Dear Driving for Dollars,

I’m getting ready to purchase a car soon. I’m thinking of making a down payment of $3,000. I do have a good co-signer, but I have really bad credit. I cannot finance ahead of time — before visiting the dealerships. I know what car I want, but how do I solve the finance issue?

— Melissa

Dear Melissa,

It’s great that you have done your research in advance to determine what kind of car you want and that you are planning on making a down payment. Keep in mind that a good rule of thumb is to keep your total car costs at 25 percent of your family’s total take-home pay, including insurance, gas and basic maintenance as well as your monthly payment. I’m a bit puzzled by your comment that you cannot finance before visiting dealerships.

You can most certainly work with many lenders, other than those offered at the dealer, before you make your purchase. This will allow you to secure a loan and help you to determine exactly what you can afford to buy based on the interest rate you qualify for with your co-signer. Start by contacting your local banks and credit unions to see what the rates are in your area, or use’s tool to compare auto loan rates in your area as well as nationwide. Then you’ll go into the dealership well-armed to make the right choice to meet your transportation and your financial needs.

If you have a car question, e-mail it to us at Driving for Dollars. Read more Driving for Dollars columns and Bankrate auto stories.

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