20 used cars you can buy with the average tax refund

Published: Wednesday, April 15, 2015 @ 1:04 PM
Updated: Wednesday, April 15, 2015 @ 1:04 PM

DOUG DEMURO has a wide range of automotive industry experience, from work at a Ferrari dealership to a manager for Porsche North America. A lifelong car enthusiast, Doug's eclectic vehicle purchases include a Porsche 911 Turbo, an E63 AMG wagon, an old Range Rover and a Mercedes Benz G-wagen.

Tax season is here, and for many Americans, that means tax refund season is here, too. According to the IRS, this year's average tax refund was an impressive $3,120 as of late February. By early April, CNN Money had the number at just over $2,800 and the average return for last year was a little over $3,100.

Either way, it's no small figure. And that got us thinking: What used cars can you buy with the average tax refund? Our crack analytics team went to work and answered this question for us, delivering a list of the 20 cars on Autotrader with the most listings for around $3,000 or less. We're passing that list along to you now to help make your search a little easier if you've decided to spend this year's tax refund on a car.

Depending on your individual situation, you may have to kick in a few hundred dollars, but you'll still be able to get a running car in decent condition.

1. Ford Taurus

With nearly 900 different Taurus models listed for $3,100 or less, Ford's longtime midsize sedan is lonely at the top of our list. Very lonely, in fact: The number two model is nearly 350 listings behind the Taurus's impressive count. What kind of Taurus can you get for around $3,000? Expect it to be an early- to mid-2000s model with 100,000 to 150,000 total miles. Of course, you'll also get the Taurus model's durable design, roomy interior, cavernous trunk and standard V6 power. Look hard and you might even be able to find a Taurus wagon, which combines SUV-like cargo capacity with a carlike driving experience.

Find a Ford Taurus for sale

2. Ford Explorer

There are more than 500 different Ford Explorer models listed for $3,100 or less, making it the second most plentiful car on our list. How much Explorer can you buy for $3,000? Well, you won't get the latest model, that's for sure, and you won't get the previous-generation version, either. Instead, expect a well-equipped 1995-2001 Explorer or a base-level 2002-2007 model, either with well over 125,000 miles on the odometer. You'll also be able to choose between rear- or 4-wheel drive, V6 or V8 power, and 2- or 4-door body styles.

Find a Ford Explorer for sale

3. Honda Accord

The Honda Accord can be considered reliable, simple family transportation, a great first car or just an excellent commuter vehicle with a fuel-efficient powertrain. And with more than 500 different examples available on Autotrader for $3,100 or less, it's also a great way to spend your tax refund money. Of course, you shouldn't expect a perfect car: Many Accord models for around $3,000 have more than 200,000 miles on the odometer, along with fading paint (which can be typical depending the era) and the occasional mismatched wheel or missing hubcap. But parts for these cars are plentiful, and many used Accords will run for years to come with only regular maintenance and the occasional timing belt service. In the end, that makes the Accord a great choice for shoppers who want a good, inexpensive used car. If it were our personal choice, we might look for a good Accord Coupe with a manual transmission.

Find a Honda Accord for sale

4. Ford F-150

Yes, the $3,000 pickup truck exists. In fact, you can get more than 450 of them right now on Autotrader for the amount of the average tax refund or less, which is great news for drivers who want a practical work vehicle without spending a fortune. The only catch? Used F-150 models in the $3,000-or-less price range often have well over 180,000 miles on the odometer, and they don't come equipped with many creature comforts. Take a long test drive to make sure such a pickup is right for you, and be sure to get a thorough mechanical inspection to ensure that the truck is still mechanically sound under the hood.

Find a Ford F-150 for sale

5. Honda Civic

Few compact cars have the Honda Civic's reputation for reliability and long-lasting durability, provided, of course, that it's had regular maintenance, such as oil changes, brakes and timing belts. If you're looking for a compact car for around $3,000 or less, you should check out the Civic, and don't be put off by high mileage figures (expect 150,000 miles and up) or noticeable cosmetic blemishes. Instead, take a thorough test drive and, if you're worried about anything, get a mechanical inspection. Then expect to stay behind the wheel of your Civic for years to come.

Find a Honda Civic for sale

6. Chevrolet Cavalier

The Chevrolet Cavalier is a compact car that came before more modern small Chevys such as the CobaltCruzeSpark and Sonic. With more than 440 different Cavalier models currently available on Autotrader for around $3,000 or less, there are a lot of different examples to choose from. If you're intrigued, you can decide between coupe, sedan or even convertible models (assuming you can find one). Expect a sub-$3,000 Cavalier to be any age, made through 2005, with at least 120,000 miles on the odometer.

Find a Chevrolet Cavalier for sale

7. Saturn S-Series

General Motors designed the compact Saturn S-Series to rival Honda, Toyota and other foreign brands. Originally on sale in the early 1990s, the S-Series got better as it aged, so we suggest checking out later models. Plus, that's where you'll find the bulk of the 420 different S-Series listings for $3,000 or less. Interested shoppers will find a fuel-efficient 4-cyinder engine and a choice between coupe, sedan or practical wagon body styles. Just be sure to get a mechanical inspection and to check for rust before signing the papers.

Find a Saturn S-Series for sale

8. Toyota Camry

The Toyota Camry is one of the most popular vehicles on the market, so it makes sense that it would turn up on our list of the most popular cars you can buy in the neighborhood of $3,000. Offered over the years in 4-door sedan, 2-door coupe or 5-door wagon body styles, the Camry provides reliable, fuel-efficient transportation and a roomy interior. If you're looking to spend around $3,000 or less, expect to find Camry models from the mid- to late-1990s with around 200,000 miles on the odometer. That may be a big number, but it's far from the end of a well-maintained Camry's life.

Find a Toyota Camry for sale

9. Ford Focus

The Ford Focus is one of the most popular compact cars on the market. It's also one of the most popular choices on our list of used cars you can buy with the average tax refund, since there are more than 400 different Focus models to choose from within our price limit. What should you expect from a Focus in this price range? You'll be able to choose from sedan, wagon and hatchback (3-door or 5-door) body styles, along with manual or automatic transmissions. Mileage will likely be well over 125,000, so you may want to get your Focus checked out by a mechanic before you sign the papers.

Find a Ford Focus for sale

10. Pontiac Grand Am

With nearly 400 different examples currently on Autotrader, the Pontiac Grand Am rounds out the top ten most popular cars available today for about the same amount as the average tax refund. While the Grand Am is hardly known for standout styling or a cavernous interior, it does offer some benefits, including fewer average miles than many cars on our list, with typical figures in the 100,000- to 150,000-mile range. Used Grand Am models available for around $3,000 or less are also a little newer than most cars on this list, with most examples hailing from the early 2000s.

Find a Pontiac Grand Am for sale

11. Dodge Grand Caravan

If you need to transport your whole family for around $3,000 or less, few cars on our list do it better than the Dodge Grand Caravan. Featuring standard 3-row seating and (for most models made after 1996) dual sliding doors, the Grand Caravan offers the last word in family-toting practicality. Best of all, you should have no trouble finding one within our budget; there are currently more than 370 examples on Autotrader, many of which are early-2000s models with around 150,000 miles on the odometer.

Find a Dodge Grand Caravan for sale

12. Chevrolet Malibu

The Chevrolet Malibu offers solid, durable construction, a roomy interior and surprisingly powerful engines. Styling is bland and there aren't many advanced features, but the Malibu is an excellent point-A to point-B car, especially if your budget is around $3,000 or less. And you should have no trouble finding a used Malibu in that price range, since there are currently more than 350 examples on Autotrader, most of which are early-2000s models with around 150,000 miles on the odometer.

Find a Chevrolet Malibu for sale

13. Ford Windstar

If you're looking for family transport on a budget, few vehicles deliver like the Ford Windstar. We especially like Windstar models made from 1999 and up, since they feature standard dual sliding doors, a big step up from the driver's side-only sliding door of earlier models. We also like the standard V6 and the later models' larger design, which offers more passenger and cargo room than its predecessors. And we like the price; there are more than 340 Windstar models available for around $3,000 or less. If you're looking for a Windstar in that price range, expect it to have around 125,000 miles on the odometer, and be sure to take your kids along for the test drive to ensure your whole family is comfortable inside.

Find a Ford Windstar for sale

14. Jeep Grand Cherokee

The Jeep Grand Cherokee is one of the few SUVs on our list, but it's still a good choice for shoppers on a budget. The Grand Cherokee combines off-road prowess with handsome styling, strong engines and a large, practical design. With a budget of $3,000 or less, expect to find a mid- to late-1990s Grand Cherokee with around 150,000 miles on the odometer. And be sure to get a thorough mechanical inspection before signing the papers, because some models may suffer from transmission failure or other potentially expensive issues.

Find a Jeep Grand Cherokee for sale

15. Chrysler Sebring

The Chrysler Sebring is a popular midsize car offered in sedan, coupe or convertible body styles. We like the convertible in particular, because it seats four people, offers many creature comforts and touts several adequate engine offerings. But we especially like the convertible because there are more than 150 different examples available for around $3,100 or less on Autotrader, making it one of the least expensive popular convertibles on the market. If the Sebring convertible sounds appealing, expect our budget to yield a late-1990s or early-2000s example with around 100,000 or 125,000 miles.

Find a Chrysler Sebring for sale

16. Chevrolet Impala

The Chevrolet Impala is a popular full-size sedan that offers a comfortable ride, a relaxed driving experience and standard V6 power. Its design might not set the world on fire, and neither will its powertrain. But armed with the average tax refund, you should have no trouble finding an early-2000s Impala with 125,000 to 150,000 miles on the odometer, especially since there are more than 300 different Impala models within our price range on Autotrader. One tip: Look for 2000 and up Impalas rather than earlier models, which offer poor fuel economy and dismal repair records.

Find a Chevrolet Impala for sale

17. Chevrolet Blazer

The Chevy Blazer was a popular midsize SUV for years, and its long-term popularity helps explain why there are currently nearly 300 different examples on Autotrader for around $3,100 or less. Available in 2- or 4-door and 2- or 4-wheel drive, the Blazers you'll find in our price range will be late-1990s models with around 200,000 miles on the odometer. Given their age and mileage, be sure to get a mechanical inspection before signing the papers. You'll also want to ensure that the Blazer can fit your whole family, plus accessories, since its smaller size is more similar to one of today's compact crossovers than to a midsize SUV.

Find a Chevrolet Blazer for sale

18. Chevrolet Silverado

The Chevy Silverado is a full-size pickup that constantly battles it out with the Ford F-150 for the title of America's most popular pickup. Officially called Silverado since 1999 and C1500 or K1500 (for 2-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive, respectively) before that, the full-size Chevy should be easy to find for about $3,000, especially since there are nearly 200 different models currently listed on Autotrader. Just be sure to narrow your search to the model you want, since the Silverado offers a wide selection of cab lengths, bed sizes, drivetrains and engine configurations.

Find a Chevrolet Silverado for sale

19. Ford Ranger

The Ford Ranger is a compact pickup with frugal 4-cylinder or muscular V6 power. Sold in its most recent design from 1993 to 2011, the latest Ranger went its entire life with only one substantial update: a big face-lift in 1998. Otherwise, just about every Ranger is mostly the same: a simple, honest, durable pickup, offered in 2- or 4-wheel drive, with as much capability as most truck shoppers will ever need. For your three grand or less, expect to find well-worn examples, with 200,000 miles or more, from the mid- to late-1990s with few frills and almost no modern gadgets.

Find a Ford Ranger for sale

20. Pontiac Grand Prix

The Pontiac Grand Prix is a full-size sedan with standard V6 power, eye-catching styling and a roomy interior. Although a $3,100 budget will eliminate most 2003-2008 models, the 1997-2002 Grand Prix is still an excellent car, especially in high-performance supercharged GTP form. Plus, you can choose from practical sedan or handsome coupe body styles. And you should have no trouble finding a used Grand Prix on Autotrader; there are more than 270 different 1997-2002 models currently listed within our average-tax-rebate price range.

4 things to look for to get the best life insurance

Published: Thursday, November 23, 2017 @ 10:55 AM

One key factor in buying a life insurance policy is to shop around because companies can vary widely.
One key factor in buying a life insurance policy is to shop around because companies can vary widely.

If no one at all depends on you financially, you are free to forget all about life insurance. But everyone else should set aside the cultural distaste for talking about death and work toward finding an individual life insurance policy plan to provide for dependents after you're gone.

» RELATED: Do energy-efficient bulbs really save you money?

According to Forbes contributor and wealth advisor Tim Maurer, those depending on a replacement for your income might include a spouse and kids, sure, but also an ex-spouse, life partner, sibling, employee, employer or business partner.

"You don't have to become an expert before you buy life insurance, but it's important to be an informed consumer and know your options," noted the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation.

Within those options, which all fall loosely into the categories of either term or whole life insurance, here are four things to look for before settling on the best life insurance.

A policy that offers enough coverage: A few numbers to consider are the amount it will take to cover such expenses as your mortgage, personal or car loans, property taxes and so forth, recommended DFR. You may also want to include enough life insurance payout to cover your final expenses, and, if you're a parent, some of your children's future college tuition and other expenses. 

But don't assume that life insurance will have to cover those expenses in their entirety, DFR added. It recommended also listing all the income sources and assets your family would have if you were gone starting tomorrow and using that to offset the total insurance benefit they would require. Also add the face value of any group life insurance you already qualify for. "Do not forget to include the ability of other members of your family to earn a living," DFR noted. 

A policy you can afford: While you want enough life insurance, buying a policy you cannot afford is counterproductive since you're likely to lose it when you can't pay the premiums, noted DFR.

If you're straining to purchase enough insurance to give your dependents the financial support they would need if you died, term life insurance is for you, according to Kiplinger, which added, "Dollar for dollar, term gives you the most protection for your money. Period."

» RELATED: 4 warranties you should always buy

A company that will be around a long time: You want to be sure the company you purchase from will be around long enough to protect your loved ones after you die, DFR noted. Obtain information about a company's financial strength from your insurance agent or a commercial rating service that evaluates insurance companies' financial strength and ability to pay claims, like Moody's Investor Service.

A carrier who charges the least for your health issues and habits: Before you shop for individual life insurance, recognize that rates are based on life expectancy. There are some factors you can't do much about: young people get better rates, for example, and so do women, because they statistically have longer life expectancies. But with other individual risk profiles, different companies are more lenient with certain factors, according to Kiplinger. It advised consumers to shop around for the companies with the best requirements in these areas:
  • Weight: Since obesity can cause or be related to other severe health conditions, insurers will consider your weight, Kiplinger noted. But the designated weight ranges for the best life insurance rates vary by company, so use an online quote site like AccuQuote or Insure.com to see who is most lenient if you have weight issues. Women should seek companies that use unisex weight tables, which ordinarily allow more weight for top rates.
  • Family history: All life insurance providers will determine whether your close relatives have died or been diagnosed with life threatening and chronic illnesses. But according to Kiplinger, an online quote site should divulge insurers with more lenient standards in this area.
  • Travel plans. People planning travel to risky parts of the world ordinarily have to pay a higher premium for life insurance. But comparison shopping pays off here, too, since rules on overseas travel vary from company to company. 
  • Credit history: Some life insurance providers will put your credit history into play. If you have concerns, like a bankruptcy in the past five years, find a broker or online quote service to tell you which insurers don't use this factor in setting rates.


Do energy-efficient bulbs really save you money?

Published: Monday, November 06, 2017 @ 5:43 AM

Are savings from using energy-efficient bulbs worth the money? First, it helps to understand the basic versions of home lighting options.

They are:

  • Fluorescent, including linear fluorescent lamps/Circline lamps and compact fluorescent lamps.
  • Incandescent, including mercury vapor lamps, metal halide lamps and high-pressure sodium lamps.
  • Outdoor solar, including standard incandescent (A-type) lamps, energy-saving incandescent (halogen) lamps and reflector lamps.
  • Light-emitting diode (LED).

Cost savings

Switching from an incandescent bulb to a light-emitting diode (LED) light can save about $13 a year if the LED is used at least five hours a day, according to Money Talks News.

Incandescent bulbs cost about 50 cents each, while an LED bulb costs around $20. Exchanging your least-used bulbs - ones that are on for maybe only 30 minutes a day - results in savings of about $1.20 per year.

EnergyStar persuasion

However, a different story is told by EnergyStar: if all Americans replaced their inefficient light bulbs with ENERGY STAR-certified LED bulbs, they would save $1.5 billion in annual energy bills and prevent 17 billion pounds of carbon pollution annually.

LED bulbs are now an affordable option for the average consumer, with prices at around $2 per bulb across the country (and as low as $1 in many areas). Using less energy, the bulbs pay for themselves in a matter of months and can save households $50 to $100 each year in utility costs.

By 2020, the federal government expects to see widespread adoption of LED bulbs, as utility programs across the country educate consumers about the energy-efficient options that are available and continue to offer rebates on the bulbs.

Today, 71 percent of homes have no LED bulbs in use and most consumers have little knowledge about the various light bulb options. The average American home contains around 50 light sockets and about 60 percent of them still contain an inefficient bulb, according to EnergyStar.

LED bulbs that have earned the government-backed ENERGY STAR label are independently certified, undergoing extensive testing to ensure they save energy, deliver on brightness and work the way consumers expect. Bulbs that have earned the ENERGY STAR use 70 to 90 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs and last at least 15 times longer.

Health risks

If you're sensitive to light, those savings might not be worth the painful headaches that can be caused by LED bulbs.

Arnold Wilkins, professor of psychology at the University of Essex, in the United Kingdom, said LED light bulbs switch on and off hundreds of times every second, leading to disruption of movement control of the eyes and causing double or multiple vision. Headache risks also double while reading with a flickering LED light bulb.

LED bulbs are also capable of inducing feelings of dizziness and pain within 20 minutes of turning them on.


4 warranties you should always buy

Published: Monday, November 06, 2017 @ 5:36 AM

From cars and houses to iPads and phones, no one wants to pay to replace a high-end purchase. But that doesn't necessarily mean you should pay for an extended warranty, either.

"From a purely economic standpoint, it usually doesn't make sense to buy an extended warranty," according to Rajiv Sinha, a marketing professor at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.
Consumer Reports goes so far as to call most extended warranties "money down the drain," noting that "retailers may push hard to get you to buy these plans because they're cash cows for them. Stores keep 50 percent or more of what they charge for these contracts. That's much more than they can make selling products."

Still, there are four extended warranties you should always buy, or at the very least seriously consider:

Protection for previously owned products

Used cars in particular often warrant the price of an extended warranty, Sinha said. Owners usually hang on to well-maintained, problem-free cars, while the substandard, poorly maintained cars make it to used car lots and online sellers. The odds of defects and damage in the pool of used cars makes buying an extended warranty a smart financial move.

A home warranty for This Old House

Even older homes that have been lovingly cared for can benefit from a home warranty, Sinha said. This is especially true if the appliances included in the sale are dated.

Extra coverage for items added to a home

After noting precisely what a home warranty covers and what conditions you are accountable for, it usually makes sense to buy a warranty for items you add to a home, including windows, fireplaces and shutters. U.S. News cites the example of Margaret King, who bought a lifetime warranty from Home Depot for all 26 windows of her Philadelphia town house. The warranty cost was added to the initial purchase, increasing the price by nearly 20 percent, but she's already replaced windows six times, avoiding $500 in out-of-pocket expenses. "It's quite refreshing to pick up the phone, not your checkbook, to correct any problems – from stains to breakage to track issues," King told the magazine.

When you need the peace of mind

If you're the type who experiences excessive stress and sleeplessness worrying about a smartphone emergency or laptop catastrophe, the $100 or so for an extended warranty is probably "money well spent," according to U.S. News.
Still, there's no need to cave to pressure at the checkout counter. For example, you can usually wait until just before your new car warranty expires to buy the extended version. According to U.S. News, ProtectCELL, which sells protection plans for tablets and phones, also allows some wiggle room, letting customers buy a warranty 30 days to 12 months after purchasing a device, depending on the product.


Come clean: The truth about energy-efficient washers and dryers

Published: Monday, November 13, 2017 @ 5:39 PM

The average American family washes and dries about 300 loads of laundry each year ENERGY STAR doesn't rate dryers because their efficiency has been about the same for years Maintenance will not do much to make a washing machine more efficient Only products that have earned the ENERGY STAR are certified independently to save energy ENERGY STAR-certified clothes washers use about 25 percent less energy and 45 percent less water than regular washers You can save $490 over the lifetime of an ENERGY STAR-certi

The average American family washes and dries about 300 loads of laundry each year, according to Energy Star. So, you may think it would be wise to replace washers and dryers with newer models.

Yet dryers can last longer than washers since dryers have not changed much in recent years. Instead, they can be maintained just by cleaning the lint tray before or after every use. However, the story’s a bit different for washers.

In the case of washers, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s appliances guide, upgrading washers every 10 years or so can save you more.

RELATED: Is an energy-efficient dishwasher worth the money?

The EnergyGuide label can be a useful tool when comparing appliances. Here are a few facts about energy-efficient washers and dryers to consider before making your next purchase:

The truth about energy-efficient dryers.

ENERGY STAR doesn't rate dryers because their efficiency has been about the same for years, according to LifeHacker.com. The average cost of a new dryer is $550.

Regular dryer maintenance will keep your dryer from breaking and heat clothes a little quicker which can save you money. In addition to cleaning the lint trap every load, vacuum the area below the lint trap periodically to decrease the dry time and save a few cents every month.

Whirlpool Duet washer and dryer.(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The truth about energy-efficient clothes washers.

New models have become more efficient by switching to the front-load clothes washer, using around 50 percent less water and 37 percent less energy. The average price of a new ENERGY STAR washing machine is $750, also according to LifeHacker.com.

Maintenance will not do much to make a washing machine more efficient.

If your washer is over 10 years old or a top-load washer, you could save up to $135 a year on both water and electricity by buying a new or newer front-load washer.

The truth about HE vs. energy-efficient.

Beware of high efficiency (HE) claims since this designation is intended to match certain washer types (for example, front load) with specially designed laundry detergent.

With no standards for energy efficiency behind the HE label, only products that have earned the ENERGY STAR are certified independently to save energy.

Last word from ENERGY STAR

Clothes washers are the second largest water user in your home. If your clothes washer was manufactured before 1999, according to the federal government, you should consider replacing it with an ENERGY STAR-certified washing machine that uses four times less energy.

ENERGY STAR-certified clothes washers use about 25 percent less energy and 45 percent less water than regular washers.

Clothes washers and dryers that have earned the ENERGY STAR use advanced features, saving $490 over the lifetime of an ENERGY STAR-certified clothes washer and more with a washer/dryer pair.

Another cool energy-saving fact: If all clothes washers and dryers sold in the U.S. were ENERGY STAR-certified, the savings would be more than $4 billion each year and prevent more than 19 billion pounds of carbon pollution annually −equal to the emissions from 1.7 million vehicles.