to buy a car for the new grad in your life, here's some advice on making the right choice.

Behind every diploma bestowed at high school and college graduations is a lot of hard work. And for some lucky grads, that hard work gets rewarded with a milestone gift: their own car. If you’re planning to buy a car for the new grad in your life, we’ve got some advice on making the right choice. And if you’re the recipient, we’ll share a few tips to help you drive into the future with confidence.

What to Consider If You’re Giving a Car to a New Grad

You’re so proud of your new grad for all their hard work that you’ve decided to shell out for a set of wheels to carry them on to their next adventures. Whether you’re getting your grad started with a well-loved (read: used) older car you bought from a neighbor or you’re splurging for a brand-new ride with all the bells and whistles, it’s important for you, the buyer, to take a moment to consider the realities of this major purchase — and of the needs of its soon-to-be owner.

1. Consider Total Cost of Ownership When Choosing a Car

First, let’s talk money. The car you buy should fit into your own budget, of course. But you also have to consider the total cost — including ongoing costs — of the car. Here are some things to think about.

Gas: If, for example, your child will be driving the car back and forth between home and an out-of-state university, would they (or you, if you’re footing the gas bill) be burdened by the costs of a gas-guzzling vehicle? If so, a fuel-efficient car might be a better option.

Insurance: This is the most expensive consideration after the vehicle itself. Neil Richardson, licensed insurance agent and adviser for The Zebra, says to keep insurance in mind right from the start as you shop for cars. If insurance is an afterthought when you’ve already purchased the car, you could be in for some unpleasant surprises. Further, the car you select will affect your insurance premium if your grad will be on your insurance policy (more on this below).

Maintenance: Consider the expenses related to repairing or replacing parts on the vehicle if it’s damaged in some way. Foreign car repairs may be much more expensive than domestic, but that’s not a hard-and-fast rule. Further, new cars may include manufacturer warranties or maintenance as part of your package, but if your grad is savvy with tools or has an interest in cars, they can take care of plenty of at-home car maintenance issues.

2. Prioritize Safety & Utility

When car shopping, safety should stay top of mind. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ranks the safest cars in different categories, from minis to large pickup trucks.

Also think about where and how much your recipient will be driving. If they’re headed for college or a new job in a crowded city, they’ll need a car that fits cramped streets and narrow parking spaces. A new college grad with a quick commute will appreciate a different kind of car than one whose new job requires them to be a road warrior.

3. Insure it

If your gift recipient is a high school grad who lives at your residence, they may get lower premiums if they stay on your policy, but whether that’s possible depends on your situation. If they’re headed to an in-state college or university, they can stay on your insurance policy as long as their primary residence is still your home address, Richardson says. Students leaving the state for college, though, may have to get coverage on their own, as rates are dependent on where the driver lives and “garages” the vehicle.

Remember that if your new grad is on your insurance policy, you could be held liable for damage they cause in an accident. For this reason, Richardson says it’s generally a good idea to go beyond the state-required minimums in liability coverage.

4. Get Your Paperwork in Order

Getting close to a decision? Before you seal the deal, prepare for some extra paperwork. Whether you’re heading to the dealer or buying a car privately, you’ll need to be prepared with the right documentation, such as the recipient’s driver’s license and current insurance, an IRS cash-reporting form and a security report. (Questions? Read more details about each of these documents.)

If You’re a New Grad Who’s Been Gifted a Car

So now you’re the proud owner of a new diploma and a car. Sweet! Take a moment to savor the payoffs for your hard work and generosity of your gift giver.

Once you’ve posted lots of photos of your new ride, you might be thinking about all the new freedom your car gives you or how you’re going to upgrade the stereo system. But there are some other things you need to keep in mind when it comes to how this car will affect your life. Nail down these details and you’ll be well on your way to acing this whole “#adulting” thing.

1. Know the Impact on Your Wallet

Even if you aren’t making payments on your new vehicle, a car can still have a huge impact on your wallet. (Here’s how car insurance affects your credit.) How much will you need to budget for gas, parking, insurance, registration and regular maintenance? Your folks or your generous benefactor may be picking up some of these expenses for you, at least in the short term. Be sure to establish clearly with others about who’s paying what and check in regularly to make sure necessary expenses related to your car are taken care of.

2. Your Insurance History Starts Now

We know that dealing with auto insurance for the first time is complicated, so it’s extra important to be clear on how your policy works, whether it’s in your name or you are on your parents’ policy for now. If you’re a registered driver of a registered vehicle, your insurance history starts now (even if you’re not paying for it), and a clean driving record and demonstrated history of continuous insurance coverage will mean huge savings on your insurance in the future.

If you’re in college, you can start building your insurance record by staying on your parents’ or legal guardians’ policies if they OK it. According to Richardson, as long as the parents’ address is still the primary residence of the student, on-campus housing is considered temporary since students have to leave at the end of each semester, so students can still be covered on their parents’ policy. Once they move off campus to a more permanent situation, i.e., a house or apartment, then they will need their own coverage. (Here are the states where your credit score really matters for car insurance coverage. No matter where you live, it’s a good idea to know where your credit stands — you can find out for free on Credit.com.)

If you’re not in college and you’ve moved away from your parents or guardians altogether and no longer share an address, you’ll have to have your own policy.

3. Keep That Car in Tip-Top Shape

Finally, regular preventive car maintenance will probably be the last thing on your mind as you adjust to college life or settle into a new job. So go ahead and set some reminders in your calendar to take care of oil changes, wiper fluid and other routine maintenance for your car. You’ll prolong the life of the car and make it less likely that problems will pop up just when you don’t need them — like on your Spring Break trip or on the way to a job interview.

Car not in your budget for a graduation gift? Consider these eight graduation gifts your kids will actually use. 

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5 Steps for Getting a Car Loan

This Article was Updated July 5, 2018

When you are looking to buy a vehicle, the first thing you should do is apply for a preapproved loan. The loan process can seem daunting, but it’s easier than you think and getting preapproval prior to going to the car dealer may help alleviate a lot of frustration along the way.

Here are five steps for getting a car loan.

  1. Check Your Credit
  2. Know Your Budget
  3. Determine How Much You Can Afford
  4. Get Preapproved
  5. Go Shopping

1. Check Your Credit

Before you shop for a loan, check your credit report. The better your credit, the cheaper it is to borrow money and secure auto financing. With a higher credit score and a better credit history, you may be entitled to lower loan interest rates, and you may also qualify for lower auto insurance premiums.

Review your credit report to look for unusual activity. Dispute errors such as incorrect balances or late payments on your credit report. If you have a lower credit score and would like to give it a bit of a boost before car shopping, pay off credit card balances or smaller loans.

If your credit score is low, don’t fret. A lower score won’t prevent you from getting a loan. But depending on your score, you may end up paying a higher interest rate. If you have a low credit score and want to shoot for lower interest rates, take some time to improve your credit score before you apply for loans or attempt to secure any other auto financing.

2. Know Your Budget

Having a budget and knowing how much of a car payment you can afford is essential. You want to be sure your car payment fits in line with your other financial goals. Yes, you may be able to cover $400 a month, but that amount may take away from your monthly savings goal.

If you don’t already have a budget, start with your monthly income after taxes and subtract your usual monthly expenses and how much you plan to put in savings each month. For bills that don’t come every month, such as Amazon Prime or Xbox Live, take the yearly charge and divide it by 12. Then add the result to your monthly budget. If you’re worried, you spend too much each month, find simple ways to whittle your budget down.

You’ll also want to plan ahead for new car costs, such as vehicle registration and auto insurance, and regular car maintenance, such as oil changes and basic repairs. By knowing your budget and what to expect, you can easily see how much room you have for a car payment.

3. Determine How Much You Can Afford

Once you understand where you are financially, you can decide on a reasonable monthly car payment. For many, a good rule of thumb is to not spend more than 10% of your take-home income on a vehicle. In other words, if you make $60,000 after taxes a year, you shouldn’t spend more than $500 per month on car payments. But depending on your budget, you may be better off with a lower payment.

With a payment in mind, you can use an auto loan calculator to figure out the largest loan you can afford. Simply enter in the monthly payment you’d like, the interest rate, and the loan period. And remember that making a larger down payment can reduce your monthly payment. You can also use an auto loan calculator to break down a total loan amount into monthly payments.

You’ll also want to think about how long you’d like to pay off your loan. Car loan terms are normally three, four, five, or six years long. With a longer loan period, you’ll have lower monthly payments. But beware—a lengthy car loan term can have a negative effect on your finances. First, you’ll spend more on the total price of the vehicle by paying more interest. Second, you may be upside down on the loan for a larger chunk of time, meaning you owe more than the car is actually worth.

4. Get Preapproved

Before you ever set foot on a car lot, you’ll want to be preapproved for a car loan. Research potential loans and then compare the terms, lengths of time, and interest rates to find the best deal. A great place to shop for a car loan is at your local bank or credit union. But don’t stop there—look online too. The loan with the best terms, interest rate, and loan amount will be the one you want to get preapproved for. Just know that preapproved loans only last for a certain amount of time, so it’s best to get preapproved when you’re nearly ready to shop for a car.

However, when you apply, the lender will run a credit check—which will lower your credit score slightly—so you’ll want to keep all your loan applications within a 14-day period. That way, the many credit checks will only show as one inquiry instead of multiple ones.

When you’re preapproved, the lender decides if you’re eligible and how much you’re eligible for. They’ll also tell you what interest rate you qualify for, so you’ll know what you have to work with before you even walk into a dealership. But keep in mind that preapproved loans aren’t the same as final auto loans. Depending on the car you buy, your final loan could be less than what you were preapproved for.

In most cases, if you secure a pre-approved loan, you shouldn’t have any problems getting a final loan. But being preapproved doesn’t mean you’ll automatically receive a loan when the time comes. Factors such as the info you provided or whether or not the lender agrees on the value of the car can affect the final loan approval. It’s never a deal until it’s a done deal.

If you can’t get preapproved, don’t abandon all hope. You could also try making a larger down payment to reduce the amount you are borrowing, or you could ask someone to cosign on the loan. If you ask someone to cosign, take it seriously. By doing so, you are asking them to put their credit on the line for you and repay the loan if you can’t.

When co-signing a car loan, they do not acquire any rights to the vehicle. They are simply stating that they have agreed to become obligated to repay the total amount of the loan if you were to default or found that you were unable to pay.

Co-signing a car loan is more like an additional form of insurance (or reassurance) for the lender that the debt will be paid no matter what.

Usually, a person with bad credit or less-than-perfect credit may require the assistance of a co-signer for their auto financing and loan.

5. Go Shopping

Now you’re ready to look for a new ride. Put in a little time for research and find cars that are known to be reliable and fit into your budget. You’ll also want to consider size, color, gas mileage, and extra features. Use resources like Consumer Reports to read reviews and get an idea of which cars may be best for you.

Once you have narrowed down the car you are interested in, investigate how much it’s worth, so you aren’t accidentally duped. Sites such as Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds can help you figure out the going rate for your ideal car. After you’re armed with this information, compare prices at different car dealerships in your area. And don’t forget to check dealer incentives and rebates to get the best possible price.

By following these steps, you’ll be ready to make the best financial decision when getting a car loan. Even if you aren’t ready to buy a car right now, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. Start by acquiring a free copy of your credit summary.

It is always a good idea to pull your credit reports each year, so you can make sure they are as accurate as they should be. If you find any mistakes, be sure to dispute them with the proper credit bureau. Remember, each credit report may differ, so it is best to acquire all three.
If you want to know what your credit is before purchasing a car, you can check your three credit reports for free once a year. To track your credit more regularly, Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card is an easy-to-understand breakdown of your credit report information that uses letter grades—plus you get a free credit score updated every 14 days.

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