How Much of Your Monthly Income To Spend on Car Payments To Keep From Going Broke

November 12, 2023 By Sheiresa McRae Ngo, AI Editor

Happy couple enjoying while traveling by car and going on trip

Buying a car is exciting, but it’s also a significant financial commitment that can drive you to the brink of your budget if not handled wisely. Here’s how to figure out the sweet spot for car payments without tipping over into the danger zone of your finances.

Understand the 20/4/10 Rule

When it comes to buying a car, financial experts often tout the 20/4/10 rule as a guideline. Here’s what it means:

  • Down payment. Save at least 20% for the down payment.
  • Loan duration. Finance your car for no more than four years.
  • Total car expenses. Don’t let your total monthly vehicle expenses exceed 10% of your gross income.

Why these numbers? A 20% down payment reduces the loan amount, potentially reducing your monthly payments and the interest over time. A four-year loan period balances monthly affordability with total interest paid. And keeping your car expenses at 10% of your income helps ensure you can cover all your other financial obligations.

Budget Beyond the Payment

Remember, the cost of car ownership extends beyond the monthly payment. There’s insurance, fuel, maintenance, and the occasional unexpected repair. When you calculate the 10% of your gross income for car expenses, it should include these costs, not just the payment itself.

Monthly Income and Car Payments: Finding Your Number

So how do you crunch these numbers? Let’s say you make $3,000 a month before taxes. According to the 10% rule, you should aim to spend no more than $300 on total car expenses. If insurance costs you $80 a month, and you estimate monthly gas and maintenance at $120, you only have $100 left for the car payment itself.

Make Your Money Work for You

Flexibility and Reality Check

While the 20/4/10 rule is a strong foundation, life isn’t one-size-fits-all. Depending on where you live, how much you drive, and what type of car you need, you might have to adjust. Maybe you’re in a city with higher insurance rates, or your commute is a long one. It’s about balance and understanding your financial landscape.

Long-Term Planning for Financial Health

Think long-term. A car depreciates the moment you drive it off the lot, so consider the car’s value over time. Opting for a less expensive model or a reliable used car could be a smarter financial move. Plus, if you’re not saddled with a hefty car payment, you can put more money toward saving or paying off debt.

Saving for Rainy Days

Make a plan to save your money. Whether it’s for that 20% down payment or an emergency fund for unexpected car repairs, having a financial cushion can keep you from going broke. It gives you breathing room and ensures that if life throws you a curveball, your finances won’t go off track.

The Bottom Line

Keep your car payments within a reasonable percentage of your monthly income by following the 20/4/10 rule. Also, consider all the costs of car ownership. Remember, the goal is to enjoy your ride, not let it drive your finances into the ground. Stay in the driver’s seat with smart budgeting and forward-thinking decisions.

Make Your Money Work for You

Editor’s note: This article was produced via automated technology and then fine-tuned and verified for accuracy by a member of GOBankingRates’ editorial team.