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Buying a car is such a fun process. I remember going car shopping for my first car. I loved the new car smell, the various choices and the fact that I could customize my car. I also remember my mom not letting me drive it off the lot because, “I had never driven the car before." Well duh! But I didn't argue, I was so excited to have my own car.

Mother and daughter in new car

The car buying process can be enjoyable but there was a lot I was unaware of.

It's not always as simple as walking in and walking out with a new set of keys. There are many things you need to do before walking into the dealership and a few things to follow too.

First things first, check out your credit score several months to a year before you start the car buying process.

Look at where your score is, and see if there is anything on there that could hurt the loan approval process. And take those next few months or even a year if needed to build your credit score and make it stronger. Trust me you'll thank me later.

You may also be interested the Auto Buying Checklist

While you’re working on your credit score, work on saving money for your new car too. Tuck away a little bit from each paycheck and use that money as a down payment to help lower your monthly payment or keep it tucked away for an emergency fund in case you have any major issues with your car once the warranty expires and if nothing else you have a nice savings account growing.

When your credit is where you'd need it to be, come visit Tropical Financial Credit Union and get pre-approved.

This will help give you a better idea of what you can realistically afford. We'd all love a Ferrari, but it's not in everyone's budget. Within the pre-approval process, a Tropical Financial employee will also sit with you and discuss the estimated monthly payments, the amount based on the price range of the car and the loan amount as well as provide assistance for you with the car buying process if needed through our partner Auto Advisers.

Once you've been pre-approved and you know your price range. Go shopping!! This is my favorite part. I love test driving the cars, listening to the sales pitch, seeing all the options available and picking what fits me. Then I go online and compare all of my options. I look at the safety rating and the customer reviews and I work towards narrowing down my options.

Don't forget, on top of doing all the paperwork to purchase this new car of yours, you also need to be sure and have auto insurance as it is required in the State of Florida. Be sure to contact your auto insurer to find out pricing prior to buying the car and if you don't already have an auto insurance agency, then do some shopping around to see who will give you the best rate on insurance. You want to be sure to have this in place before you purchase the vehicle so that you're not blind sided with the cost of things.

The perfect car awaits you! You've made up your mind so now it's time to close the deal. It's time to sign the paper and hand over the check and it's time for you to drive away in your new car!

Enjoy and don't forget to make your monthly payments on time... For more tips on smart car buying make sure to read TFCU's Drive Happy Guide.