Leslie Kasperowicz holds a BA in Social Sciences from the University of Winnipeg. She spent several years as a Farmers Insurance CSR, gaining a solid understanding of insurance products including home, life, auto, and commercial and working directly with insurance customers to understand their needs. She has since used that knowledge in her more than ten years as a writer, largely in the insuranc...

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Melanie Musson is the fourth generation in her family to work in the insurance industry. She grew up with insurance talk as part of her everyday conversation and has studied to gain an in-depth knowledge of state-specific insurance laws and dynamics as well as a broad understanding of how insurance fits into every person’s life, from budgets to coverage levels. Through her years working in th...

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Reviewed by Melanie Musson
Published Insurance Expert Melanie Musson

UPDATED: May 3, 2022

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If you are trying to buy a new or slightly-used car, chances are you will need an automobile loan. Few people have the cash to pay for a new car when the average price is over $30,000, according to Forbes magazine. If you have to borrow money to pay for a car, it is important to have the best credit score possible to get the lowest interest rate.

What credit score do I need to get the best car loan?

Customers with a credit score between 740 and 850 will get the best interest rates on their auto loans. In fact, you typically need at least this score to qualify for most “zero percent” financing deals. The average interest rate for those with a high credit rating is around 3.9 percent today.

If yours lays between a credit score range of 680 and 739, you will probably pay a bit more for your car loan in terms of interest. The average loan interest rate for a person with a good but not excellent credit score is around 4.5 percent. While this is not much more than the average interest rate for those with excellent credit ratings, it still represents a significant difference in payments over the life of the loan. If you finance $30,000 at 3.9 percent for five years, your payments will total $35,383 and with a 4.5 percent rate, your payments will add up to $35,906. This means that the difference in interest rates, although small, will still save you over $500 over the loan term.

If your credit score is below 680, expect to pay a premium for car loan credit. These rates are known as “sub-prime” and can range from 6.5 percent to 12.9 percent or even more. For those with problematic credit history, such as bankruptcy filings or foreclosures in their records, the picture is even bleaker. If you have what is considered to be bad credit, you may find that you are forced to do business with on-the-lot financers who charge such high-interest rates that they project weekly payments instead of monthly to soften the blow of the total cost.

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Where can I get a good car loan?

Your interest rate will not only be affected by your credit rating but also by where you choose to take out your car loan. When you are shopping for a car, you will probably be approached by the dealership to have their financing expert run your credit report and offer you a loan. What most finance managers at car dealerships do is send your application to many different credit agencies at once through a process known as a Dealer Management System. A DMS allows the car dealership to find you a loan quickly and encourages lenders to compete for your business. However, it is not always certain that you will find the best interest rates at a car dealership.

What you are likely to find at the dealership are discounts, rebates, and other deals designed to encourage you to finance your purchase through the dealership’s lenders. Some discounts and rebates apply no matter where you finance, but others are specific to the dealership’s lenders. A new trend among dealerships and car companies has been to offer zero-percent financing for an introductory period if you qualify for a loan.

Another loan option for your car is to obtain financing from your own bank or credit union. These types of lenders often have good interest rates on car loans, and you will have the convenience of keeping all your business right where you bank. However, most banks and credit unions will only finance 80% of the purchase price of a new car, so you will probably need a significant amount in trade or down payment before you can finance through this route.

What about my trade?

Your trade-in can reduce the amount you will have to finance, assuming you are not upside down in the vehicle. This term refers to a situation where you owe more on the car than the trade-in value. Trade-in values are usually less than book value, so do not expect a large amount for your trade. In essence, taking a car in to trade allows a dealership to sweeten your car deal; it does not usually net much money for the dealership. In fact, the majority of cars taken in trade will be taken to a wholesale auction and sold off for small amounts of money.

Beware of one trick that car dealers love to use if you are trading in, however. Many dealers will incorporate your trade into the estimate of the car’s price and financing and inflate the value of the trade while also inflating the price of the car. For example, if your trade is worth $1500 and the price of the new car is $25,000, the dealer may tell you that he will give you $5,000 for the trade, but if you read the fine print, the price of the car will now be $29,500. Many people fall into this trap, especially if they still owe money on the vehicle they are trading in.

Instead, approach the dealer with the idea of no trade and get a solid price on your new car before you ask for a valuation of your trade-in. Many dealers are willing to pay a bit more for a trade to get you into a new vehicle.

Most consumers qualify for auto financing but with today’s market conditions it can be difficult to find loan options if you have some credit issues. Before having potential car loan companies pull your credit report always disclose any credit issues and try to speak with a real person. Every credit inquiry lowers your score and you certainly don’t want any more negative marks on your credit report so shop around, be honest and you should be able to find an affordable car loan.