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Using your Tax Return to Buy a Car

With the tax deadline just behind us many of us are trying to sort out the most productive way to spend our tax refunds. Hopefully, if you have any debt you will apply your refund towards paying that down, or if you are relatively debt free, perhaps putting it in your savings for a rainy day would be wise. Life, sometimes, tends to intervene and deal us unexpected events thus forcing us into unplanned purchases, such as your computer going on the fritz, or your water heater needing replacing, and these events are obviously good uses for your IRS refund check.

But what if you need a new set of wheels? Here are some things you might want to consider before you taking the new car plunge:

The Tax-Time Used-Car Bubble

You have seen the commercials, they begin coming on every year right around the time we all start to receive or W-2’s from our employers. We see them for furniture stores, and in this case we see them for auto dealerships – both new, and used. They are those hyperbolic commercials virtually screaming at us to use our soon to be arriving tax refund checks towards the purchase of a new or used car. Well here is the thing about that, during the tax refund time, usually between February and May, is not the best time to buy and expect to get a good deal on a new or used vehicle.

It makes sense that with tax refunds in hand, many people have the chance to put a down payment on a used car or buy a used car outright. So that's when a lot of buyers are out there; and when there are a lot of buyers and supply doesn't increase, prices go up.

It is estimated that used car dealers do roughly two-thirds of their business by the time the July Fourth weekend rolls around. Typically the best time to buy a car is the month of October or the beginning of November. The reason is because there are no holidays then, typically no one is getting their bonuses, and by then the dealers’ inventories are depleted. Wholesale prices are down then, too; which will be reflected in the retail pricing of the used car market.

Unfortunately, the new-car market isn't as sensitive to this tax-refund bubble. In fact, there is data that shows new-car prices had the greatest discounts in March and July; with April and May following close behind.
End of the Month Isn’t Magic

There's some truth to the notion that new-car dealers could make better deals at the end of the month, but people shouldn't think that is the gospel, and head to their nearest new car dealer and expect to walk away with the deal of the century.

New-car sales are greatly influenced by manufacturers - both by what incentives and financing programs they have in place and by production rates and the resulting size of their inventories. Sometimes these incentives or sales promotions run out at the end of a month, and it might be in a dealer’s best interest to make a better deal then. A lot of buyers believe they can get better deals at the end of the month; that means more people are chasing cars at the same time. The more buyers that are chasing the same number of cars mean dealers have less incentive to offer bargains. Sound familiar; this is very much like the tax refund bubble explained above, amazing how that law of supply and demand works isn’t it.

Beyond that, there's nothing that says manufacturers have to end their incentives at the end of the month; they can end them any time they please. The trick is to know what the incentives are and when they're in place. Websites such as Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds.com track incentives and inventories and report them. It is wise to use and other those tools at your disposal to help you on your quest for a new ride.

Rainy Days

There is a belief that a good time to get a good deal on a car is to shop for one while it is raining, I have even mentioned this in another article. This theory is not a tried and true one to say the least. Dealers, more than likely won't throw their business sense overboard just because of a little water falling from the sky, and odds are it isn’t going to rain all day, so the dealer will more than likely choose to wait out the weather, rather than get hosed in making a bad deal.

Instead, you could try to be one of the first people on the lot, because there is a belief that a better deal could be had when the lot is empty; again this is no guarantee that this will get you the best deal.

Shopping late in the day or on weekends can be a hassle because a lot of people fresh from work may be there doing the same thing. There are few things less pleasant than sitting in a busy showroom for hours trying to compete for a sales persons attention, and then to try and complete a purchase. The dealers know that you are tired at that point, and odds are you are not going to get the best deal if you are tired and frustrated, so if you find a vehicle that you like, and are willing to purchase, and it is getting late; rather than getting jerked around and running the risk of getting a raw deal; walk away.

Since it is late in the day, the odds are slim that the exact vehicle you are looking at will be sold, plus it returns you to the position of authority. If you really think that car you like might be sold before you can return to the dealership, then put a deposit down on it, which essentially hold the vehicle for you.

Buy the Wrong Car

Hey, we all want the super flashy, ultra-cool car, you know the one. It is the car that eventually you will see everywhere. Think the New Beetle, the PT Cruiser, and the Toyota Prius. All this means is that you will not be getting the kind of deal you would want on those popular vehicles, because the dealer knows there will be someone that will come in and pay list price for them. Now if this doesn’t bother you, and you just have to have the latest and greatest, then go for it; but if you are willing to compromise there are other models that have many of the same features and are just as nice, but are in less demand. Your odds are far greater to get a better deal on those vehicles; besides like I said, pretty soon everyone and their brother will have that ultra-cool vehicle, and then you will get screwed again in trade-in or resale values.

The New and the Old

It is no real news story that car manufacturers discontinue some models, while introducing others, and if you are paying attention to the what is being released and discontinued you could find a really good deal to make that tax refund go a little further. When a model year, or the actual model goes the way of the Dodo bird dealerships have to sell out their inventory to make way for the new model year, or the replacement model. To do so they will often times offer steep discounts, and the manufacturer will typically offer substantial rebates too. Unless you are one of those who have to have the latest and, greatest, as above then you can often times get a brand new, never titled car for substantially less than either the new model that will replace it, or if you would have bought sooner in the year.

On occasion, however, a new model may be the best deal. When a carmaker is entering a part of the market it's never been in before, it may discount the new product substantially to gain market share.

Market Timing

The market for cars is, like the market for every other commodity, imperfect, muddled and contradictory information. So keep abreast of the news, cruise the manufacturers' websites to look for big-money incentives and open up to considering unpopular vehicles that may be great bargains.

The better you know what's going on in the market, the better you'll know when is the best time to strike and make your purchase; and make that tax refund check stretch farther.


Habit Forming: Why your bad money decisions are making your financial life miserable

Bad habits are nothing new to the masses.

Biting your nails, smoking or caffeine are just a few of those would be nuances you're trying to neutralize, but often overlooked in this discussion is how poorly you handle money and your propensity to not either not change out of ignorance (you don't realize anything is wrong) or defiance (you argue that what you're doing is just fine).

You assume that since you have a budget, then problem is solved. You know how much you make and what you're spending relatively speaking, so you feel as though you've done enough.

But what needs to change in order for your spending to stay in check isn't so much a complete overhaul but a more realistic approach to budgeting and breaking those bad habits. Those who truly believe that their budgeting woes and money problems are going to straighten out on their own are the same who believe they're only a few numbers away from winning the lottery.

Your bad habits start with recognition, breaking the routine you're stuck in and opting for change that really matters. That means tearing apart every cup of coffee or meal in a restaurant or looking at extra add-ons such as cell phones, cable service and other optional choices that aren't needed.

Also terribly overlooked is the mindset that if you're doing well from a budgeting standpoint, you should take a minute to say thank you to, well, you. Far too many success stories start strong and end with a resounding thud thanks to this means of depriving yourself from having anything beyond what you've structured.

Granted, this may sound counteractive to the first point of rigid budgeting, but much like a diet, you have to have a “cheat” day from time to time, whether that's splurging on a new shirt or having a dinner out with your significant other. To draw comparison to dieting again, even the most regimented and dedicated body builder diverts sporadically from their grilled chicken and rice to indulge in a piece of chocolate cake.

The trick is not to eat the whole cake in that scenario and from a money perspective to enjoy a modest gift and not maxing out your credit card after you've done so much good to get it paid down.

Finding a happy medium between all out spending and budgeting only is as good as your approach to truly embracing those bad money habits and admitting they need changed. Denial only is going sink you further into debt.


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