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This city is a car buyer's delight for affordability

Pennsylvania Avenue at dusk, Washington D.C.
Jon Hicks | Photographer's Choice | Getty Images
Pennsylvania Avenue at dusk, Washington D.C.

Scoring a new set of wheels may be out of reach for many Americans.

There's only one metropolitan area in the nation where consumers earning the median income make enough to purchase a new car with a prudent loan repayment schedule.

It's Washington, D.C., where the average household makes nearly $100,000 per year, finds Bankrate.com, a personal finance website.

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In the rest of the 25 largest metropolitan areas, most people can't afford to buy the average-priced new car with a 20% down payment and four-year repayment schedule.

Median household income is determined by looking at what level of annual earnings is exactly halfway between the richest and poorest – half make more, half make less. In each of the top 25 metro areas other than Washington, D.C., some on the upper end of the income scale may be able to afford a new car with four years of payments. But the rest need to take out longer-term loans or find other creative financing options if they want to put a new car in the driveway, says Bankrate analyst Claes Bell.

These buyers may be able to extend their loan term to afford a car, Bell said, "but they can't pay it off in a timely fashion without crowding out other parts of their budget -- like retirement savings or education."

This research follows similar studies done by Bankrate in 2016 and 2014, which also found that new cars have grown too expensive for median-income Americans in most cities.

Jessica Caldwell, an industry analyst for car buying website Edmunds.com, says one reason for this issue is the rising cost of cars. Though median incomes have risen in many areas, car prices have increased as well -- especially as people have started buying more SUVs and pickup trucks, which tend to be more expensive than sedans.

The study took the median income of each metro area and applied a formula to determine how much a household could pay for a car. Besides the down payment and four-year loan, it would include insurance and interest that take up 10% of the median household's gross income. It found that in Washington, people making the median income can afford to pay $37,223 for a new car, or $697 per month -- enough to cover the average cost of a new car in 2017, which Kelley Blue Book puts at $35,368.

For affordability, Washington is followed by San Francisco, Seattle, Boston and Minneapolis/St. Paul.

By contrast, the median income in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metro area is only enough to pay $13,577 for a new car, or $256 per month. Detroit, Tampa, Orlando and San Antonio are among the other metro areas where most residents can shoulder less than half the cost of an average new car with a reasonable financing period.