Is there anything more special than college graduation?

Throwing caps in the air. Endless parties. Long, nostalgic talks about all the good times with friends.

And then reality hits, and financial obligations begin to sink in. As you move away from campus and biking to class is no longer an option, many graduates find themselves in need of a car.

Car buying can be intimidating for anybody, but especially for recent grads on a budget. If you’ve got the diploma but lack credit and income, here’s some advice on buying a car.

*Disclosure: This is a partnered post. Read our full disclosure policy here.

college grad buying car vehicle

Take Someone With You

Even if you’re most the most experienced negotiator in the world, take someone a bit older with you. Regardless of your knowledge, car salesmen (and women!) can be ruthless, pitting you against five different people throughout the process to try and wear you down and get you to take the price they suggest.

They’re less likely to do this if you bring a parent. And no matter who you bring, you need to make the mutual decision ahead of time that you’ll both leave the lot if you don’t like the numbers you’re getting.

This is Negotiation 101; whether you have your eye on a Toyota in New York or a new Mazda in Florida, the rules still apply.

Think of Buying a Used Car

As long as you’re savvy about buying a used vehicle, it’s often the better way to go…especially if finances are tight. Unless you know the ins and outs of cars, it’s best to pay a mechanic to do an inspection on the vehicle when buying from a previous owner.

It shouldn’t cost more than $100 and the price tag is well worth the peace of mind. Driving away with a transmission that’s only month away from going out on you will end up costing you much more in the long run.

Sometimes you’ll need to scout for vehicles—used and new—outside your area in order to snag a great deal. If you see something like this 2019 Jetta for sale in Columbus, GA, it could be time for someone to take you on a road trip.

You should always start your search online to gather the most information, and if you find a car that catches your eye, print out the price quote and bring it down to the lot. If they won’t honor the number as advertised, be prepared to walk away.

Warnings aside, buying a used car that has been well cared for is an economically sound bet.

Find the Financing

College graduates typically don’t have a large enough income to buy a car with cash in full, nor do they have enough credit to prove themselves as worthy borrowers. This means it’s time to look for financing by way of loans with credit unions, banks, or online lenders—but do so carefully.

Without reading the fine print, you could be stuck with killer interest rates and bogus penalties. Always opt for local lending when possible; if you live in Los Angeles, for example, seek out Southern California lenders.

Those with no established credit whatsoever might need a parent to co-sign, so be prepared with income verification and any other supporting documents you might need.

Make the Decision on Whether to Lease

Leasing a car isn’t for everyone but it’s worth your consideration. If you’re considering a post-grad backpacking trip to Europe and aren’t planning on staying put, leasing a car is probably the wrong decision.

If you just landed a job and intend on sticking around for a while, leasing offers plenty of benefits.

As this article notes, “If you can count on staying put for at least the next two years, leasing could be a very convenient option. You get to drive a nice new car for the duration of the lease—indeed, a nicer one than you could afford if you were buying a car—and if anything goes wrong unexpectedly, the dealership covers the cost.”

You won’t be making any investment with your lease payments, but you could look like you’re balling out in a nice car when you pull up to that new job.

It’s not rocket science, but buying a car can be an intimidating experience. Follow these guidelines and you will be good to go on those open roads.