How Much Car Can I Afford?

Buying a car while sticking to your budget can be pretty easy if you know your ins and outs. Continue reading this article to learn about this in more detail.

At the point when it is an ideal opportunity to purchase a car, you will most likely want to know: “How much car can I afford?” There is no ideal formula for the amount you can afford, however, our short answer is that your new-car payment ought to be no more than 15% of your monthly salary. In case you are renting or purchasing a used car, it ought to be no more than 10%. The reason to get a vehicle that falls below 10%-15% is that the payment is not the entirety of what you will spend. You will have to factor in the expenses of fuel and insurance, which numerous individuals disregard. If you put those expenses at another 7% of your salary, you will be looking at a total budget that is no more than 20% of your monthly salary.

In short, financial specialists answer this question through a straightforward general guideline: Car purchasers ought to spend close to 10% of their salary on a car loan payment and close to 20% on complete car costs, which additionally incorporates things like gas, insurance, maintenance, and repairs.

Determining how much car you can afford?

The 10%-15% rule may not work for everyone, but it is still a good place to start from if you want to find a target price that will not leave you struggling to pay your bills every month. Here is how you can get a more personalized number for yourself.

1. Calculate Your Automotive Budget

Take a couple of minutes to go through your monthly expenditure. From your monthly salary, deduct mortgage or rent, bills, food, expenses of your child, savings, and spending on entertainment. You will then find out how much car you can afford. You can use various online car affordability calculating tools to figure out your automotive budget. We have mentioned some of these calculators further on in this article.

Does it seem like you probably will not have the option to afford the purchase? That feeling is something all of us are well aware of. New vehicles have gotten more costly over the years, and our pay rates have not kept up. Regardless, this sum is now your automotive budget, which, as we have noted, is more than just your monthly payment.

2. Determine Your Fuel and Insurance Costs

Before you set off to purchase or rent, find out what your fuel costs will be and what it will cost you to insure the vehicle. The two expenses differ extensively based on your area, your driving history, and the vehicle you have picked. Despite the fact that it is not very difficult to think of these estimates, you should not ignore them. Knowing these expenses can assist you with picking different vehicles. Some may cost more to fuel up; others may have a higher insurance cost.

You can find a detailed listing of fuel economy figures on the EPA’s website. Moreover, you will also find annual fuel cost estimates for both new and used vehicles.

After calculating your affordable monthly car payment amount, you can begin getting an idea of how much you can borrow. This will depend on several other factors, such as:

  • Whether you buy new or used: New car loans usually have lower APRs.
  • Your credit score: This will in part determine your yearly percentage rate, or APR, on the loan.
  • Your loan term: It represents the number of months you have to pay off the loan.

With a monthly payment, an estimated APR, and loan term, the car affordability calculator works backward to figure out the total loan amount you can afford.

When it comes to insurance quotes, you should get in touch with your agent or insurance company and ask about the vehicle you are interested in. You should be able to get an accurate estimate. You can even visit the auto insurance website of your choice, and there should be an option to get an online quote. If insurance and fuel costs add up to 7% or less of your monthly paycheck, then you are fine.

3. Examine Your Buying Patterns

Along with the formula for car affordability, knowing your own car-purchasing patterns, good and bad, can offer bits of information that can help you find the best strategy for you. For instance, would you say you are someone who purchases a car, pays it off and later keeps it for a couple of years? If you fall in this category, then purchasing a new car would work for you: You have a history of shopping within your means, finishing off the loan, and going payment-free for some time. That is smart.

On the other hand, do you get exhausted with a car after a couple of years? Then, renting is your smartest option. What benefit would it be to you to take out a six-year loan only for you to change the vehicle in the fourth or fifth year? You will probably owe more than the car is worth and would have to roll that balance into the next loan. You would be in an ideal situation, leasing and paying less each month. Leasing additionally allows you to get a better car for less cash.

Finally, would it be safe to say that you are trying to settle on the most financially steady choice possible? In this case, you can purchase a lightly used car, pay it off, and then keep it for a long time. The first owner takes the depreciation hit, and you will have a car that is sufficiently new, which will help you avoid significant repairs for some time.

4. Set a target purchase price

The total amount of loan you can afford is not really the cost of the car you can afford. In case you are making a down payment or trading your old car, you will have the option to purchase a more extravagant car, or borrow less cash. (Use an auto loan calculator to figure out how your down payment or trade-in credit will impact your monthly payment and loan sum.)

Furthermore, there will be sales tax and fee, so consider something other than the cost on the window sticker. When you estimate the car loan sum you can afford and assume no trade-in credit or down payment, you can start to have a realistic idea regarding the purchase price you ought to consider.

You will have to factor in sales tax and fees, which change from state to state, to the advertised cost of the car to get your total car cost. A simple method to gauge these additional costs is to add 10% to the advertised cost of the car (despite the fact that you may negotiate a lower cost). For instance, on the off chance that you see a car advertised for $20,000, you should assume your complete expense — the “out the door” price — will be $22,000.

For a more precise estimate, here is a breakdown of the usual extra costs:

  • Documentation fee: Ranges from $80 to $400, based on your state.
  • Registration fees: Find out these fees through your state’s department of motor vehicles site.
  • Sales tax: Usually 5% to 10%, and may include state, county, and local taxes.

This implies that if you can afford a $20,000 car loan (assuming no down payment or trade-in credit), you will want to shop for a car with a sticker price of around $18,000 so that you will be able to cover sales tax and fees with your total loan amount.

How much car can I afford based on salary?

The general rule of thumb among numerous car-purchasing experts is that your car payment should add up to no more than 15% of your monthly net income or salary (some may extend this to 20%, however 15% is more moderate and hence likely to make budgeting considerably simpler). Your net income is the cash you bring home after federal, state, and local income taxes have been deducted from your paycheck.

Note that this 15% is intended to cover your car loan payment only, and not ongoing car-related costs like fuel, insurance, and maintenance. The thought behind the purported 15% rule is that in the event that you limit your monthly car loan payment — often called a car note — to 15% or less of your overall income, you will have sufficient cash left over every month to cover the rest of your life’s expenses, including a periodic financial curve.

Shop for car insurance

Holding your monthly payment under 10% of your gross income is the important thing. This will hold you back from feeling squeezed and stretched. Let us look at some top insurance suppliers present today that are working in your local area. Find out what policy best suits your requirements. How can you say whether you are paying a lot for insurance or not?

Gabi can help you find the best policy. Either give a link or PDF of your current insurance policy, and Gabi will look for a more ideal arrangement. In the event that you like the quote you are offered, you can move ahead and start saving money. Truth be told, Gabi clients save $961 on average each year.

In the event that you like to work with an agent, Allstate can help you save up some cash. In case you are a superb driver, this insurer might be an incredible choice for you. You can sign up for Drivewise and acquire as much as 25% back for every six months you go without an accident.

The individuals who have multiple kinds of insurance might want to take a look at Liberty Mutual. You can save up a lot by bundling your auto policy with your renter, homeowners, or condo insurance. Their site makes it simple to get a quick quote to see whether you can save up some cash by switching to them.

How much car loan can I get approved for?

This question is not something to be asked at the dealership. Dealers do not care about the amount you can really afford; their aim is to sell you the most costly car they can because their commission depends on the amount you spend. However, many of them will guarantee you that they just like you a lot and want to help you get the best car; in fact, they typically have next to no interest in how that purchase will impact your life or your ability to manage your finances later on.

All things considered, get in touch with a lender who is interested in how that purchase and loan will impact your life — since they want you to be able to pay them back. Credit unions usually have the lowest interest rates on vehicle loans, and since they are owned by their members, they are extremely invested into ensuring that you do not overextend on a loan. The cherry-red Lamborghini may be out of your range, but how can you figure out what sum you can qualify for? Here are a few things to take a look at:

Figure Out Your Debt-to-Income

Your debt-to-income ratio (DTI) is a gigantic factor in how much credit you can afford, on the grounds that it shows lenders whether you have sufficient cash left toward the month’s end to make a payment. DTI is determined by including all your monthly costs: rent or mortgage, student loan payment, credit card payments, other debt payments, and dividing the sum of those monthly debt payments with your monthly salary (Debt/Income).

Lenders need to see a DTI of 40% or less — the lower it is, the better it will be. The higher your DTI, the risk of you not having the option to cover that load of bills will also be greater, and you may fail to make payments or even default on the loan. A few lenders will still give you the credit, however they will charge you significantly more interest to represent the higher risk they are taking. So, one way to figure how much of a loan you are eligible for is to calculate how far you are from that 40%.

  • Monthly income: $8,000 (or how much you earn each month, before taxes)
  • DTI 28% = $2,240 (how much you pay in current debt payments every month)
  • Now add 10% more debt to account for your auto loan, in this situation, $800 a month, which would bring your DTI to 38%. Which is still under 40%.

So, if you paid $775 a month for 60-months at an average interest of 3.11%, then there is a huge possibility that you will qualify for a car of just over $40,000, plus taxes and interest. Remember to leave a little space for the interest the lender will charge, based on your credit score and the length of your loan.

Check Your Credit Score

Your credit score is a number appointed to an individual that shows lenders your ability to repay a credit. Numerous elements are considered in estimating the FICO rating, such as: your set of history with paying debts on time, past inquiries, total outstanding obligations, derogatory marks, credit card usage, and so on. If you have a restricted credit record, there are chances that your score is lower. Then again, in the event that you have an excessive amount of debt or if you do not make payments on time, you are probably going to have a bad credit score for those things also. Scores range from 300 to 850 however when you plunge below 680 (approximately), you are in a higher risk domain and the probability of getting a loan goes down while the interest rates go up.

Determine Your Down Payment

The greater the down payment you can make, the less you need to borrow, and the fewer will be the lender’s risk by loaning you cash. Obviously, if you have a major down payment, you can generally afford a more costly car. Suppose your DTI calculation says you can afford a $450 payment. For a 60-month credit, at 3.11%, excluding taxes and interest, that is a $25,000 car. However, if you have $5,000 to put down, you could afford a $30,000 car. Or on the other hand, you could get a $20,000 car and have a lower payment each month.

Buying Used? Loan-To-Value (LTV) May Matter Too

In the event that the vehicle you are buying is used or was previously owned by someone else, the lender will also want to consider something which is known as the Loan-to-Value ratio (LTV). In direct terms, your lender will do the math to ensure that the loan you are requesting is not preposterously higher than the value of the vehicle. Each lender has distinctive LTV limits. Eventually, this is to your best interest as the purchaser, assuming you would prefer not to be upside down on a pre-owned car for very long.

Estimate Your Interest Rate

Your interest rate also has an effect on your car payment, and your credit score determines your interest rate when you apply for the loan.

The lowest interest rates go to:

  • Borrowers buying newer vehicles
  • Borrowers choosing shorter loan terms
  • Borrowers with excellent credit scores
  • Borrowers with low DTI

Higher interest rates go to:

  • Borrowers buying from private owners
  • Borrowers buying used cars
  • Borrowers choosing longer loan terms
  • Borrowers with credit scores in low ranges
  • Borrowers with DTI at or over 40%

To increase your probability of getting the loan you want, you can:

  • Clean up your credit report
  • Make sure your trade-in vehicle is not upside down (worth less than the amount you owe)
  • Pay off debts
  • Save for a down payment (so you can opt for a shorter loan term)
  • Shop for last years’ new cars that haven’t been sold

Apply & Get Pre-Approved for Your Car Loan

After you have done your research, and you have an idea of how much of a car loan you can get pre-approved for, you are ready to apply and get pre-approved.

The three rules of car financing

The general guideline when it comes to smart auto financing is the 20/4/10 ratio. As per this rule, when purchasing a car, you should:

  1. put down at least 20%,
  2. finance the car for no more than 4 years, and
  3. keep your monthly car payment (including your principal, interest, insurance, and other expenses) at or less than 10% of your gross (i.e. pre-tax) monthly income.

Why is the 20/4/10 ratio a smart way to go about car financing? Here is why:

1. Put at least 20% down

As per Edmund’s, a new car loses 9% of its value the moment you drive it off the lot. Before the end of the principal year, it would have lost 19%. (This is the reason purchasing a used car is the best approach.) If you put under 20% down, you risk getting submerged on your car loan. This means that you almost immediately owe more on the car than it is worth. In the event that you need to sell the car before the loan is paid off, you will have to come up with the difference between the car’s value  and the balance on your car loan. The same can be said for a situation where you get into an accident and the car gets totaled.

2. The term of your car loan should be no more than four years

The longer your loan term, the more interest you will have to pay. Moreover, the longer your loan term, the more you will need to meet your lender’s insurance prerequisites, which frequently implies higher rates. Additionally, by the end of the four years, your car will have lost a great deal of its value, and you will not have any desire to still pay for it. Four years is the maximum most personal finance experts suggest. In the event that you can swing paying off your car in three years, that is even better. If you believe you totally should extend your payments further, you could even get a five-year loan, but nothing longer than that.

3. Your total car payment (interest, principal, and insurance) should not exceed 10% of your gross income

Your dream car is not worth having if your monthly payments eat up all the additional room in your budget. Staying under 10% means that you will have cash to put toward other things – like an emergency fund, a down payment on a house, or a vacation. It also means a change in conditions – for instance, a pay cut or losing a job – will not transform your new car into a hindrance. Rules aside, everybody’s circumstance is different. What if you need a car now. And not some junker, but rather a solid one that will get you to work on time?

The 20/4/10 rule is only that – a rule. In the event that you do not have the money for 20% down, and you cannot take the bus until you save some up, then put down less. In such situations, you can also buy an already used car. If the best way to get your monthly payment down to 10% of your pay is to broaden the life of the loan, then do it. But, think about a less expensive car first!

How much car can I afford calculator

There are various online calculators to figure out how much car you can afford.

For example, the car affordability calculator by uses a conservative but solid estimation about how much car you can afford. Regardless of whether you are paying money or financing, the purchase price of your car ought to be no more than 35% of your yearly pay. In case you are financing a car, the total monthly amount you spend on transportation – your car payment, gas, maintenance, and car insurance – ought to be no more than 10% of your gross monthly pay. The calculator does not ask you to enter your gas and insurance values, but it will start to decrease the purchase price you can afford if the conditions of your loan (interest rate and length) cause your monthly payment to surpass 10% of your income.

On the other hand, NerdWallet’s car affordability calculator begins with the monthly payment you pick and shows you what loan sum you can afford, and how the APR and advance term change the total loan amount. To use NerdWallet’s car affordability calculator, input the monthly car payment you think you can afford and the length of the loan you need. Then select “new” or “used” and your credit tier. NerdWallet estimates an APR dependent on the average APR for new or used car loans in that credit tier using data from Experian Information Solutions. You can try different loan terms and change the inputs to further alter your loan sum.

Moreover, Edmund’s car affordability calculator, records vehicles that fall into the price range you have pre-determined. Remember that the prices on the calculator results page will change dependent on the trim level, options, sales tax, registration fees, and so on.


Numerous automotive websites, like Kelley Blue Book, NerdWallet, Edmund’s, MoneyUnder30, and AutoTrader, have car finder search tools to show you various models recorded by price. In any case, make sure to set the bar low. While looking for cars, set your maximum price below the total loan amount you have decided you can afford. Sales tax and fees can easily add up to an additional couple of thousand dollars.

Eventually, the best car-purchasing situation will be one that considers your bills and other financial duties. Do not look for a car at the top of your budget. What’s more, is that if it is a stretch for you to purchase now, consider saving up somewhat more and return to shopping at a better time. The main things are to know your budget and to keep in mind that there is a whole other world to owning a car than simply that monthly payment.

Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett

Tony Benett makes his living in the insurance industry by teaching and consulting. He is also recognized by the legal profession as an expert on insurance coverages. His insurance experience includes having worked at the company level, owned an independent general agency and having worked for an insurance association. He has received various certificates over the past few years and helps his clients and readers by giving them a realistic outlook on what they can expect to achieve within their set targets. At Insurance Noon, he is known for his in-depth analysis and attention to details with accuracy. He has been published as one of the most referred agents by his peers in the insurance community. Tony loves the outdoors and most sport events. His passion other than providing excellent advice is playing golf.