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Auto Loan

How to Buy a Car Online — from Start to Finish

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Visiting a car dealership lot can sometimes feel like walking on a knife-edge. Salespeople could pressure you into spur-of-the-moment decisions that could leave you buried up to your eyeballs in debt for the next several years.

Buying a car online can be a much smoother and well-informed experience compared with traditional car buying, but it does require a bit more legwork on your part. Before you dive in, you’ll want to make sure you’re well-informed on how to buy a car online.

Part I: Traditional vs. online car buying

Curious about buying a car online but unsure of how the experience compares to traditional car buying? The processes are similar in a lot of ways, but skipping the dealership can actually give you a leg up as a buyer.

The troubles of traditional car buying

Before the internet revolutionized everything, there really was only one way most people bought a car: They’d visit car lots, find a car they liked and then sit down with a car salesman to work out an agreement. This led to the dreaded negotiation process.

“There’s all this back-and-forth and, ‘Oh, I’ve got to go talk to my manager,’” said Jack Gillis, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America and author of “The Car Book.” “Well, the guy goes back and has a cup of coffee and lets you sit there and steam for a while, then he comes back and gives you some song and dance about why they can or can’t do something.”

Because most people treated car dealerships as one-stop shops for buying a car, they often wouldn’t be informed about the full range of cars, financing options or trade-in choices available to them. Without these bargaining chips, consumers are at the mercy of the car salesmen.

How buying a car online empowers the buyer

With online car buying, it’s possible to complete every phase of the car-buying experience — from finding the right car to negotiating — entirely online.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of buying a car online is that it puts you in greater control of the car-buying process and no longer at the mercy of the salesmen at one dealership. You can expand your options for cars, financing and trade-ins, and then use your findings to negotiate for your best price possible.

“The whole digital part really is empowering for the buyer because there’s so much information that you can use to make an informed decision,” said Matt DeLorenzo, managing editor of KelleyBlueBook.com.

The downside of all this power is that it requires a bit more legwork on your part to bring all the pieces together. On the bright side, doing your homework can save you thousands of dollars and ensure you get the best car possible.

Part II: 7 steps to buying cars online

Step 1. Choose the right car

It’s important to choose a type of car that will best fit your needs. Do you want a fuel-efficient vehicle for short commutes? Do you need to haul around large amounts of cargo? Do you have a large family or a small one? Thinking about questions like these can help you zero in on what kind of body style (truck? SUV? compact car?) will suit your needs.

Once you narrow down a body style, it’s time to research what specific makes and models of cars might be best for you. Good research websites include Edmunds, Car and Driver and Kelley Blue Book.

If you’re buying a new car, you might be offered certain options and add-ons from the dealer, such as VIN window etching or rust-proofing. Before you go signing up for every option offered (and sign away your whole paycheck in the process), it’s important to research these options. You can face big markups and can easily get these add-ons yourself if you decide you need them down the road.

Step 2. Determine the price you want to pay

Next up is determining how much car you can actually afford. The more conservative rule of thumb is the 20/4/10 rule, but if that’s not possible for your budget, make a concerted effort to try to meet the 10/5/20 rule. Here’s how the two rules break down:

Rules of Thumb for Transportation Costs
20/4/10 Rule10/5/20 Rule
Minimum down paymentMake a minimum 20% down paymentMake a minimum 10% down payment
Loan termFinance for no more than four yearsFinance for no more than five years
Monthly transportation expenses, including insurance, gas, etc.Total expenses shouldn’t exceed 10% of your monthly incomeTotal expenses shouldn’t exceed 20% of your monthly income

These rules could help you set a cap on your car-shopping budget. For example, if you have $3,000 saved, it might be a good idea to avoid buying a car for more than $15,000 ($15,000 x 0.20 down = $3,000). From there, you can assess any financing offers to make sure that you’re not spending more than 10% of your income on the car and that your financing doesn’t stretch beyond the four-year mark.

You can narrow your car search down even further using these budget caps. If a car’s MSRP is far outside of your budget, weed it out of consideration. You can use websites like Kelley Blue Book or the National Automobile Dealers Association to research the current prices for new and used cars in your area.

Step 3. Get approved for financing online

It’s important to get preapproved for an auto loan before you actually go shopping. Getting preapproved for a loan does not mean you have to take the financing; rather, it helps you stay within your budget and gives you a bargaining chip in negotiations.

You can easily get preapproved for an auto loan online through websites like LendingTree, which is the parent company of MagnifyMoney. Using our auto loan marketplace, you can fill out one online form and potentially get offers from several auto lenders at once, depending on your creditworthiness. It’s also a good idea to check around with local banks and credit unions, which may offer deals locally.

You’ll generally need a high credit score to qualify for the best auto financing offers. If you don’t have a high credit score, you will likely be preapproved for a loan, but it may come with higher interest rates. If you’re outright denied for a preapproved loan, you may need to consider shopping elsewhere or waiting a little while so you can take steps to increase your credit score.

If you are qualified for preapproval, the lender will give you a preapproval letter. Make sure to keep a copy of this letter, and bring it with you when it comes time to negotiate a price on the car you’ve chosen.

Step 4. Choose the right source

Once you get to this point in the process, it’s time to cast your net and see what cars are out there.

One place to look is AutoTempest, a comprehensive website that searches several websites, including Craigslist, for specific makes and models. If you’re looking for one particular brand, don’t overlook your local dealership’s website. Other possible websites to go to scope out cars include:

We also made a list of the best online car-buying sites that you can check out to help you in your search.

With the power of the internet, the whole world (or at least the whole country) can be your virtual car lot. If you’re able to travel to pick up your new vehicle, you might be able to save a trunkful of cash by broadening your search.

For example, if you live in a snowy climate and are looking for an all-wheel drive car, you might try looking in a warmer area. “There might be better incentives on all-wheel drive cars in, say, Arizona than in the Northeast where they got a lot of snow,” said DeLorenzo.

Step 5. Get quotes

Once you’ve identified your targets, the next step is to find out how much they’ll cost. You’ll negotiate your final price in the next step, but this step sets a starting point.

Contact the dealership directly and ask for a quote for each vehicle you’re interested in. It’s important to do this as the price may have changed or the vehicle may have been sold. But perhaps the main reason this is crucial to do is so dealers will be motivated to give you a better price than what’s online, and it puts the starting line for negotiations much closer to the finish line.

Email or call the dealership and ask for their internet sales manager, as this is the person you’ll work with through the negotiation process. Give them the VIN or stock number of the vehicle you’re interested in and ask for a quote. Then, ask them to email it to you so you have it in writing.

It sometimes can be difficult to get a dealership to quote a price, but it’s important to insist that dealers give a price estimate for the make, model and year. If quote collecting isn’t your thing, you also can hire a service to do this for you, such as CarBargains. For $250 and a detailed description of what you’re looking for, CarBargains will collect at least five different dealership quotes for you.

Collecting these quotes gives you the bargaining power you need to negotiate prices down as low as possible in the next step.

Step 6. Time to negotiate

Ah, the dreaded negotiation. Since you’ve already gone through all of the steps to be an informed consumer, negotiating your price will be a much smoother process. Specifically, you’ll be negotiating the price of three separate items: vehicle price, financing cost and trade-in value.

Vehicle price

This is the most important piece. You can — and should — present the offers you’ve received in the prior step. Did someone offer $12,500? Show that emailed quote to another dealer and ask if they can lower their price to $12,000. Car dealerships are usually very easy to negotiate with online.

“If you think about it from an efficiency point of view, an online salesperson can be working more deals at one time than somebody on the floor who’s physically with one person,” said DeLorenzo. “Sometimes it’s actually more cost-effective for the dealer to sell it through or do a lot of the negotiation online.”

Car salespeople will often try to upsell you on add-ons when negotiating the price for a car. “They may say, ‘Well this will only cost you 10 bucks more a month.’ Well, yeah, and that’s $120 over a year. Over five years that’s $600, $700. You can’t let bells and whistles cloud your judgment,” said DeLorenzo.

Stick to the basic total numbers, not the monthly payment, and don’t let yourself get distracted.

Trade-in price

Chances are that you already have a car that you want to trade in to help defray your costs. Most dealerships will accept trade-ins, but be warned: You will probably get much less than if you shop around for trade-in prices on your own.

Websites like Kelley Blue Book allow you to find a fair trade-in price for your vehicle. In addition, you can use a tool on Kelley Blue Book’s website called “Instant Cash Offer” to get bids from dealers on your car.

“The beauty of having something like that is that it sets a floor for what your car is worth,” said DeLorenzo. “You’ll know you’ll get at least that much in trade or in an outright purchase, and that’s important leverage to have when you’re negotiating a new car deal.”

Additionally, you can try selling your car yourself through sites like Craigslist. Generally, going this route will net you your best price for your old car, although this may take more time and energy than simply driving onto a car lot with your old car and driving off with a new one. Here’s more on what to know before you trade in your car.

Financing cost

The final piece of the puzzle is how you’re going to pay for your new car. Since you’ve already taken the time to be preapproved for an auto loan, this step should be simple.

Show the dealer your preapproval letter and ask them if they can beat it. If so, great. If not, then you know you’ve already secured the best auto financing deal possible.

Step 7. Making the final purchase online

Once you’ve lined up the three pieces of the puzzle — the lowest car price, the lowest financing price and the highest trade-in value — it’s time to make your decision. Most dealerships still require you to physically come in to complete the final paperwork signing. However, that’s beginning to change.

“Savvy dealers are beginning to digitize as much of that kind of paperwork [as possible], to just make it easier to buy a car from them,” said DeLorenzo. “It works out better for them, too. I mean, if they’re able to get you in and out quicker, they can sell more cars quicker.”

But as far as completing the entire purchase process online? “I think there are dealers who are willing to do that,” DeLorenzo said. “The question is, do you want to do that?”

For now, you’ll likely still need to do some of the physical aspects of buying a car, such as taking it for a test-drive, in person. Perhaps someone will invent a virtual test-drive machine in the future!

Part III: Staying safe while shopping for cars online

Luckily, outright scams aren’t too common when it comes to buying cars online, according to Gillis. Many car dealers are subject to consumer-friendly regulation by the Federal Trade Commission. Still, there are some things to be aware of when shopping for cars online.

Beware the bait-and-switch

One situation that Gillis has seen involves a bait-and-switch technique when consumers arrive at the dealership to complete the purchase after negotiating everything online.

“You’ve got it all squared away. You get to the dealership to close the deal, and all of a sudden, ‘Oh my gosh. I can’t believe it, someone just came in and bought that car, but we have another one here that actually has a few better features on it, and it’s just the color you wanted, and it’s only gonna cost you $20 more per month,’” Gillis said.

If this happens to you, be prepared to walk away from the dealership as they’re likely just trying to weasel more money out of you.

Get an inspection from an independent mechanic

If you’re buying a used car, whether at a dealership or from someone you found on Craigslist, you should absolutely get an inspection first. Everyone has heard horror stories about buying a lemon (or worse, being the person who bought the faulty car). The seller will surely tell you that the car is in perfect shape, but how do you really know? Getting an auto inspection by an independent mechanic is perhaps one of the best ways to protect yourself.

If you’re unable to take the car to your own mechanic, DeLorenzo recommends a service from AiM Certify. For as little as $129, you can book an independent mechanic anywhere in the country to travel to the dealership and perform an inspection for you. You’ll get back a full mechanical report complete with actual photos of the car.

Try before you buy

If you’re not happy with your choice, you may have wasted tens of thousands of dollars. That’s why it’s crucial to take a test drive before you commit.

“Most of the problems that consumers end up not liking about their vehicles could have been determined in a test-drive,” said Gillis. “For example, it’s hard to park, or the back seat really isn’t that comfortable, or the trunk really doesn’t hold that much, or when changing lanes, there’s a big blind spot in the back.”

Jenn Jones contributed to this article.

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Fact Checked By:Tom Sumrak

Reviewed By:Christina Gonzalez

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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Auto Loan, Reviews

Review: PenFed Auto Loans

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

If you’re looking to buy a car and need financing, the dealership isn’t your only option. Credit unions can be an attractive alternative as they’re motivated to set up good deals for their members. Pentagon Federal Credit Union is a perfect example as PenFed auto loan rates start as low as 2.14% for new vehicles and 2.99% for used. Rates dip even lower for qualified borrowers who purchase a vehicle through its car-buying service.

PenFed auto loan details

PenFed defines a new auto loan as one where you are the original owner and the vehicle is a 2018, 2019 or 2020 model. Used car loans are available for all model years up to 60 months while 72-month loans are available for autos from model years 2015 through 2020.

Refinance loans. If you have an existing auto loan, you could also refinance to access the same PenFed rates. The only difference is that you’re only allowed to finance up to 100% of the vehicle’s value, not 110% like a new or used auto loan.

Payment Saver loan. Finally, PenFed offers a Payment Saver program in which you take out a PenFed auto loan with a smaller monthly payment in exchange for a higher interest rate. At the end of this loan, you will still have an outstanding balloon payment which you will then need to pay off, refinance to another loan or cover by selling/trading in the vehicle.

 

New auto loan

Used auto loan

Payment Saver

APR range

2.14% to 17.99%

2.99% to 17.99%

Starts at 2.99% for new auto loans and 3.74% for used.

Loan amounts

$500 to $100,000

$500 to $100,000

$10,000 to $100,000

Loan terms

36 to 84 months

36 to 72 months

24 to 60 months

Credit requirements

Minimum credit score of 610

Minimum credit score of 610

Minimum credit score of 610

Maximum LTV

110%

110%

N/A

The fine print

At PenFed, the best rates and flexible loan amounts are available on the shortest terms. For example, if you want a 36-month PenFed new auto loan, the minimum amount can be $500 and the lowest possible APR is 2.49%. But if you want a 72-month new auto loan, the minimum amount must be at least $15,000 with a lowest possible APR of 3.99%.

Loan to value ratio: For all of its auto loans except for a refinance, PenFed Credit Union offers 110% LTV financing, meaning you can borrow more than the actual value of the vehicle to cover costs like tags, taxes and extended warranties. But be careful when borrowing more than your car is worth — you don’t want to become upside down in your auto loan.

PenFed Credit Union does not have geographic restrictions on its auto loans, which are available nationwide. Its Payment Saver program is not available for Smart cars, trucks and SUVs. PenFed Credit Union also doesn’t offer financing for other vehicles like boats, RVs or motorcycles.

PenFed’s car-buying service

You could shop for an auto loan and the vehicle itself through PenFed Credit Union’s car-buying service. Through its website, you can search an online database of both new and used vehicles from dealers certified by car-buying firm TrueCar.

To use this program:

  1. First, search local listings online.
  2. If you find a vehicle you like, fill out a contact form to get in touch with a certified dealer.
  3. Set up your PenFed Credit Union financing.
  4. Test-drive the car at the dealership and, if you’re happy with it, sign the paperwork to complete the purchase.
  5. Report your purchase to take advantage of additional benefits.

Pros and cons of PenFed’s car-buying service

PenFed says members who use this service save an average $3,350 off a new car’s MSRP. But the biggest advantage might be a lower APR: as low as 1.49% for PenFed’s new auto loan and 1.99% for its used auto loan, a full 1% lower than its standard rates. You would also be eligible for additional benefits including $1,000 to cover insurance deductibles if you’re in an accident.

Downsides are that you’re restricted to TrueCar’s listings at specific dealers that do not guarantee that you’ll receive the lowest possible price. It’s possible you could get a lower price on your own at dealers of your choosing. But if you’ve done your research on your car, compare it with the price you receive through PenFed Credit Union.

How to apply for an auto loan with PenFed

Since PenFed is a credit union, you need to be a member to use its loans. However, you can apply for a new or used auto loan first to find out what they’d offer before you join. For the refinance and the Payment Saver program, you need to be a member to receive an offer, but you can sign up at the same time as your loan application.

Here’s how it works: Apply using PenFed’s online application. The application will ask for:

  • Amount you’re trying to borrow
  • Your income
  • Your outstanding debts
  • Your Social Security number (to pull up your credit score)
  • Your address and other contact information.

Preapproval: If you’ve been a member of PenFed Credit Union for more than 90 days, you may be eligible for a preapproved auto loan. Getting preapproved let’s you know how much you could borrow before you start looking at vehicles. Once you submit your application, PenFed may be able to make an instant decision but it can also take up to 48 hours to review everything.

To help you plan for your loan, you could use the PenFed auto loan calculator to punch in information about your loan: amount, down payment, interest rate and your trade-in value to arrive at your approximate monthly payment and how much you’d owe in interest. You could also use our auto loan affordability calculator to start with your preferred monthly payment and work backward to a car price that fits your budget.

Can anyone join PenFed Credit Union?

Because PenFed Credit Union has an open national membership charter, anyone can join from anywhere in the country.

When you sign up for Pentagon Federal Credit Union membership, the online application will present you with a number of options for how you can qualify:

  • Past or present military service
  • If you work or are part of a list of accepted employers and organizations
  • You live in one of PenFed’s covered locations
  • You have a family member who is part of PenFed Credit Union

If one of the above doesn’t apply to you, you can make a $15 donation to join Voices for America’s Troops or a $17 donation to join the National Military Family Association to qualify for PenFed membership.

As part of setting up Pentagon Federal Credit Union membership, you’ll need to open one of its savings/share accounts with a balance of at least $5. It’s a free account that does not charge a monthly maintenance fee. This applies even if you just want to take out a loan. You also may need to provide your driver’s license, Social Security card and a recent utility bill so PenFed can verify your identity.

Pros and cons of financing through PenFed

PenFed auto loans can go as low as 2.14%, even 1.49% if you use its auto-buying service. That’s highly competitive even by credit union standards. However, you need excellent credit to qualify for its best rates. PenFed’s minimum loan term is 36 months for a new or used auto loan — you can’t take a shorter loan than that.

Pros

Competitive interest rates – PenFed rates go as low as 2.14% for new auto loans, well below the average auto loan rate of 5.66% for borrowers with the best credit.

Better deals through its auto-buying service – If you use the PenFed car-buying service, not only could you save money on your vehicle purchase, you could also qualify for a substantial discount on your auto loan APR.

Easy online application – There’s no application fee and you can apply for PenFed auto loans online. For its new and used auto loans, you can also apply without being a credit union member and only join if you like its offer.

110% LTV – PenFed auto loans can go up to 110% of the vehicle value, so you can borrow extra to cover other costs like tags and taxes.

Cons

Tougher credit score requirements – PenFed Credit Union only accepts people with a minimum credit score of 610 for its auto loans, and you may need over 800 to get the best rates.

Membership required – If you aren’t a PenFed Credit Union member, you’ll need to join and open one of its savings accounts before you can take out an auto loan. This may require donating to charity if you can’t qualify for another reason like your military service.

Limited online/phone support – There is no live chat option online and the phone system can be a bit tricky for non-members. We were eventually able to get to a live person, but it took several attempts.

PenFed vs. Navy Federal Credit Union

Navy Federal Credit Union is a close competitor to PenFed as they both have strong ties to military servicemembers and their families. When it comes to auto loans, Navy Federal Credit Union is another excellent choice. Its starting APRs and loan terms are nearly identical to PenFed and it also offers a car-buying program to help you find good deals.

Pros of Navy Federal: One key difference is that Navy Federal Credit Union has a wider range of vehicle loans. Besides auto loans, it offers motorcycle, boat and RV loans while these are not available at PenFed.

Cons of Navy Federal: On the other hand, qualifying for membership at Navy Federal Credit Union is more difficult. You are only eligible based on your past/present military service, because you work for the DOD or because a relative is a member. PenFed does not have these restrictions and everyone can use its products. Also, Navy Federal’s car-buying service does not offer a discount on its loans, like the one at PenFed.

If you are eligible for both credit unions, it may be worthwhile applying for an auto loan with each one. Neither charges an application fee so there’s no cost to see who would come up with the best deal for your financing.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Advertiser Disclosure

Auto Loan, Reviews

The Best Auto Loans: 2020 New & Used Car Loan Rates

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Just because cars are getting more expensive, it doesn’t mean your car loan has to break the bank. Car debt and car payments have been hitting new highs recently, so it’s more important than ever that you do your research for the best rate. To that end, we researched the best auto loans of 2020, whether you’re purchasing or refinancing, or if you’re a credit union loyalist or an online-only type of shopper.

Monthly payments for a $10,000 loan at 3.49% APR with a term of 3 years would result in 36 monthly payments of $292.98.

Overview of the best auto loans in 2020

Company

APR Range

Term

Amounts

Best for Comparison Shopping

No. 1

LendingTree

As low as 3.49%

24 - 84

$5,000 - $300,000

SEE OFFERS Secured

on LendingTree’s secure website

LendingTree is our parent company

Best Purchase

Top Credit

LightStream

3.49% - 10.84%*

24 - 84*

$5,000 - $100,000

APPLY NOW Secured

on Lightstream’s secure website

Fair Credit

Capital One

As low as 3.39%

36 - 84

$4,000 Minimum

SEE OFFERS Secured

on LendingTree’s secure website

Best Credit Union

No. 1

PenFed

2.14% - 17.99%

36 -84

$500 - $100,000

LEARN MORE Secured

on PenFed Credit Union secure website

No. 2

Navy Federal CU

As low as 1.79%

12 - 96

$250 Minimum, No Maximum

LEARN MORE Secured

on Navy Federal Credit Union secure website

Best Online-Only Lender

No. 1

Carvana Auto Loan

NA

12 - 72

Any vehicle on website

SEE OFFERS Secured

on LendingTree’s secure website

How we picked the best auto loan rates

Using information from LendingTree, we compiled auto loan data over a six-month period across 31 auto lenders. We analyzed new and used auto lending, as well as refinance loans, selecting lenders from among those that consumers chose most often and offered the lowest average APRs.

Start with LendingTree

LendingTree
APR

As low as
3.49%

Terms

24 To 84

months

Fees

Varies

SEE OFFERS Secured

on LendingTree’s secure website

LendingTree is our parent company

Advertiser Disclosure

LendingTree is our parent company. LendingTree is unique in that they allow you to compare multiple, auto loan offers within minutes. Everything is done online. LendingTree is not a lender, but their service connects you with up to five offers from auto loan lenders based on your creditworthiness.


Advertised rate is for new and used auto loans for 36 month term.

With LendingTree, you can fill out one short online form, and there are dozens of lenders ready to compete for your business. Upon completing the form, you can see real interest rates and approval information instantly. Some auto lenders will do a hard pull on your credit and this is common with auto lending. It’s important to remember, multiple hard pulls will only count as one pull, so the best strategy is to have all your hard pulls done at one time.

Best purchase for top credit: LightStream

LightStream
APR

3.49%
To
10.84%

Terms

24 To 84

months

Fees

No Origination Fee

APPLY NOW Secured

on Lightstream’s secure website

Advertiser Disclosure

*Your APR may differ based on loan purpose, amount, term, and your credit profile. Rate is quoted with AutoPay discount, which is only available when you select AutoPay prior to loan funding. Rates without AutoPay may be higher. Subject to credit approval. Conditions and limitations apply. Advertised rates and terms are subject to change without notice. Payment example: Monthly payments for a $10,000 loan at 3.49% APR with a term of 3 years would result in 36 monthly payments of $292.98.

LightStream is the online-only division of SunTrust Bank, which recently merged with BB&T. It offers auto loans for people with good to great credit (660-plus). It even has a Rate Beat Program in which LightStream will offer a rate 0.10 percentage points lower than the rate offered by a competing lender.

Its lowest rates assume you will enroll in AutoPay, which automatically deducts your monthly payment from your bank account or charges it to your credit card. Enrolling in AutoPay means a 0.50% APR discount; if you do not enroll in AutoPay when you accept the loan offer, your APR will increase by 0.50%.

Best purchase for fair credit: Capital One

Capital One
APR

3.39%
To
11.25%

Terms

36 To 84

months

Fees

No Origination Fee

SEE OFFERS Secured

on LendingTree’s secure website

Capital One is one of the largest banks in the U.S., and offers rates competitive with other large lenders. It has several hundred branch locations and works with more than 12,000 dealerships. It also offers pre-qualification with the Capital One Auto Navigator, which can help you to find a car and get approved for a car loan before going to a dealer.

However, it may offer a relatively low maximum amount you could borrow, up to $40,000 in the past ( spokesperson recently declined to provide a maximum). Other lenders offer up to $100,000 auto loans.

Best credit union auto loan: PenFed Credit Union

PenFed Credit Union
APR

3.99%
To
17.99%

Terms

49 To 60

months

Fees

No Origination Fee

PenFed Credit Union can offer its membership some of the lowest rates available on new and used auto financing and refinancing. Qualified borrowers may be able to finance up to 110% of the vehicle’s value.

However, because PenFed is a credit union, you must be a member before accepting a loan. But wile the credit union has historical ties to the U.S. military, the only requirement to become a member is to have a valid Social Security number or a Tax Identification Number (TIN).

Runner-up for best credit union auto loan: Navy Federal Credit Union

Navy Federal Credit Union
APR

1.79%
To
17.99%

Terms

12 To 96

months

Fees

No Origination Fee

Navy Federal Credit Union also has some of the lowest auto loan rates available. Its prices for auto loan add-ons, such as GAP insurance, are also very low. However, you will have to have ties to the U.S. military to join Navy Federal.

Best online-only lender: Carvana

Carvana
APR

3.00%
To
6.00%

Terms

12 To 72

months

Fees

No Origination Fee

SEE OFFERS Secured

on LendingTree’s secure website

Carvana may be enticing for people who want to do the entire car-buying process online. It offers used cars as well as financing for those cars, but only those cars — you could not finance a car you bought from another seller with Carvana.

The average APR in the six-month period we examined was nearly 12%, higher than the average 9.6% for used vehicles, but Carvana financing may be a possibility for those with fair credit. Its auto loan calculator lists “below average” credit scores of 588, but it doesn’t have a credit score option lower than that.

Understanding the auto loan process

Most people apply for an auto loan through a dealership after they’ve picked out a vehicle, but there’s a smarter way to go. Dealers tend to make more money setting up auto loans than selling cars. Here are some tips to help you keep your money in your account by obtaining your own auto loan.

Tips when shopping for a car loan

Know what you can afford. You’re going to pay more for a car than what’s on the car’s price sticker. Government taxes, dealership fees and auto insurance can have a sizable impact on what you pay. MagnifyMoney suggests following a 50/30/20 rule when setting your budget.

Don’t let the dealer be the middleman. Dealers often raise customer auto loan APRs for their own profit. One of the best things to do is to apply to a few lenders directly, without the dealership being in the middle, so you know what APR you deserve.

Apply to a few lenders. It does not hurt your credit to apply to several auto lenders any more than it does to apply to one, as long as you do all applications within a 14-day window. You are not obligated to accept any of the loan offers you get and most are good for at least 30 days.

Consider a cosigner. If your credit score or income is low, a cosigner could make a big difference on your being approved for an auto loan and in getting a good auto loan offer.

Get a preapproval. This way, if you know you qualify for a 4% APR auto loan, you’re not likely to accept a dealership offer of a 7% APR auto loan. And if you have a preapproved auto loan when you walk into the dealership, you could even ask the dealer to beat the rate you got.

Finalize the loan offer. Once you choose a car, contact the lender with the car’s information to finalize the loan offer. And if it suits you, follow the lender’s directions regarding how to sign off on the loan.

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