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What Credit Score Is Needed To Buy A Car

What Credit Score Is Needed To Buy A Car?

what credit score is needed to buy a car

If you have bad credit, you probably already know that financing major purchases isn’t easy. The good news is that it’s possible to buy a car with almost any credit score. Unfortunately, buying a car with bad credit will be significantly more challenging. 

Before you start the process of buying a car, you should do some research. Being informed on how your credit score factors into the process can help you understand which obstacles you’re likely to face and what your options are. 

Here’s everything you need to know about buying a car with bad credit. 

Why do they care about your credit score?

The majority of people can’t purchase a car entirely in cash. Instead, you finance your vehicle purchase with an auto loan. When you apply for a car loan, your credit history and credit score will be pulled to determine if you’ll be approved for the loan—and with what terms. 

Your credit score is generally a reflection of how responsible you are with credit. When it comes to getting a car loan, your credit score indicates, to some extent, how much you can be trusted with the loan. 

If you have poor credit, you’ll likely be forced to take a loan intended for those with bad credit. Typically, those with poor credit end up paying more over the life of a loan because they get a worse annual percentage rate (APR) and higher fees.

This is because a person with poor credit has potentially shown a history of making late payments or defaulting on loans. Lenders offset this risk by charging higher interest rates, which allows them to earn their money back faster.

Also, lenders will typically have strict loan terms about missed or late payments for individuals with poor credit. Ultimately, your credit score can dictate what you pay to finance a car.  

What kind of auto loan can you get with your credit score?

On average, if you want to purchase a new car, you should aim to have a credit score of 715 or higher. Individuals with a score of 715 can expect to pay an APR of approximately 5.76 percent. A score of 662 will get you an interest rate of around 9.49 percent on a used car. 

If your credit score doesn’t align with these numbers, check out our more detailed blog post on average auto loan rates by credit scores.

Knowing your expected APR before applying for a car loan can help you understand your loan’s actual cost. After all, a $20,000 car can end up costing you $28,000 over the life of a high-interest loan. 

5 tips to help you when you want to buy a car

Here are five important tips to help you in the car-buying process, especially if you have a low credit score. 

1. Plan ahead

This is a major purchase, so you need to have a plan. Do your research and get an idea of where you want to go before you start shopping. Additionally, make sure you plan out your budget before you go into any dealerships.

It’s very easy to get swept up in the fun of purchasing a new vehicle, and a dealership will have no problem selling you something you can’t afford. By setting a budget and only selecting a few dealerships to go to, you limit the risk of entertaining options out of your price range. 

We recommend limiting the number of dealerships you visit to avoid too many hard inquiries as well—more on this below. 

You can also do research using sites like Kelley Blue Book to know generally what certain cars are worth. It’s a good idea to have a couple of preferred vehicle models in mind so you can stay on track during the buying process.

If you understand how much these cars are typically worth, you’ll know when a dealership is asking an unfair price, and you can walk away. 

2. Think about hard inquiries

A hard inquiry is when a lender pulls your credit file to check your credit history. While hard inquiries are necessary for lending, you need to be careful how often a hard inquiry is pulled on your report.

Every time a hard credit check happens, your credit score goes down a few points. If you have multiple hard inquiries back-to-back, your credit score can take a significant hit. 

Car salespeople have a track record for pushing people to start a credit application—even when they’re not ready. From the salesperson’s perspective, pulling your credit is advantageous. It can help verify that you’re a potential sale and that you have an interest in purchasing a car.

However, if you let this happen at three or four dealerships in a row, you can find yourself with a worse credit score than you started with. 

A solution to this is to ask for a preapproval rather than a hard inquiry check. A preapproval only requires a soft credit check and therefore doesn’t impact your credit score.

Once you have a few preapprovals, you can select the one you want to move forward with. Then, only that one dealership will run a hard inquiry. This leaves you with one hard credit check on your credit report rather than multiple. 

3. Know what’s on your credit report

You’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the national credit bureaus every year. Order all three of your credit reports and review the negative items for any errors.

If you have incorrect or unsubstantiated negative items on your report, they could pull down your credit score unfairly. You’ll want to dispute these errors and hopefully see your credit score go up before purchasing your car. 

The credit reports from the three major credit bureaus don’t usually include your credit score. Still, there are other sources where you can find out your credit score.

Even if you don’t know exactly what your score is, having a general idea will help you know what interest rates you might qualify for. Once you know where your credit stands, you can compare financing rates from banks versus the dealership. 

4. Know how you can potentially get a lower interest rate

Ultimately, the higher your interest rate, the more you’ll pay to finance your car. For example, let’s say you’re buying an $18,000 car on a five-year loan. Someone with a 3.5 percent interest rate will pay a total of $1,647 in interest over the life of the loan.

In comparison, an individual who is approved at a 5 percent interest rate will pay $2,381 extra. In this example, reducing your interest rate by 1.5 percent saves you over $730. 

Some of the ways you can try to get a lower interest rate include:

  • Working to build your credit score before you buy a new car
  • Using a cosigner with excellent credit
  • Planning on refinancing in the future
  • Negotiating with the lender (especially if you have a down payment)
  • Examining all your options—for example, look at leasing versus buying and rates for a used car versus a new car

5. Read all the paperwork

When you buy a car, you must read all the paperwork and know exactly what you’re signing up for. People with poor credit are often subjected to harsh loan terms.

This can include terms such as increasing the APR after a missed or late payment, or repossessing the car after a single missed payment. 

Individuals with poor credit are often the target of scams. A scammer knows you don’t have a lot of options, so they’ll try to take advantage of you. One popular car scam is known as the “yo-yo financing scam” or “spot financing.”

The dealer will tell you you’re able to take the car home even though your financing isn’t finalized. A few days later, the dealership calls to let you know they couldn’t complete the prearranged financing. You return and the dealership offers you a much higher rate on financing.

Often consumers in this situation feel attached to their car and will sign on the spot. You’ll have to protect yourself from scams by knowing your rights and reading the fine print. And remember: If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. 

How will an auto loan affect your credit?

An auto loan will be a part of your credit report, so it will impact your credit. If you’re responsible with your loan and make on-time payments, you can see a positive effect on your credit. However, if you ever miss a payment or make late payments, it can cause a drop in your credit score. 

Additionally, your auto loan will increase your credit mix (the types of credit you have), which can positively impact your credit.