Now that you know how much you can spend it's time to find the money. Credit unions, banks, and car dealerships are the most likely places you'll check out for financing - that is, the loan you'll take out to buy your car. First, compare the loan terms - will you pay off the loan over 36, 48, or 60 months? If you want to pay off your car in two years, as opposed to five, your monthly payments will be larger, but you'll pay less over the length of the loan.
Look at the annual percentage rate (APR) of the loan; the APR is expressed as an annual rate and it's the price you pay to borrow the money you need. Once again, it's MoneyMixTM to the rescue! Check out the "What Will My Car Payment Be" calculator where you can plug in your down payment, loan lengths, and interest rates and easily compare your options.
Be sure to get a copy of your credit report and check it for any errors; your credit history can affect your loan terms. You can do this for free at http://www.annualcreditreport.com/. You can also get your credit report automatically sent to you, along with a bunch of other credit protection services, from certain organizations and Web sites for a fee. Just make sure they are reputable and watch out for scams.
You use the Internet for all kinds of research for school, right? It's also a great tool to compare loan rates and look at cars. You can find safety ratings, reviews, and prices for cars online. Check dealerships, classified ads, and other websites to compare cars - or even buy one. Visit a few dealerships - bring someone with you if you want - and check prices and options. If you're buying a used car, have it inspected by a mechanic you trust.
Read the fine print before signing anything. You need to know what's in all those papers - and if something is confusing, ask before you sign, not after. Don't be afraid to negotiate; walk in with confidence - you've done your homework! Knowledge is power, and the more you know, the better deal - and better car - you'll get.