Trying to get affordable auto financing when you have bad credit can feel like driving on a road full of potholes. But there are some things a consumer can do that could make getting that loan less stressful and more successful; make a larger down payment, obtain your financing through a bank or credit union, or improve your credit score. Read more and learn the strategies and tactics that may make the process easier and drive away satisfied.
Need directions to get a car loan with bad credit? Read on:
What is bad credit for and auto loan
How a bad credit score can affect car loan payments
How to improve your chances of getting a car loan with bad credit
Where to find an auto loan with bad credit
What to be aware of when applying for an auto loan with bad credit
What you can do to make a bad credit score better
How to monitor your credit with TransUnion®
Auto loan financing standards vary, but in general many lenders define a bad credit score as someone with a score in the low 600s or below. For instance, Toyota Direct states that credit scores less than 660 are considered non-prime and credit scores less than 600 are considered “sub-prime”.
VantageScore® 3.0 puts credit ranges, from 300 to 850, into several buckets (see graphic below).
Note: Ranges below can help you track your credit score goals, but they don’t necessarily indicate if you will or won’t be approved for credit.
But your credit score will most likely be only one factor in determining your creditworthiness.
Your payment history, overall debt amount, and income level may also play a role in the final lending decision. Auto lenders likely will consider DTI (debt-to-income) and PTI (payment-to-income) metrics as part of their loan-making process.
Although a bad credit score is a prime indicator of credit risk, there are steps you may take to improve it in the eyes of a lender.
You can save a lot of money by moving your credit score in the right direction because you’ll be able to get a lower interest rate. Let’s look at a hypothetical example of how your score impacts your auto loan rate, monthly payment and total interest paid.
If you financed a new car with a $25,000 loan for 60 months, you’d pay:
As you can see, a few interest rate points can really add up in higher payments and total interest costs over the life of the loan. In this example, if you were to move your credit score from poor (15% rate) to excellent (5% rate), you could rack up huge savings. You could expect to save over $7,000 dollars in interest on this loan amount.
Note: Increasing your credit score substantially won’t happen overnight. Consistent good credit habits over time may help you achieve a healthier credit history. As you improve your credit profile, your score may improve.
Improving your credit takes time, and there is rarely a quick fix. If you need a car right away, the following may be some avenues to pursue to help better your chances at a lower rate or more agreeable terms that fit your current financial situation:
A car dealership isn’t the only way to finance a new or used car. It’s possible to finance your car through other lenders such as a credit union, online lender or a traditional bank. But which is the best option if you have a bad credit score? Let’s look at your options:
These options are typically available when you shop for a loan at a car dealer.
Pro Tip: It can be beneficial to shop around to get the best car loan interest rate. Lenders will not assess your credit risk the same. Thus, interest rates you get quoted can vary from lender to lender.
You may be able to get a better rate than through a dealership by exploring these options:
When you actively begin the process of either shopping for an auto loan through a dealer or one of the other options outlined above, do your best to limit the number of loan applications you fill out. Applications for new credit are called “hard inquiries” on your credit report and are a factor in determining your credit score. Submitting many new applications for credit could have a negative impact on your score.
Pro Tip: Be sure you bunch your applications for an auto loan in a short period of time. Applications for credit are typically reported as hard inquiries on your credit report. Numerous hard inquiries at once can appear as if you are taking out a lot of credit, which makes you higher risk to lenders and could ding your credit score. But the credit reporting agencies treat multiple applications for a specific loan type as one inquiry. VantageScore® uses a 14-day grace period where all hard inquiries are treated as just one credit pull. Shortening the window of your loan search could reduce the impact to your credit score.
First, you’ll need to get access to your credit reports from all three credit bureaus to begin understanding your overall credit health. You can get weekly online access to all three of your credit reports from TransUnion, Equifax and Experian at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Understand that a credit score is more than a number. Your credit score is a numerical representation of your credit activity and history that’s contained in your credit report.
Note: Not all credit reports are the same, as not all lenders will report to all three credit bureaus.
A credit report contains information about a consumer’s past and present credit accounts. It identifies accounts that are in good standing and accounts that are late. It will show account balances due and payment history. The report also calls out negative accounts with late payments, or debts significantly in arrears that have been sent to a collection agency.
The main parts of a credit report include:
The Personal Information section shows information like name and current address, and it may show recent employment history. The Public Records section will include bankruptcies.
Names and contact information of firms that have issued you credit can be found in the Account Information section. If you have failed to make timely payments, then it will show up in the Accounts with Adverse Information section.
Pro Tip: Be sure to examine this area closely to make sure the information is correct. You can dispute accounts are inaccurate or result from fraudulent activity.
Satisfactory Accounts summarize revolving credit accounts and installment loans that are current and in good standing. An installment loan is debt you will consistently pay back over a period of time, such as a mortgage or car loan. Revolving accounts give access to available credit that can be used as needed such as a credit card.
The Collections section calls out accounts that are significantly overdue. It includes accounts a creditor has sent to an agency to collect debts. Collection information can include information such as name of the collection agency, account type, original creditor, original balance of collection and current amount owed.
As you make a thorough review of your credit report, check for any personal or account information and inquiries that are unfamiliar to you. Unusual inquiries might be signs of fraud or they could have been inaccurately reported. Make sure to dispute any inquiries you don't believe you initiated, as too many inquiries may be viewed negatively by creditors and may negatively impact your score.
For more details and tips on how to read your credit report and understand the impact the information in it can have on your credit health, check out this interactive guide from TransUnion.
Pro Tip: Check the accuracy of late payments or delinquencies, as they can have a negative impact on your credit score. If you find something inaccurate, you can dispute it online for free. Dispute investigations can take up to 30 days, so review your report and start a dispute well before you start applying for loans.
Your credit score is ultimately a reflection of how well you manage your credit. There are many different scoring models; each model and its accompanying versions may weigh scoring factors differently. When you get an online credit score directly from TransUnion, it’s a VantageScore® 3.0 credit score.
As the graphic shows above, payment history, age and mix of credit and credit utilization make up a large majority of a credit score. Let’s briefly touch on those aspects.
Payment history (40%) is the biggest credit score factor. Consistently making on-time payments for your accounts can help you build and maintain a healthy credit history.
Credit mix and age (21%) is another important factor to examine. It evaluates average age of your accounts and the different types of accounts you have. Having a long history of credit with a diverse mix of accounts can help your score.
Another key element is credit utilization (20%), which is how much of your available credit limit you’re using. Lenders may evaluate utilization rate to determine creditworthiness, with the higher the utilization rate, the riskier the borrower is typically seen. Try to reduce your overall debt and get your credit utilization rate at or below 30%.
Note: Closing accounts can affect your credit score, but the impact can vary depending on several factors. Be careful when closing a longstanding account, as your credit score could drop. That’s because as your total available credit decreases relative to current reported balances, your utilization goes higher. Also there is an impact on overall credit age if you close a long-standing account which can lower your credit score.
Pro-tip: If you’ve used a credit card for some time and pay off your balances, then you may want to consider asking for a credit limit increase. Why? This move can be beneficial because it raises available credit and can help you to keep your credit utilization lower more easily.
While there isn’t a quick fix to improve a bad credit score significantly in the short run, it can make sense to look at ways to improve your score out into the future that can help you get ahead in life and save you time and money. One way is to check your free annual credit report to check for any inaccuracies. Another option is to get year-round credit score and report monitoring.
TransUnion Credit Monitoring gives you frequent access to your credit history, so you can check your credit report as often as you like. It watches your credit reports and alerts you whenever there are critical changes to any of your accounts, such as new accounts being opened in your name, a credit card balance increase, or negative information like a late payment reported by one of your creditors. This helps you stay on track to maintain a healthy credit.
Don’t let bad credit stop you from getting a good car loan. While it can prove challenging to shop for a new car with less than sterling credit, there are steps you can take to make the process easier.
You can still secure a loan that may be right for you. Do your research on lenders you are considering. If possible, get pre-qualified with some lenders to compare rates. Run through scenarios with a loan calculator to estimate the kind of monthly payments you could expect with various loan terms.
Try to save money for a down payment. By making a bigger down payment, you can lower the loan-to-value ratio and may make it more likely to get access to financing and better terms.
Some other things to keep in mind:
Being prepared and knowing what to expect can make the entire car buying process much smoother for those with bad credit. Use these suggested tips and tactics to help get you into the driver’s seat and cruise into the future with confidence.