What Credit Score Is Needed to Buy a Car?

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Updated on Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Credit score to buy a car
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If you want to buy a car, you can probably find someone willing to sell you one and give you a loan, regardless of your credit score. But you might be shocked when you see what it will cost you. Car buyers who need a loan and don’t have a good credit score often end up paying more — a lot more.

Even if you have an average or better credit score, exactly how good it is can dramatically affect how much you pay to finance your car.

Fortunately, by learning about credit scores and how they affect your car loan, you can take steps to make sure you always get your best deal. Read on to learn how.

Buying a car? What’s your credit score?

The better your score, the better the auto loan deal you can get. That’s because if you have a proven track record of borrowing money and paying it as promised, lenders aren’t taking a big chance giving you a loan. They might even compete for your business by offering you low interest rate loans.

If your payment history is sketchier, you’re a riskier bet in the eyes of prospective lenders. You may quit paying, and they’ll have to take steps to collect. Lenders expect compensation for extra risk in the form of higher interest rates.

This chart shows how much your credit score can affect the amount you pay to finance your car.

Average Car Loan Rates by Credit Score, Third Quarter, 2018

Credit Score RangeNew Car LoanUsed Car Loan
781 to 8503.68%4.34%
661 to 7804.56%5.97%
601 to 6607.52%10.34%
501 to 60011.89%16.14%
300 to 50014.41%18.98%
Source: Experian

Do auto lenders use the same credit score as other lenders?

Credit bureaus offer a wide variety of credit scores to help meet lenders’ needs. Because auto lenders place more importance on certain credit information, such as your history of making car payments, the credit score an auto lender sees may be slightly different from the score pulled by other lenders.

What else do auto lenders look at besides my credit score?

Auto lenders look at several factors in addition to your credit history and credit score. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), they’ll also consider how much income you have, your existing debt load, the amount of the loan you are applying for, the loan term (how long it will take you to pay it back), your down payment as a percentage of the vehicle value, and the type and age of the vehicle you are purchasing.

The most important things car lenders consider when you apply for a loan, however, are your credit score and credit history. “You can even get a car loan when you are unemployed, provided you have a down payment and money in the bank,” said Nishank Khanna, chief marketing officer at Clarify Capital, a business lending firm in New York City.

How can I increase my odds of getting a low-interest car loan?

If you want to get the best deal on a loan, follow these steps before you go to the dealership:

  1. Check your credit report before you look for a car. According to Experian, you should check your credit report at least three to six months before you make a major purchase. This gives you time to correct any mistakes on your report, if needed.
  2. Try to improve your score, if needed. One quick way to pump up your credit score is to lower your utilization rate, preferably by paying down your consumer debt. Even if you’ve never missed a payment, your credit score suffers if you’re using too much of your available credit when lenders report to the credit bureaus. Alternatively, you can ask for a credit limit increase, and instantly improve your utilization rate. (Just don’t use that available credit, or you’ll be worse off than before.)
  3. Avoid making major purchases or applying for other new credit right before you want a car loan. Applying for credit creates “hard inquiries” on your credit report, which can temporarily ding your score. In addition, new debt can change your debt-to-available-credit ratio, or increase your debt load.
  4. Know what you can afford. “Always get a car that you can realistically afford in terms of the car payments, not necessarily what you would like to have,” Khanna said. Stick to your decision, no matter how persuasive the salesperson can be.
  5. Find a cosigner, if necessary. If you have just entered the workforce, for example, you may not have a significant credit history. “You may need to have someone cosign your loan to get a decent interest rate,” Khanna said. A cosigner can be a parent, sibling or even a friend. The cosigner will be liable for the debt if you don’t pay, so make sure you can comfortably make the payments, and that you won’t put the cosigner’s finances at risk if something goes wrong.
  6. Shop around. Sure, it’s easy to apply for a car loan at the dealership. But you probably don’t buy cars without shopping around. Why would you sign up for a car loan at the first place you go? You can even find a good deal and get preapproved for a car loan. As a car buyer, it is wise to make sure that you are getting the best deal that you can qualify for. Consider starting your search with LendingTree, our parent company.  On LendingTree, you can fill out an online form and receive up to five potential auto loan offers from lenders at once, instead of filling out five different lender applications.

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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.

Avoid dealerships that advertise “no credit check” or “buy here, pay here.” These dealerships specialize in sales to buyers with poor or no credit and make their own in-house loans. According to the CFPB, you may not only pay high interest rates to places that specialize in buyers with poor credit, but you may pay thousands of dollars more for your car than you would elsewhere. If these are the only dealerships where you can get a loan, consider walking away.

“If your credit score is less than 500, you may be better off getting a car you can afford to buy outright with cash,” Khanna said. You can always get a nicer car when your credit improves.

While you’re comparing car loans, remember to pay attention to the total cost of financing your car. Your interest rate is just one factor in determining your total interest expense. You can also reduce your interest cost by making a larger down payment, paying off your car sooner, and by purchasing a less expensive car.

You have plenty to think about when you’re shopping for a car. You shouldn’t have to worry about your loan at the same time you’re checking out features and searching car lots. Get a head start on financing, before you go shopping, and you’ll have one less thing to worry about while you test drive your next car.

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