It’s a right of passage, a part of growing up, a milestone in life. Whatever you call it, purchasing your first car is a BIG DEAL! Since this is your first large purchase, it’s important to start the process with a solid understanding of your finances, goals and the type of vehicle you need.

Here are nine tips for buying your first car.

 1. Let’s be realistic! Having a realistic budget is the most important step in purchasing your first vehicle. Cars can be expensive and adding everything you want to that new car from the dealer can blow your budget easily. Take some time to go over your income and expenses, and come up with a budget that works for you.

2. Getting down with your payments. Once you’ve come up with a budget, the next thing to think about is your monthly payments. Look at your monthly expenses; decide what you can comfortably afford to pay per month. One-way to keep your monthly payments low is by making a down payment on the car at the time of purchase. Another way is to look at longer period payment options like a 7-year loan instead of a 3 year.  Keep in mind the longer it takes you to pay off your car the more interest you will pay in the end, which increases the total amount paid. When all the numbers work out, then you are ready to start looking for your car!

3. Credit score is important! Your credit score helps determine the interest rate you will pay on your car. Credit is based on several factors; payment history, amount owed, length of credit history, new credit and type of credit used (but that’s another blog entirely.) Finding your credit score is very simple; there are many different online platforms where you can find your credit score free. Websites like Credit Karma allow you to check your score anytime for no charge.  You can also receive a free report once a year from any of the three major credit-reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, TransUnion, or Annualcreditreport.com.

4. Need Vs. Want We all want to drive the latest car style with all the bells and whistles; rims, spoilers, under carriage lights, great sound systems with blue tooth technology to play your own tunes. Unfortunately, all of those great add ons increase your cost. When you are looking to buy your first car look at all your options and keep your budget in mind while you are browsing. Look at new, certified pre-owned, or used cars.  Seeing all of your options will help you find the car you need at the price you can afford.

5. Research a car as if you’re researching your new phone. There are countless models and makes of cars. There are different pros and cons depending on your needs. Do you need a small car that gets great gas millage? Or do you need a car or a truck to suite your lifestyle? Narrow down what you want by going online and looking at different brands, dealers and prices. You might also want to look at a certified pre-owned car that can help you stay with your budget range and get some of those add ons that you wanted. Researching price and options can give you the upper hand when you go to purchase your first car.

6. Test drives tell you a lot. So you’ve done your research and you are finally heading to the dealership to purchase that perfect car at that amazing price. Make sure you test drive it! You may see a car online and love the way it looks, but once you’re behind the wheel you realize you don’t like the way it drives. If you don’t test-drive the car before you buy, you won’t know that the steering wheel is too big or that the gearshift is hard to work, and after you drive it off the lot you won’t be able to return it for a full refund. If you’ve decided to buy a used car from a private owner, you might also want to get the car inspected by a trusted mechanic to ensure it is in good driving condition.

7. Negotiate, Negotiate, Negotiate. You know your budget, monthly payment limit and your credit score so don’t be pushed around. In addition, do your math before signing any contract to make sure everything adds up. If you don’t want to haggle there are dealerships out there where list prices are final. Your research will help you find them.

8. Get your brand new wheels insured. Now that you have your new car ready to roll, you need to insure it. Maryland State law requires all automobiles on the road must carry insurance. If you are a Maryland resident who has been turned down or denied auto coverage – or even someone who’s had a problem in the past with driving violations – Maryland auto will insure you, guaranteed. Ask your insurance agent about Maryland auto, or visit mymarylandauto.com to get a quote today!

9. Enjoy! and drive safely.