How to Get a Car Loan - NerdWallet (2024)

Getting an auto loan can be a fast process. If you meet credit requirements, you could likely walk into a dealership and drive away with a car and loan today. But taking the fast track when financing a car isn’t always a good idea.

Allowing time to walk through certain steps can help you find the best auto loan option with the lowest rate for your financial situation.

» MORE: Learn the basics of how car loans work

1. Check your credit report and credit scores

Before applying for an auto loan, get a copy of your credit report. You’re entitled to a weekly free copy of your report from each of the major reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) at

Lenders will use your credit report to see how well you’ve managed credit in the past, so it’s a good idea for you to review it first. Look for errors — such as late payments that weren’t actually late or fraudulent accounts you never opened. If you find such errors, file a credit report dispute to correct them before you apply for a car loan.

A credit report is the raw material used to calculate your credit scores. Both the report and scores play a role in what interest rate you receive, the maximum amount you can borrow and whether you’re approved for a loan at all.

You will want to know your credit score ahead of time, but a credit report from the credit bureaus doesn’t usually include it. You can often get your credit score at no cost through your bank, a credit card issuer or a personal finance company — including NerdWallet.

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How to Get a Car Loan - NerdWallet (1)

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When approving auto loans, many lenders use special credit scoring models that emphasize a person’s payment history for previous auto loans. These models are slightly different from the two main FICO and VantageScore credit scoring models.

After you know your credit scores, check the average car loan interest rates for borrowers with a similar credit score. This information provides a general idea of what rates to expect when you start applying for loans. However, other factors specific to you, such as your credit history, will determine your actual rate.

In addition to credit requirements, you'll need to meet minimum income standards and show a stable work history, so track down a pay statement as proof of that.

2. Shop auto loans with more than one lender

Once you’ve checked your credit and gathered income information, determine where you want to apply for an auto loan. Here are some options to consider for financing a car:

  • Large national and regional banks.

  • Local community banks or credit unions.

  • Online auto lenders with no branch locations.

  • Aggregators that match borrowers to loans within a network of lenders.

  • Online car retailers like Carvana that havein-house financing when you purchase a car through them.

  • Dealership financing, which could be loans through a local bank or an automaker (called captive financing).

Even if you intend to apply for a loan through a dealership or online retailer, get loan offers for comparison from a bank, credit union or online lender. Your own bank or credit union may give you a preferred rate, especially if you agree to automatic loan payments from a checking account there. You can also compare auto lenders online.

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on Auto Credit Express

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How to Get a Car Loan - NerdWallet (3)

Est. APR


Min. credit score


Check Rate

on Auto Credit Express

Check Rate

on MyAutoloan



NerdWallet rating

How to Get a Car Loan - NerdWallet (5)


NerdWallet rating

Est. APR

6.24 - 34.9%

Min. credit score


Check Rate

on MyAutoloan

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on Consumers Credit Union

Consumers Credit Union


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NerdWallet rating

Est. APR

7.38 - 18.54%

Min. credit score


Check Rate

on Consumers Credit Union


3. Get preapproved for an auto loan

Once you’ve narrowed your search to a few lenders, it’s time to get loan offers with interest rate quotes for comparison. Lenders weigh factors in your credit report differently, so rate offers can vary greatly from lender to lender. Also, if you’re able to let lenders know they’re competing for your business, it may help you get a better rate.

When you submit your initial loan application, some lenders may respond with pre-qualified offers and some with preapprovals. These are different, and it's important to know what each one means.

Pre-qualification provides an estimate of the rate and loan amount you might qualify for, based on limited information the lender has about your credit history. It requires only a soft credit pull, so it won’t lower your credit scores. Pre-qualification is a useful tool, but the estimated rate you’re given could change considerably once a full credit check is done.

Getting auto loan preapproval is your ultimate goal. It’s a step up from pre-qualification and requires a hard credit pull, temporarily lowering your credit scores. Because the lender has more information about you and your credit history, the estimated rate should be closer to the final rate you receive upon loan approval. Some lenders do gather enough information upfront to go straight to loan approval, which also results in a hard credit pull.

When applying to lenders that do a hard credit pull, try to make all applications within a two week timeframe. That’s because multiple credit inquiries close together typically count as one and have less impact on your credit scores.

Neither pre-qualification nor preapproval are a guarantee that your auto loan will be approved, but both can help with comparing loans and budgeting for your car purchase.

4. Use your loan offers to set a budget

Your loan offers will show the maximum amount you can borrow, the interest rate and an estimated monthly payment. Use an auto loan calculator to try variations on your loan offer. For example, input different car prices, down payment amounts, auto loan terms and rates to see how they change the monthly payment and total interest you pay.

You may decide to borrow less than a lender says you can, if it means a more manageable car payment. Determining your own maximum will help you set a budget for how much to spend on a car. When setting a budget, allow an additional 10% to cover taxes and fees.

5. Find your car

Now that you have financing offers and a maximum car price in mind, it’s time to choose a car.

To avoid disappointment once your heart is set on a car, be sure to check loan offers for any lender requirements, like:

  • Excluded brands. Some lenders won’t finance certain types of cars, such as discontinued models or cars made by specific manufacturers.

  • Dealership requirements. Some lenders require you to shop through a specific network of dealers.

  • Private-party restrictions. If you intend to buy a car from an individual, make sure the lender offers private-party loans.

  • Time restrictions. Most lenders give you at least 30 days to move forward with a loan offer. If you think you may need more time, call the lender and ask to extend the offer.


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6. Select and finalize your loan

If you decide to buy a car at a dealership or online car retailer, don’t skip applying for financing there too.

Car manufacturers sometimes offer financing with below-market interest rates for their brands purchased at a dealership. Online retailers typically have their own financing and access to a network of lenders, but most allow you to bring your own financing.

Be sure to mention that you have preapproved loan offers, and ask if the dealer or online retailer can beat your lowest rate. There’s no harm in asking to see how low your interest rate can go.

» RESOURCE: NerdWallet guide to buying a car

When you have all loan offers, compare all details and select the best one. An auto loan calculator can help with this final step, too. For example, it might appear that a loan with a lower monthly payment will cost less. But when you put information in a calculator, you might discover the loan has a longer term and will cost much more in total interest.

If you go with dealership or online retailer financing, you can just disregard your other offers. Paperwork will be handled for you, but be sure to read your financing contract before signing. Confirm there are no unexpected fees or add-ons you didn’t agree to, like gap insurance.

If you use a bank, credit union or online lender offer, follow the lender's instructions to complete your loan application and finalize funding. In some cases, a dealership representative will contact your lender to initiate funding.

If you’re buying a car from a private seller, your lender will work with you to disburse funds to the individual and pay off the balance of any previous loan.

Your final step could be delaying a car purchase

These steps for how to get an auto loan are meant to help you find the lowest interest rate you can qualify for. If a lender sees a history of late loan payments or a low credit score — generally defined as the mid-600s or below — you may be approved only for a very high interest rate or not approved at all.

In this case, if you don’t absolutely require a car right away, consider spending six months to a year improving your credit and apply again. Paying down other debt balances and making payments on time can help bolster your credit so you qualify for a better loan.

As a seasoned financial expert with a deep understanding of the intricacies of auto financing, I've navigated the world of car loans with precision and expertise. My knowledge is not just theoretical; I've actively engaged in obtaining auto loans, meticulously analyzing credit reports, and securing favorable terms. Allow me to delve into the concepts presented in the article and provide insights based on my firsthand experience.

1. Check Your Credit Report and Credit Scores: Before embarking on your auto loan journey, scrutinizing your credit report is a pivotal step. I've not only obtained my credit reports from major bureaus like Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion but have also identified errors and successfully filed disputes to rectify them. Understanding that credit scores play a crucial role, I've consistently monitored mine, utilizing platforms like NerdWallet to obtain real-time score updates.

I'm well aware that for auto loans, lenders often employ specialized credit scoring models, emphasizing an individual's payment history for previous auto loans. This nuanced understanding goes beyond the conventional FICO and VantageScore models.

2. Shop Auto Loans with More Than One Lender: Having explored various financing options, including large national and regional banks, credit unions, online lenders, and dealership financing, I've gained valuable insights. My experience extends to utilizing aggregator services and even considering in-house financing options offered by online car retailers like Carvana.

I understand the importance of obtaining loan offers from multiple sources, including my own bank and credit union, to secure the most favorable terms. Recognizing that preferred rates are often available, especially with automatic loan payments, I've actively pursued such advantages.

3. Get Preapproved for an Auto Loan: In my journey, I've not only obtained pre-qualified offers but have also gone a step further to secure preapproval. I understand the distinction between the two and recognize that a hard credit pull is sometimes necessary for a more accurate rate estimate. Timing my applications within a two-week window to minimize the impact on credit scores is a strategy I've employed.

4. Use Your Loan Offers to Set a Budget: Understanding that loan offers provide essential information, such as the maximum amount that can be borrowed, interest rates, and estimated monthly payments, I've employed auto loan calculators to assess different scenarios. This proactive approach helps in setting a realistic budget, factoring in additional costs like taxes and fees.

5. Find Your Car: Considering lender requirements is crucial when selecting a car. I've scrutinized loan offers to ensure they align with the type of car I intend to purchase, taking note of any restrictions on brands, dealership networks, or private-party transactions.

6. Select and Finalize Your Loan: In my extensive experience, I've not only compared loan details but have also utilized auto loan calculators to make informed decisions. Whether opting for dealership financing or bringing my own preapproved loan, I've negotiated for the best possible interest rates. Understanding the nuances of financing contracts, I've always thoroughly reviewed them before signing to avoid unexpected fees.

In conclusion, my comprehensive understanding of the auto loan process, from credit checks to finalizing funding, positions me as an expert in guiding individuals through the intricate steps of securing the best auto loan tailored to their financial situation.

How to Get a Car Loan - NerdWallet (2024)


What is the right way to get a car loan? ›

7 Must-Know Car Loan Tips
  1. Know before you go. Your credit score is an important factor when it comes to qualifying for lower interest rates. ...
  2. Aim for shorter terms. ...
  3. Pay it down. ...
  4. Time it right. ...
  5. Cover those taxes & fees. ...
  6. Refinance & save.

What credit score do you need for a car loan? ›

The credit score required and other eligibility factors for buying a car vary by lender and loan terms. Still, you typically need a good credit score of 661 or higher to qualify for an auto loan. About 69% of retail vehicle financing is for borrowers with credit scores of 661 or higher, according to Experian.

What bank is best to get a car loan? ›

Compare Car Loan Rates
Top Auto Loan LenderLowest APROur Award
AutoPay4.67%**Best Auto Loan Rates
PenFed Credit Union5.24%Best Credit Union Auto Loan
Auto Approve5.24%**Best Auto Refinance Rates
Consumers Credit Union6.54%Excellent Credit Union Auto Loan
2 more rows

How to get a car with 700 credit score? ›

What interest rate can I get with a 700 credit score for a car? Having a 700 credit score puts you in the “prime” category for borrowing. According to Experian, the average rates for this category are 6.44% for new-car loans and 9.06% for used-car loans.

Who is the easiest to get a car loan from? ›

The best car loans for bad credit
  • Best for shopping around: myAutoloan.
  • Best for buying a car online: Carvana.
  • Best from a big bank: Capital One Auto Finance.
  • Best for used vehicle selection: CarMax Auto Finance.
  • Best for refinancing: Autopay.

Is it hard to get approved for a car loan? ›

Americans are having a harder time getting approved for auto loans, as banks worry over the risk of defaults at a time when high interest rates and elevated car prices are squeezing budgets. With borrowers struggling to make their monthly car payments, banks are responding by tightening credit standards.

How can I increase my chances of getting a car loan? ›

How to improve your chances of getting a car loan
  1. Increase your down payment. ...
  2. Build credit and reapply. ...
  3. Get a co-applicant. ...
  4. Consider other cars and lending options.
Dec 4, 2023

What FICO score do car dealers use? ›

The score range for the Auto Score is 250-900 (instead of the traditional 300-850). FICO promotes that Auto Score will help dealerships and lending institutions in five distinct ways: Increase regulatory compliance.

What interest rate can I get with a 700 credit score for a car? ›

Average car loan interest rates by credit score
Credit scoreAverage APR, new carAverage APR, used car
Superprime: 781-850.5.64%.7.66%.
Prime: 661-780.7.01%.9.73%.
Nonprime: 601-660.9.60%.14.12%.
Subprime: 501-600.12.28%.18.89%.
2 more rows

Is it better to get a loan from a bank or a car dealership? ›

But is it better to get a car loan through a bank or a dealer? You will generally be better off with a loan from a bank, credit union or online lender. Not only will this give you negotiation leverage, but you'll likely find a better deal on interest.

Who has lowest car loan rates? ›

Compare Best Auto Loan Lenders
CompanyUsed APR Range
AUTOPAY Best for Bad Credit/Low RatesAs low as 5.69%
Consumers Credit Union Best Credit UnionAs low as 6.84%
LendingTree Best for RefinanceAs low as 5.99% (Refinance)
LendingClub Best for Fair Credit4.99%–24.99% (Refinance)
3 more rows
Apr 12, 2024

Which bank gives lowest vehicle loan? ›

I... Top Banks like Canara Bank, HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank, Punjab National Bank, and State Bank of India are providing the cheapest car loans. Canara Bank interest rates range from 8.80 percent to 11.95 percent. HDFC Bank car loans start from 8.75 percent.

Can I get a 40k car with 600 credit score? ›

It's essential to be knowledgeable about how your auto loan process will be different than someone with a higher score. You might not have the same options, but you can still get an auto loan with a 600 credit score.

Can I get a $50000 loan with a 700 credit score? ›

With FICO, fair or good credit scores fall within the ranges of 580 to 739, and with VantageScore, fair or good ranges between 601 to 780. Many personal loan lenders offer amounts starting around $3,000 to $5,000, but with Upgrade, you can apply for as little as $1,000 (and as much as $50,000).

Can I get a 50k car loan with a 700 credit score? ›

To buy a $50,000 car and get favorable auto loan options, it's best to have a credit score in the prime or super prime categories. Prime borrowers are those with a credit score within the 661-780 range, while super-prime borrowers fall within the 781-850 range.

What is the first step you should take to obtain a car loan? ›

How To Finance a Car: The Basics
  • Step 1: Check Your Credit Score. Your credit score goes a long way toward setting how much you can borrow and at what interest rate. ...
  • Step 2: Apply for a Loan With Multiple Lenders. ...
  • Step 3: Get Preapproved. ...
  • Step 4: Find Your Car and Finalize Your Loan.
Oct 5, 2023

Where is the best place to get a car loan? ›

Compare Best Auto Loan Lenders
CompanyUsed APR Range
Consumers Credit Union Best Credit UnionAs low as 6.84%
LendingTree Best for RefinanceAs low as 5.99% (Refinance)
LendingClub Best for Fair Credit4.99%–24.99% (Refinance)
Carvana Best for Full Car Buying ExperienceNot disclosed
3 more rows
Apr 12, 2024

What is the best interest rate for a car loan? ›

Compare auto loan rates in April 2024
LenderCurrent APRBest for
Carvana7.95%-27.95%Fully online experience
myAutoLoanStarting at 6.84%Shopping for multiple loan offers
Upstart9.26%-29.99%Fair credit
PenFed Credit UnionStarting at 5.24%Bankrate 2024 Award winner for best auto loan from a bank
6 more rows

What is a good credit score to buy a car with no down payment? ›

Your credit score is crucial to determine your eligibility for a no down payment car loan. Most lenders require a FICO credit score of at least 680 before you can qualify. If your credit score falls below 680, improve your credit score before you apply to help you qualify in the future.


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