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The 6 Best Cars To Buy If Your Salary Is $50K

DuxX / Getty Images/iStockphoto
DuxX / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Standard personal finance advice says to spend no more than 10% of your monthly income on a car payment and less than 20% on combined auto expenses, including gas, insurance and maintenance.

Also: 7 Hybrid Vehicles To Stay Away From Buying
Learn: How To Get $340 Per Year in Cash Back on Gas and Other Things You Already Buy

Someone who earns $50,000 a year takes home $4,167 per month before taxes, which allows them to finance a little less than $21,000 at 5.6% interest for 60 months to get a $400 monthly payment and stay in a healthy range.

A down payment and/or trade-in can reduce your loan and increase your price range, but no one of any income level should shop at the top of their budget. Here’s a look at the best cars for both the 10% payment and 20% expenses for someone earning $50,000 a year.


Hyundai Elantra

Nick Musica, founder of Cash for Your Junk Cars, said the Hyundai Elantra “tops the list of affordable models.” He cited its record of reliability, accessible purchase price, fuel efficiency and low maintenance costs.


The 2024 Elantra starts at $21,475 and gets an impressive 36 combined mpg. RepairPal gives it an excellent 4.5 reliability rating and estimates its annual maintenance costs at just $452.

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Hyundai Elantra GT

If you’re willing to buy used, the Elantra GT, which Hyundai discontinued in 2020, is “one of the best-looking Hyundai vehicles ever released,” according to Forbes.

But it’s much more than just a pretty face.

“The Hyundai Elantra GT may not be the first name that comes to mind, but it offers a surprising blend of style and dependability,” said Tony Taylor, who has spent 30 years as the owner of A-1 Auto Transport, one of the largest United States-based global auto transport companies. “Its hatchback design provides versatility, and with Hyundai’s commitment to quality, you get a reliable ride without the premium price tag. It’s a bit of a hidden champion in the affordable car category.”

According to Edmunds, you should expect to pay $17,264 for a 2020 model in outstanding condition at a dealership or $13,943 through a private sale.

Next: 5 Japanese Cars To Stay Away From Buying

©Kia Motors America
©Kia Motors America

Kia K5

Although it’s a stylish, powerful vehicle with 290 horsepower and a class-leading 311 pound-feet of torque that can do 0-60 miles per hour in 5.7 seconds, Kia’s midsize sedan is within reach on a $50,000 salary.

“The Kia K5, with its striking design and feature-rich interior, provides excellent value for the money,” said Taylor.

It starts at $25,590, gets a stellar 37 combined mpg and earns an excellent reliability rating of four from RepairPal, which says it costs an average of just $474 per year to maintain.


Mazda CX-5

With a starting MSRP of $29,300, the Mazda CX-5 will probably be at the top of your price range and require a larger down payment, but Taylor calls it “often overlooked but offering a perfect blend of style, performance and affordability.”

It’s earned accolades for safety and aesthetics, and its design punches above its weight, even flirting with luxury.

“Its engaging driving experience and upscale interior make it a standout choice in its segment,” said Taylor.

It gets 26 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway, and RepairPal gives it an excellent 4.5 reliability rating with annual maintenance costs of just $447.


Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid

The Toyota Corolla lands at or near the top of many lists about reliable, affordable cars, but a $50,000 salary gives you the option to invest in an upgrade that will pay you back over time.

Musica recommended the Corolla Cross Hybrid, which, with a starting MSRP of $28,220, joins the Mazda CX-5 at the farther reaches of a realistic budget.

But with fuel economy of 42 combined mpg — 38 city and 45 highway — it pays dividends at the gas pump better than any other car on the list. It’s also a capable vehicle with 21.5 cubic feet of cargo space and 196 net combined horsepower.

Next: 10 New Cars to Avoid Buying in 2024


Honda Civic SI

The Honda Civic is famous for its affordability, reliability and longevity, but with a big enough down payment and a decent trade-in, a $50,000 salary can buy you an upgrade to the Civic SI, which is Musica’s final recommendation.

It starts at $29,100, which is about $5,000 more than the base Civic’s $23,950 MSRP. But that extra cash buys you a 200-horsepower, 1.5-liter turbocharged engine, six-speed manual transmission and limited-slip differential, which combine for power and control with which the original simply can’t compete.

However, you don’t forfeit any of that legendary Honda reliability, and you still get 37 mpg on the highway and 27 in the city. If that’s out of reach, Musica recommended the Civic Hatchback, which is $1,000 more than the sedan but has five doors.

Photo Disclaimer: Please note photos are for illustrative purposes only and might not feature exact models, base models or the cars’ specific trim levels. As a result, some of the cars in the photos might have different MSRPs than the ones listed in this article.

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This article originally appeared on The 6 Best Cars To Buy If Your Salary Is $50K