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Rebuilding credit with great cars for under $18,000

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Let’s talk about cars.

We need them (more than we like to believe) and we certainly love them. But can we afford them? Boy, that’s a tough question.

In the age of excess, which most people like to call “2007,” we couldn’t find cars big enough or fast enough. If we could make a monthly payment over seven years, then it was affordable. Well, things are different now. People are looking for reliability, comfort and practicality. Just look around at the rise of small, hip cars full of features once considered the bastion of pricey imports.

Sport utility vehicles are morphing in front of our very eyes into more nimble, passenger-oriented "crossover" alternatives to mini-vans, which also found their way into the upper echelon of car prices, by the way. Ever seen the sticker price on a fully-loaded Chrysler Town & Country? You could buy a BMW 3 Series for less.

One more example of the way the car industry has adapted to the recession (not that they had much chance, given the bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler) is to look across the pond at Volkswagen. The “People’s Car” took what was once a universal appeal and turned it into entry-level luxury performance.

The Jetta, a sporty, feature-rich small sedan popular with everyone from college undergrads to soccer moms, was not long ago base priced in the mid 20s, putting it well out of reach for a large number of car buyers. But that’s the not the case anymore, as a new, widely released ad campaign is promoting the Jetta for what it once was, a highly dependable and affordable, fun-to-drive sedan now priced around $15,000.

So the car world is changing. And that’s great news for readers just coming out of bankruptcy in search of reliable transportation and a revitalized credit report. Yes, you may have some trouble getting financed right away, but give it time. By the time you need a car loan, many of the following cars, all priced under $18,000, will be available to you. Check out this list:

Believe it or not, but the Ford Fiesta is back. Priced at most around $17,000, the Fiesta is no longer the sawed-off crackerbox it was in the late 90s. Ford has brought it back from Europe, where it’s been selling for the last number of years, with new stylings and terrific performance for a compact sedan. It’s great looking, full of features and considered by many to be the best small car available from an American builder.

Not to be outdone by its biggest competitor, Chevy is out with the new Cruz, perhaps its last attempt to make the Cavalier model worth considering. The Cruz may ultimately compete with the Focus, and in that case, it might win. Honda still rules in the sporty, small sedan market, but not when it comes to price. That’s where the Cruz should win a head-to-head match-up. It’s interior is upgraded, it handles like a much larger car and should satisfy a wide range of buyers.

If you want something different, and ultra-affordable, look at Kia’s Soul, a van-inspired conglomerate of a car that comes with Kia’s renowned dependability and unique spirit. Kia has stormed into the U.S. market during the recession because of a drastic overhaul in appearance and buying incentives. And then all of sudden, people also noticed how nice its cars were. The highest-end Soul is priced around $18,500.

Other considerations for under $18,000 (as starting points) include the Mazda 3, Honda Civic, Volkswagen Golf and the Nissan Versa, which is far and away the most affordable, with some packages under $10,000.

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