Whether you like flashy sports cars or practical minivans, shopping around for cars can feel like a fresh start. The problem is, most people can’t afford to pay out of pocket.
So how do you get a car loan to help turn your motorized dreams into reality? Like most big purchases, creating a thorough plan is a must. Understanding all your financing options, how a car loan will affect your credit, and how you can get the most bang for your buck will save you headaches—and debt—down the road.
Have a specific question in mind? Use the links below to get straight to the information you need:
- What Are the Steps for Getting a Car Loan?
- Will Trading In my Car Affect an Auto Loan?
- Can I Get a Car Loan with Bad Credit?
What Are the Steps for Getting a Car Loan?
Throughout the financing process, remember that you’re shopping for two different products: the car and the car loan. Before setting foot on a dealership, take the time to weigh all your options so you feel 100% certain that investing in a new car is the best decision for your financial health as a whole.
Start with a Budget
If you don’t have a monthly budget, it’s time to create one. Assess all the monthly debt payments you currently have—such as rent, student loans, and credit card bills—and then figure out how much you’ll be able to afford on a monthly car payment.
Your car payment calculations should include not only the amount paid back to the lender, but also gas, insurance, and maintenance fees. If you come up with a number that won’t work with your income, consider saving for a larger down payment so you won’t have to take out a large car loan.
Check Your Credit Score
Request a copy of your free credit report to determine how your score will affect the loan shopping process. When doling out the best rates, lenders look for a score of 760 or higher and will give you a better deal the higher your score. Payment history, debt-to-income ratio, and the history of your credit lines all affect that magic three-digit number.
Start by fixing any inaccuracies you find on your report that could be dragging down your score. Within a month or two, you should see the mistakes removed which may make your number rise. If you aren’t in a rush to purchase the car, work on bringing your score up to help you get more favorable loans when it does come time to apply.
If you don’t have the time or ability to raise your credit score before purchasing the car, you could find a co-signer for the loan. Consider asking a parent, friend, or family member with a good score to co-sign. It’s important to remember that the co-signer is responsible for paying back the loan if you’re unable to make the monthly payments, and the credit score of both you and the co-signer will be affected by late or missed payments.
Explore All Your Loan Options
There are two main ways to get a car loan: direct lending and dealership financing. After picking out the car you want to buy, consider which option makes the most sense for you.
Direct lending entails receiving a loan from a bank, credit union, or online lender. You’ll agree on the amount of the loan and the finance charge, or interest rate, that you’ll pay on the loan. Some things to note about receiving direct lending:
- Banks often offer competitive interest rates but are more exclusive about who they offer a loan to. It is more likely you will need to have a good or excellent credit score to obtain a desirable loan from a bank. You don’t usually have to be a member at the bank to apply for an auto loan or get pre-approval.
- Credit unions may have an easier loan application process and lower interest rates. However, you must be a member to apply for a loan.
- Online lending websites often contact several lenders at the same time so you can easily obtain competing loan offers. Just like a bank or credit union, you will determine the terms of the loan with the lender. Make sure to always do background research on each lender you contact to ensure they aren’t predatory lenders.
Some dealerships offer on-site financing, which means you agree on the loan amount and interest rate with the dealer. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- The dealer will gather all your information and send it to one or more prospective auto lenders, who will then give the dealer a “buy rate.” This could be higher than the interest rate you negotiate because it could include a compensation fee for the dealer handling your loan.
- Because you are treating the dealership as a one-stop-shop for all your car needs, you might be offered special deals or rebates that include low interest rates.
Whichever financing option you decide to pursue, don’t just take the first loan offer that comes your way. Take the time to shop around and get competing rates through the pre-approval process. This entails asking multiple lenders to look at your credit report and draft up the loan amount and interest rate they’d be willing to offer you.
Pre-approval may give you more bargaining power with a dealership than if you went in without a financing plan. You also might be able to hunt down the best deals because lenders are competing for your business. Remember, just because you receive pre-approval from a lender doesn’t mean you have to take their offer.
An important element of loan shopping is keeping your pre-approval applications and final loan applications within a short window of time. Every time a lender looks at your credit report, it triggers a hard inquiry. If you build up too many hard inquiries, it could lower your credit score.
Fortunately, Turbo uses VantageScore, one of the common scoring models, which offers a 14-day grace period. If multiple hard inquiries are made during this time period for an auto loan, it will only be counted as a single inquiry—thus protecting your score.
Negotiate the Total Cost
Once you’ve found a lender that you want to finance your car loan, consider negotiating the final deal. This includes:
- Length of the loan. Typically, a shorter loan will have higher monthly payments but lower interest rates. A longer loan will have smaller monthly payments and higher interest rates.
- APR and interest rate. Depending on your pre-approval offers, you might be able to negotiate for a lower interest rate. This means you’ll pay the lender less to borrow the money over the length of the loan.
- Additional add-ons. Extended warranties or additional insurance can raise the total cost of the loan.
- Special offers or discounts. If you’re getting your loan through a dealership, use the negotiation process to ask about any manufacturer rebates that could get you a lower price on the car, therefore reducing the amount of money you need to borrow.
Close the Deal
Before driving off into the sunset, make sure to tie up any loose ends that could impact your car loan. Per the federal Truth in Lending Act, lenders are required to provide you with important information about your agreement so you can verify all the terms match what you discussed.
Sign all paperwork before taking your new car home, and make sure you have multiple ways to contact your lender if you ever have any questions. Whether you make online or by-mail monthly payments will be discussed during the negotiation process. It’s crucial that you pay these back on time every month to avoid severe late fees or repossession of your brand new set of wheels.
Will Trading In my Car Affect an Auto Loan?
If you plan to trade in your current car before purchasing a new one, it could lower the total cost of your car loan. The credit or cash you receive from the trade-in can be put to use as a down payment, thus reducing the amount you need to borrow from a lender.
Before trading in, make sure you know whether the total amount you still owe on your car is less than what it’s worth. Carrying an old auto loan onto a new auto loan may raise your interest rates and limit your options for the best deals. While trading-in can significantly help some buyers, it may not always be the best option if you want to get a favorable loan for your new vehicle.
Can I Get a Car Loan with Bad Credit?
Despite many lenders being wary of borrowers with poor credit scores, there are still options available to obtain a car loan. As mentioned earlier, paying off any existing debt, finding a co-signer, or saving for a larger down payment are all ways to help offset bad credit.
However, if the purchase can’t wait, lenders may still offer you a loan—but likely at a high price. Interest rates and additional fees skyrocket for borrowers with less-than-ideal credit scores, and it may dig you into a deeper hole of debt than you started with.
If you think you might be late on a payment, contact your lender immediately to discuss the possibility of adjusting your payment plan. While most of the original terms you negotiate will likely stay the same, you may be able to make a delayed payment. But if you consistently default on your payments, the lender is allowed to repossess your car, sell it, and use the money to pay off your remaining debt.
Despite its complexities, getting a car loan can be a straightforward process if you make a strategic plan. Assess your current financial health, loan shop, and negotiate a deal that suits your needs; in no time you’ll be able to hit the streets with a shiny new toy and feel confident in your abilities to manage debt.