6 ways to save on a car as a recent college grad

A young woman talks to a man at a car dealership.

After more than a decade of schooling, it’s finally here: your college graduation. It’s a day many students dream of, signaling the end of homework, exams, and early-morning classes. It’s now time to enter the so-called real world and get to work.

In 2021, that might sound easier said than done. After a global pandemic shut down the world for over a year, a recent college grad may not be hopeful about the job market, but things are looking up. According to the New York Times, the average monthly employment gain in March-May 2021 was around 540,000 positions, and economists expect that hiring will pick up even more in the fall.

When that happens, as a recent college grad you’ll need to be ready. A job means you’ll need to commute, especially with more companies returning to the office this year. In many cities, you can’t commute to work without a car, but being a new grad, you may not have a huge budget for one. To make matters worse, this year is a unique one for the car market.

According to Edmunds, in 2021, fewer new vehicles are available. Dealership inventory across the country was down by 48% at the end of April 2021 compared to April 2020 due to a car chip shortage caused by the pandemic. While this could affect the discounts that dealerships offer, new grads may still be able to find a deal on a brand new or used car.

Many car companies offer discounts to new grads, meaning you may be able to score your dream car for a fraction of the price you’d pay under normal circumstances. To take advantage of these discounts, buyers usually need to have proof establishing that they are, in fact, a recent college grad.

What you’ll need to use a new grad discount

  • A hard copy of your diploma or transcript
  • Proof of employment
  • A current auto insurance policy
  • Credit history, if you have it

Eligibility requirements will differ from one dealer to the next, so it’s important to contact multiple dealerships when buying a car to ensure you’re getting the best deal possible. For example, you may be able to apply for incentives if you graduate several months from now or did so within the last two years depending on the dealership or car manufacturer. Other dealerships are more strict, confining eligibility requirements to those who graduated within the previous six months.

Ways to save for recent college grads

1. Defer payments

When you buy a car, you’ll most likely have to make regularly scheduled payments every month. For new grads who are still searching for a job or waiting for their start date, making these payments right away can be a financial challenge. Today, many car companies allow new grads to defer payments for a few months. For example, GM lets well-qualified buyers defer payments for 90 days when purchasing an eligible GM vehicle and financing it through GM Financial.

2. Redeem a rebate

Some dealerships offer rebates to recent grads when they buy a new car, with the amount sometimes as high as $1,000. How much the rebate is may depend on whether you purchase or lease the vehicle and the model you select. Right now, Ford is offering current college students, trade school students, or alumni within two years of graduating $1,000 bonus cash on a car purchase or $750 bonus cash on a lease of an eligible new car. A little extra spending money in the form of a rebate can go a long way for a recent college grad who needs to buy groceries, furnish an apartment, or buy new office supplies!

3. Seek out affordable lending rates

When financing a car, you usually pay an interest rate on top of the principal price. However, if you have a good credit history, you may be able to apply for an annual percentage rate that’s exclusive to recent grads and lower than normal. If you get a lower rate, you’ll shorten your loan term and hopefully pay the car off faster. We found that Toyota dealerships in some regions offer eligible new grads a 2.9% APR for 60 months and a $1,000 rebate. It’s two deals in one!

4. Use a more streamlined credit approval process

You may not have an established credit history, especially if you haven’t had any credit cards or other regularly scheduled payments, like rent. That’s not a problem with a graduate incentive program. With these programs, the credit approval process doesn’t require that you have an extensive history. Audi claims that their college program offers new grads one of these streamlined processes. Car buyers or leasees don’t need to provide a security deposit on a new lease and don’t need a credit history (but if they have existing credit, it needs to be in good standing). Audi also offers competitive rates for drivers who have no credit with no cosigner required.

5. Buy a used car

Some companies offer used cars at a discount for college students. For example, the car rental company Enterprise sells used cars to students graduating in the next six months or alumni out of college for three years or less. They also claim to help new grads secure the financing that best fits their needs.

6. Capitalize on more ways to save

Even if you get a great deal on a car, there are still more savings out there that you can take advantage of. One of the biggest expenses of owning a car is insurance, but many insurance providers offer discounts to help lower premiums. Elephant offers the following discounts that new grads may be eligible for:

  • Multi-policy discount – Bundle your policies, like your car and renter’s insurance, to get a big discount on both premiums.
  • Online quote discount – Get rewarded simply for setting up your insurance plan online.
  • Electronic Signature discount – Save money by saving yourself the hassle of signing documents in person.
  • Referral discount – Save money when you refer a friend to Elephant and they become a customer.
  • Work-from-home discount – If you drive less, you should pay less for insurance. It’s that simple.
  • Responsible driver discount – If you haven’t had an accident in a while, you’re a responsible driver in our eyes, which means you save money.
  • Good student discount – If you’re still in school for the next few months and getting good grades, you’ll get lower premiums.
  • Paperless account discount – We’ll reward you for saving trees when you select paperless billing.

Learn more about all of the discounts we offer

These are just a few of the car buying incentives you can take advantage of now that you’re on your way to graduating or have already done so, but don’t wait too long to cash in. As we mentioned above, some of these deals only apply to grads two or three years out of college. We recommend making a short list of the cars you’re interested in, researching the manufacturer’s college grad programs, and contacting local dealerships to learn more about how you can land the best deal.

See how much you can save on insurance for your new car. Get a quote from Elephant today.

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