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Nearly 17 million Americans will purchase a new vehicle this year. Savvy car-buyers should take the proper steps to find, finance and insure their new car and protect their financial well-being before making such a major commitment.

Choose carefullyDon’t let that new-car smell cloud your judgment. Analyze your financial situation to determine what monthly payments you can really afford while still devoting some disposable income to paying off debts, saving and investing.

Make a list of “needs” (such as cargo space) versus “wants” (a sunroof) to help you decide what type of car is right for you. Compare competing models in the same class and don’t forget to account for insurance costs. A vehicle that is less safe, more expensive to repair or has high records of theft may cost more to insure.

Once you decide on a make and model, enlist a service that can quickly scan dealer inventories nationwide to locate a car with the features you want. It might save you money and the trouble of driving all over town.

Drive the dealMost dealerships will negotiate on the Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price (MSRP). Researching what the dealer paid for the car, and what incentives they receive for selling it, can work in your favor as you approach the bargaining table. In most cases, there’s room to lower the price and still allow the dealer to earn a reasonable profit.

If you’re not comfortable “wheeling and dealing,” try using a negotiating service that can work with dealers on your behalf. Some banks offer this service for free.

While getting the right price is important, how you pay can dramatically affect how much you pay. Dealerships offer financing, but it’s not your only option. It may be possible to find a lower interest rate through a vehicle loan from a bank. A few percentage points off the dealer’s rate could save you thousands of dollars.

Insure with assurancePerhaps the most overlooked source of auto-related costs is insurance. When you change cars, your auto insurance needs may change, too. If you carried only liability insurance on your older vehicle, your new car may require collision and comprehensive coverage. Also think about adding uninsured/underinsured motorists, towing, and rental reimbursement coverage.

Ask about discounts for having multiple vehicles on the same policy, anti-theft systems, and even for young people getting good grades in school. Of course, driving safely is the easiest way to keep insurance rates in check.

Compare insurance companies. Consider price, as well as a company’s customer service and financial strength ratings.

Next to a house, cars are often the most expensive item you own. Some extra effort to get the most for your money and protect yourself for the future often will pay off down the road.

Mitch Swanda is a salaried Certified Financial Planner™ practitioner with USAA Financial Planning Services. Swanda also served six years of active duty in the U.S. Navy.


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