Lenders consider your creditworthiness to determine your risk as a borrower. When seeking financing for a car, having a high credit score helps you access better loan options. Those with lower credit scores, on the other hand — typically 300–579 for FICO and 300–600 for VantageScore — have demonstrated that they haven't yet learned to manage credit responsibly and are, therefore, deemed higher-risk borrowers.
Nevertheless, getting approved for a car loan with bad credit is possible. But bear in mind that it may be difficult to get favorable terms. Make sure you compare interest rates and loan terms from multiple lenders.
Credit score requirements for car loans depend on the lender. Some may approve loan applications from borrowers with bad credit.
Your credit score is an important factor. It affects your chances of getting approved for a car loan and determines your loan terms.
While more challenging, you can still get a car loan with bad credit from banks, credit unions, dealerships and online lenders.
Why Your Credit Score Matters
Lenders consider credit scores when reviewing auto loan applications as it helps them determine how credible borrowers are when it comes to debt repayment. A person's credit score can also affect their interest rate and loan terms. The higher their credit score is, the better the loan offer.
Lenders set various eligibility requirements for borrowers. Some require a minimum credit score. Failure to meet this means you can’t qualify for that lender’s auto loan offers. That said, you may still find lenders that cater to borrowers with bad credit.
Lenders calculate interest rates based on different factors, including the length of debt repayment and the borrower’s creditworthiness. Borrowers who have bad credit scores typically get higher interest rates. To find more favorable offers, consider improving your credit score before applying for a car loan.
Since your credit score plays a crucial role in determining your interest rate, it also affects the amount you need to pay for the loan. With higher interest rates, you’ll likely have higher monthly payments.
How to Find Your Credit Score
Knowing your credit score before applying for a car loan can help you find the right lenders. You can use it to figure out if you qualify for a loan without going through the whole application process. You can get a copy of your credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com every year. There are also companies offering free credit scores.
Understanding Your Credit Score
Understanding your credit report can help you know how lenders use it to gauge your creditworthiness.
There are two types of credit scores widely used by lenders — FICO and VantageScore. Both use credit data and history to calculate scores.
- Payment History – 35%
- Amounts Owed – 30%
- Length of Credit History – 15%
- New Credit – 10%
- Credit Mix – 10%
- Payment History – 41%
- Depth of Credit – 20%
- Credit Utilization – 20%
- Recent Credit – 11%
- Balances – 6%
- Available Credit – 2%
Aside from your credit score, lenders also evaluate other factors. The most common considerations include:
- Income: If you’re applying for a car loan with bad credit, a high income may help you get better terms.
- Debt: Having multiple monthly payments and a high debt-to-income (DTI) ratio may result in higher interest rates or a denied application.
- Age of the vehicle: Your auto loan rate is also affected by the car you’re purchasing. Newer cars tend to have lower interest rates, while used and older cars have higher rates.
- Down payment: A large down payment may help you get better terms since you’ll need a lower loan amount. Lenders vary with regard to how they weigh various factors in their loan decisions. So there may be other factors that affect your loan terms.
Where to Get a Car Loan When You Have Bad Credit
When looking for an auto loan, it’s important to know which lenders offer the right products. Some lenders don’t accept borrowers with bad credit, while others do. Confirming whether a lender has a minimum credit requirement can save you time and money.
Here are some of the common places you need to check when trying to get a car loan with bad credit:
- Banks: Also known as traditional lenders, banks offer various loan options. If you already have a bank, you can start your search there. Ask them about auto loans and the offers you’re eligible to get. They may have better terms since you already have an established relationship with them.
- Credit unions: You may also consider credit unions, which are nonprofit institutions that offer financial services similar to banks. However, they only typically offer products to their members.
- Dealerships: Car dealerships also offer financing services to buyers. When buying a car, ask the dealership about their auto loan option. Make sure you check the terms first and compare them with other lenders.
- Online lenders: You may also find lenders online. Most of these loan providers include eligibility requirements and loan information on their websites. You may also complete the application process online.
Even with a poor credit score, there are multiple lending institutions you can choose from. Once you find the right lender, make sure you understand the loan terms to avoid unexpected fees and penalties.
Six Steps to Getting a Car Loan With Bad Credit
Lenders may have different application processes and qualification requirements. But you can start looking for an auto loan by taking the following steps.
Work on your credit score
The first thing you need to do is to check your credit score. This is a three-digit number calculated based on your credit data. It ranges from 300–850.
A poor FICO credit score is 300–579. VantageScore considers 300–499 as very poor and 500–600 as poor.
If you have bad credit, you may want to take extra steps to improve your score first. You can do this by paying your bills on time and trying to reduce your current debt load.
Shop and compare multiple lenders
Don’t take the first lender and loan offer you encounter. Comparing personalized quotes from various lenders can help you find the best possible terms and rates based on your circumstances.
You can start with your bank and/or credit union. Ask your car dealership as well. Checking out online lenders will give you more options. Some lenders also offer prequalification or pre-approval, which allows you to see an estimate of how much your total loan will be without a hard credit inquiry.
Look for the most favorable terms
Once you receive loan offers, compare the monthly payments and interest rates. Some lenders allow longer repayment terms, but you may end up paying more interest over time. Others may have shorter terms but larger monthly payments. Choose the loan with the lowest annual percentage rate (APR) over the shortest term for more manageable monthly payments.
Consider a co-signer
If you find it hard to get a car loan with bad credit, you may also consider having a co-signer. This is someone who agrees to take on the responsibility of paying the loan, interest and other penalties if you default on the loan.
Lenders will evaluate your co-signer’s creditworthiness to determine your loan terms. If your co-signer has a high credit score, you may get lower interest rates and monthly payments.
Seek other vehicle options
The vehicle you choose will also affect how much money you’ll need to borrow. Although you may already have a specific car in mind, it’s best to keep an open mind. Consider other vehicles that are more suitable for your budget. Depending on your financial situation and transportation needs, you may also consider leasing a car instead of taking out a loan.
One way of reducing your loan amount is to refuse unnecessary add-ons. Spend only on essential factors. Think twice before buying extra features and vehicle accessories. These can wait for when you’re in a better financial position.
Check the warranties too. Some may not be as essential as you think. For instance, rust-proofing may not be as advantageous if you get a new car as opposed to a used one.
If an auto loan requires you to buy an add-on to get approved, such as after-market services, it may be best for you to look for other options.
If you find the loan offer unmanageable, you may want to wait until you improve your score. But if you need the vehicle now, there are a few steps you can take to increase your odds of getting better terms.
- Make a Bigger Down Payment: By increasing your down payment, you’re lowering the amount you need to borrow. This may also give the lender assurance that you’re committed to repaying the loan.
- Opt for a Cheaper Car: Choosing a less expensive vehicle can reduce the amount you need to borrow.
- Consider Second-Chance Car Loans: These loans are meant for borrowers with bad credit who fail to get loans from conventional lenders. However, they tend to come with fees and high interest rates. Make sure to check the lender’s reputation and credibility.
How to Boost Your Credit Score
The best way to get favorable loan terms is to improve your credit. There is no one way to do this, either. Depending on your circumstances, there are various methods you can try.
Pay your bills
Payment history has a huge impact on your credit score. As much as possible, pay your monthly bills on time and in full. To avoid missed payments, consider setting up automatic payments for at least the minimum amount due.
If you have past-due accounts, start paying them off. Although late payments are recorded on your credit report, repaying them can stop additional damage to your credit history.
Become an authorized user
You can build your credit by being added as an authorized user on a credit card account of a friend or relative. The credit card account will be added to your credit report, which may help you with credit utilization. You don’t even have to use the card.
Ask for a limit increase
Having a higher credit limit on your credit card can help you decrease your credit utilization ratio, which is the percentage of your available credit you’re currently using.
Check for errors
When checking your credit report, look out for possible mistakes like payments recorded as late even though you paid on time or credit activities that aren’t yours.
Widen your credit mix
It may seem counterintuitive to get additional credit accounts when you have bad credit, but responsible use can help you improve your credit score.
If your credit is only composed of credit card accounts, you may want to give a low-cost loan reported to credit bureaus a try. If you only have loans in your history or few credit card accounts, consider getting a new credit card. A secured credit card may be a good option, especially if you have limited credit or are still new to credit-building. If you’re in debt and are trying to get out of it, a balance transfer credit card may be right for you.
Before getting more credit accounts, make sure you evaluate your financial situation first. Improper use may cause an even lower credit score.
Limit your applications
Opening new accounts can help you build your credit. However, it also comes with risks.
Keep in mind that financing institutions and credit card issuers may conduct a hard credit inquiry, which may cause your credit score to dip temporarily. Having multiple inquiries at a time can have a huge effect.
Keep track of your credit score
Regularly monitoring your credit score can help you plan the next steps you have to take. It also helps you see how your financial decisions affect your credit.
FAQs About Getting a Car Loan With Bad Credit
When it comes to buying a vehicle, your credit score plays an important role in determining your financing options. If you have a less-than-stellar credit score and aren't sure what options are available to you, learning the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions may help.
Read More About Auto Loans
About Christopher Boston
The content on this page is accurate as of the posting/last updated date; however, some of the rates mentioned may have changed. We recommend visiting the lender's website for the most up-to-date information available.
Editorial Disclosure: Opinions, reviews, analyses and recommendations are the author’s alone and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any bank, lender or other entity. Learn more about our editorial policies and expert editorial team.