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College graduation is a rite of passage, and after years of studying, it’s natural to want to reward yourself with a fun, new car. But you know that buying your dream car at age 22 might not be the wisest choice. How do you make a smart financial choice while driving away in something fun and satisfying?

Preliminary research is really important. The Internet is an excellent tool to use to educate yourself about everything from cost comparisons to insurance rates to safety ratings.

Figure out what kind of car best suits your needs. Will you be commuting? Do you need cargo space? Don’t just think about what you want now, but think about what you’ll need in the future.

Before you begin shopping, stop by White Sands Federal Credit Union and get preapproved for financing to save you money over financing at the dealership. The professionals at White Sands FCU also can help you figure out how much car you can afford–which includes the sales price plus sales tax, licensing, title, insurance, gas, and maintenance costs. Set a budget and stick to it.

Pick a few models that you’re interested in and contact an insurance agent–or hit the Web–to find out what kind of rates you can expect to pay. Unfortunately, cars that interest many new graduates are often expensive to insure. Learn what you’ll pay before you’re locked into deal and then realize your insurance payment is just as much as–or more than–your monthly car payment.

Lots of graduates want a brand new car right after college, but for most people that’s not a smart financial move. Car values depreciate a lot in the first few years of ownership. Buying a slightly used car allows someone else to absorb the cost of depreciation. Many used cars come with warranties similar to those of new cars, which makes them nearly as reliable as buying new.

If you choose to buy from a dealership, take your time and shop around. Don’t be afraid to negotiate–it’s all part of the process. It helps to take along someone who’s already been through it. College students sometimes seem naïve and may be taken advantage of–which is why research is so important. Don’t lay all of your cards on the table right away and, if things don’t feel right, don’t be afraid to walk away.

Once you find a vehicle you like that meets all your criteria, it’s time to get to the paperwork. Make sure you understand everything about your contract before you sign anything. When something isn’t clear, ask questions.

If you shop through classifieds or Internet sites, do some research on specific vehicles by getting a vehicle history report using the vehicle identification number (VIN) on Web sites such as or Take the car for a test drive, and have a trustworthy mechanic look at it to assess potential problems.

If you take the time to research, shop around, and balance your wants with your needs, you’ll be happy with your car for a long time. White Sands FCU can help put you in the driver’s seat. Visit us today or call us at 575-647-4500.

Copyright 2012 Credit Union National Association Inc. Information subject to change without notice. For use with members of a single credit union. All other rights reserved.

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Call Center:
(575) 647-4500 or

(800) 658-9933.

Hours of Operation:
Monday thru Friday, 8 am-5 pm

Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 99
Las Cruces, NM 88004

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