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What Does Financing A Car Mean?

Financing a car means taking out a car loan for a certain amount of money that you pay back over time, with interest, at a monthly rate.

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Thinking about financing a car? Depending on your job and where you live, owning a car may be the easiest way to get around. But reliable vehicles can be expensive, which is where car financing comes in. We’ve reviewed several of the best auto loan providers and researched everything you need to know about the car financing process.

We’ll explain why you would finance a car, how car financing typically works, tips for finding the lowest interest rates, and recommend top lenders to get you started. Read on to learn everything you need to know about financing a car in 2022, and click below to start comparing rates from multiple lenders at

In This Review:

  • What is Financing a Car?
  • How Does Financing a Car Work?
  • How Credit Score Affects Financing A Car
  • Is Financing a Car a Good Idea?
  • Financing a Car Alternatives
  • Tips For Financing A Car
  • Financing a Car Meaning: Conclusion

What is Financing a Car?

Car financing is a type of loan. A financial institution will pay for a certain amount when you purchase the car, which you will be required to pay back, with interest, at a predetermined monthly rate. There are several important components to any auto loan:

  • Purchase price And Fees: The purchase price is the final agreed-upon cost of the car. Typically, the purchase price is set by a dealer but can be negotiated. On top of this price, you will also be required to pay taxes and other fees depending on the state and car dealership. Taken together, these represent the total cost of the car.
  • Down payment: Most auto loans do not pay for the entire cost of your vehicle. A typical down payment is 20 percent of the car’s total cost. The higher your down payment, the lower the amount you need to finance the car purchase. The more you can pay as a down payment, the better, as you will be charged interest on the remaining amount.
  • Annual Percentage Rate (APR) And Interest Rate: The annual percentage rate (APR) and interest rate represent the cost you pay to the finance company for borrowing its money. In car financing, these are two different things. The interest rate is the cost of borrowing the money for the loan without fees. The APR includes fees, so it is slightly higher. Most reputable lenders will advertise the APR to account for interest and fees.
  • Financing term length: Your financing term is the length of time it will take for you to pay off your auto loan, assuming that you meet all monthly payment obligations. The longer your finance term, the more you will ultimately pay. This is because the longer your loan remains unpaid, the longer you will accumulate interest. Try to pay off your loan as quickly as possible.

How Does Financing a Car Work?

How financing a car works is really simple. To finance a vehicle you fill out a credit application with information like your social security and income. Then, the lender will let you know if you are approved and if you are will give information about your interest rate and loan terms. After you finalize the sale, you set up payments through your bank to pay the lender throughout the lifetime of the loan.

Options For Financing a Car

Traditional options for financing a car include online lenders, banks, and dealerships. While there are several places to request car financing from, each has its benefits and downsides:

Option For Financing A CarHow It Works
Dealership financingMost dealerships offer vehicle financing, typically through third-party lending partners. This is the most convenient option, as you can compare multiple offers at the dealership and see if there are any special rates for certain vehicles. However, be aware that dealer loans may include high fees.
Bank financingWhile it may be more of a hassle to visit a separate location from where you will buy your car, local banks and credit unions can help work within your budget, won’t pressure you to buy, and will likely offer some of the best terms. Credit unions in particular are likely to be less predatory.
Online lender financingThe easiest way to browse financing offers is online. Many online lenders partner with dealerships so that you can prequalify for a loan and shop for eligible vehicles on the same website. However, there are a lot of online auto lenders out there, so you’ll need to look for one that’s credible.

So far, we’ve talked about financing a new or used car that you are purchasing for the first time. These are called purchase loans. There are other types of car financing in addition to these, including refinancing loans and lease buyouts.

Car Refinance Loans

People use refinancing loans to pay off their current auto loan and get a better interest rate, payment amount, or payment structure. Refinancing your current loan could be a good idea if you have paid for a couple of years and are in a better place financially than when you started the loan.

Many auto lenders offer both refinancing and purchase loans, but some specialize in refinancing entirely. The process for getting a refinance loan is similar to a purchase loan.

Lease Buyouts

Another type of car financing is a lease buyout. At the end of a car lease, you usually have the option to give it back or buy it. You can finance your lease buyout to pay off what you owe on the vehicle and set up a payment plan with a lender. Most dealerships accept lease buyout loans from reputable lenders.

When financing a car who has the title?

When you finance a car the lienholder or lender who you pay when getting a car loan is who holds the title to your car. Until the end of your loan term for a purchase loan, you will not own the title of your car. For car leases, you never own the title for your car and instead are held by the dealership you got a vehicle from.

How Credit Score Affects Financing A Car

Your credit score plays a huge role in how much a loan costs. If you have a higher score, you’ll find lower interest rates. The opposite is true, with higher interest rates going to those with lower scores. Two people may take out the same loan for a new vehicle, but one could pay thousands more in the end than the other due to their credit differences.

According to Experian’s Quarter one 2022 State of the Auto Finance Market, 62 percent of borrowers had credit scores of 601 or above, while just under 20 percent of borrowers had scores of 500 or below. Borrowers had scores throughout the whole range, but they found very different interest rates. To put this in perspective here’s the average APR by credit score segment according to the study:

Credit ScoreAverage New Car APRAverage Used Car APR
781 to 8502.40%3.71%
661 to 7803.56%5.58%
601 to 6606.70%10.48%
501 to 60010.87%17.29%
300 to 50014.76%20.99%

Fico Score Factors and Percentage of Credit Score

Total Amount Paid By APR

The table below shows how these average APRs affect the total you’d pay back on the loan. In this simple example, we use a starting loan value of $10,000 and apply each APR to it over a 60-month term. You can see how someone with a subprime score would pay significantly more than someone with a prime score.

Loan Value And TermsLoan APRTotal Paid
$10,000 over 60 months2.40%$10,622
$10,000 over 60 months3.56%$10,931
$10,000 over 60 months6.70%$11,976
$10,000 over 60 months10.87%$13,007
$10,000 over 60 months14.76%$14,170

Does Financing a car build credit?

If you are able to pay for your loan on time, financing a car is a great way to build credit. Making on-time payments is a critical part of your credit score and as you continue to make payments your score will increase. Your credit score will change based on your payment history amounts owed, length of credit history, revolving credit utilization, and the number of accounts.

Is Financing a Car a Good Idea?

Financing a car can be a good idea if you don’t have the cash on hand to pay for a vehicle in full. If you have the cash to purchase a new car without a loan you should do so. Unless your annual percentage rate (APR) is zero percent (which is rare), it is cheaper, in the long run, to purchase a car with cash. Of course, this is not practical or possible for many people. If you need a vehicle soon and don’t have the money saved up, financing may be the only way to purchase a car.

You should finance a car if:

  • You need a car and can’t afford to pay for the full value of the car in cash.
  • You want a car and can’t afford to pay the full value, but you can budget for the monthly expense of your payments.

Why can financing a car be a bad idea?

Financing a car can be a bad idea if you have enough cash to pay for a car outright or if you can’t afford monthly payments for a loan. Purchase loans tend to be more expensive on average so it may not be right for you. However, car leases are offered at lower rates than car purchase loans and may be better suited for your situation.

You should not finance a car if:

  • You cannot afford monthly payments.
  • You can afford to pay for the full value of the car in cash.

Financing a Car Alternatives

If you need a vehicle but do not want to take out an auto financing loan, you have a few alternatives.

  • Car Lease: If you lease a car, you will pay a monthly fee that is likely to be lower than an auto loan payment. However, at the end of the lease term, you must return the vehicle and will be charged for excess damages. Some lease contracts have the option to buy the vehicle at the end of the lease which is called a lease buyout.
  • Private Party loan: You might ask for a loan from an individual rather than a loan provider. An individual that you know may loan you money at a much better rate than auto lenders (or with no interest at all).
  • Cash payment: If you can avoid making a monthly car payment, it’s the best route to go. Cash payments are the cheapest way to purchase a vehicle in the long run, but most people do not have the funds to take advantage of this option.

Tips For Financing A Car

When you are financing a car, there are several best practices to keep in mind to get the lowest rates.

Decide How Much You Can Pay Beforehand

Before even deciding which car to buy, determine how much you can afford to finance. Think about what monthly payment you can comfortably pay, and work backward from there. Cars depreciate in value, so you can quickly find yourself in debt if you take out a loan you can’t afford. After a few years, is not uncommon for the value of a car to be less than the amount you owe on your loan.

Check Your Credit Score

Interest rates are largely based on your credit score. You are entitled to a free copy of your own credit report at least once a year. You can request this at and other websites. If you have a poor credit score, you might need a bad credit auto loan. One way to get a better APR if you have a low credit score is to have a cosigner with good credit.

Reduce Finance Charges

Your goal should be to lower the total amount you will pay on top of the cost of your vehicle. This means looking for a low APR and a short payment term. Also, try to reduce the amount you must finance by making as large a down payment as possible. Twenty percent is standard for a down payment, but if you can afford to pay more upfront, you will pay less later.

Compare Car Financing Offers

It’s a good idea to compare auto loan offers before you visit the dealership. When doing so, be sure to only request loan offers from lenders that offer pre-qualification that does not include a hard credit check. Hard credit checks lower your credit score, so do not agree to one unless you are ready to finalize a loan offer.

Car Loan Prequalification Is Your Best Friend

After you decide which main area to shop for your loan, try to find lenders that offer prequalifications. This means the lender does a soft check on your credit report and doesn’t trigger a credit inquiry.

Prequalifications are usually good for 30 to 45 days, which gives you time to shop around and compare different lenders. Most prequalifications are accurate, but in some cases, a lender may decline your application after pulling a full credit report.

Car Loan Preapproval Gives You Bargaining Power

There’s an advantage to applying for a loan before you go to a dealership and choose your vehicle. You can get preapproval from an online lender after you’ve done a full credit application and have been approved for a loan. A preapproval letter from a lender will show exactly what amount you’re preapproved for.

You can take this letter to a dealership when you go shopping. It can give you more buying power because the dealer knows you have financing up to that amount. The dealer won’t have to bother with checking your credit. Since it’s an easier process for them and they know you’re serious, you have a bit more negotiating power as a buyer.

Avoid Buy Here, Pay Here Dealerships

When shopping for cars and financing, you may come across buy here, pay here (BHPH) dealerships. In contrast to standard dealers, which connect customers with separate lenders to fund the loan, BHPH dealers offer credit themselves.

This might seem like a good deal at first. You can choose a car and get financing from the same place, and many BHPH dealers work with low- or no-credit buyers. However, we recommend passing on these dealers.

You can expect to pay the maximum allowable interest rate in your state if you use a buy here, pay here dealer. That’s because these dealerships don’t work with many people who have good credit, and their pool of borrowers is more prone to late payments and defaults. This raises the rates for everyone who borrows from the dealer.

Financing a Car Meaning: Conclusion

Financing a car allows you to purchase vehicles even when you don’t have enough capital. There are many ways to finance a car if you don’t have cash on you and many alternatives if purchase loans don’t suit your needs. We encourage you to look around and compare as many car financing options as you can to find the best deal.

You can start your search for vehicle financing providers below.

Best Car Financing Companies

When financing a car, it can be difficult to know which lenders are credible. To help you sift through the hundreds of choices available, we’ve narrowed down the best loan providers in the industry.

Read on to learn more about some of our top picks, or read our full review of the best auto loans for a longer list of recommended lenders. If you’re ready to start comparing loan offers right away, you can do so via

PenFed Credit Union: Lowest APR

Lowest APR: 2.09 percent

Minimum credit score: 610

Loan amount range: $500 to $150,000

PenFed Credit Union offers some of the lowest auto loan rates we have seen. However, it has stricter credit score requirements than other lenders and may not be an option for some. The company is well-regarded and has a positive reputation online.

PenFed Credit Union ProsPenFed Credit Union Cons
Offers exceptionally low interest ratesModerate customer service reputation
A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau (BBB)Does not offer loans to drivers with poor credit
Customer reviews describe a slow application process

Auto Credit Express: Best For Bad Credit

Lowest APR: Varies by lender

Minimum credit score: 300

Loan amount range: Varies by lender

Auto Credit Express is a good choice for those with bad credit. Even if you are undergoing bankruptcy or repossession, Auto Credit Express will work with you. Plus, Auto Credit Express will help you build your credit score if it is low.

Auto Credit Express ProsAuto Credit Express Cons
Offers financing for customers with bad or no creditCurrently has a BBB alert regarding licensing issues
Pairs customers with loans based on credit profilePoor customer reviews
Offers special rates for military members

To learn more about this provider, read our full Auto Credit Express review. Best Online Lender

Lowest APR: 1.99 percent

Minimum credit score: 575

Loan amount range: $5,000 and above is not a direct lender but a portal that connects lenders with customers. It’s a good way to browse loan offers and even find loans for private purchases. Cons
Offers loans for drivers with low credit scoresNot available in Alaska and Hawaii
Offers loans for private purchasesNot available to drivers with credit scores below 575
Good customer service reputation and an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau (BBB)

To learn more, read our full review.

Auto Financing: FAQ

What should you consider when getting an auto loan?

When getting an auto loan, consider whether you can afford a new vehicle, if now is the right time to get a car loan, whether you’re likely to qualify for a competitive APR, and whether you have the required documents on hand. This guide to auto loans explains other important details to think about before you apply for a car loan.

What’s a good APR for a car loan?

According to Experian, the average auto loan rates in 2022 are 4.33% for new vehicles and 8.62% for used cars. To get the market’s lowest rates, it’s best to shop around and compare quotes from multiple lenders.

Is 72 months good for a car loan?

No, 72 months is generally on the long side for an auto loan. It’s recommended to get a shorter car loan if possible, as drivers who take out 72-month terms often end up underwater, or paying more overall than their vehicle is worth.