What Credit Score Do I Need to Buy a Car?

By Steven Shaw on 9/12/2014

Auto Loans

What Credit Score Do I Need to Buy a Car?

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You know it’s time to for a new vehicle, but there’s one thing holding you back: your credit. You aren’t sure what credit score you need to buy a car.

If you absolutely must get another vehicle, you can probably find a way to finance it. The real question is what it will cost you. The better your credit, the better your options, and a big factor will be your credit scores.

According to data from Experian Automotive, the difference in interest rates on a new car loan for someone with super prime (excellent) credit versus someone with subprime (very poor) credit is nearly 10 percentage points. In fact, 2.7% was the average interest rate someone with a super prime credit score paid in the second quarter of 2014, while those with deep subprime credit paid an average interest rate of 12.42%.

The difference was even starker for those financing used cars. Those with super prime credit paid an average rate of 3.53% while those with deep subprime credit paid an average of 18.33%.

Average New Car Rate Q2 2014

  • Super Prime (740+): 2.70%
  • Prime (680-739): 3.67%
  • Nonprime (620-679): 5.49%
  • Subprime (550-619): 9.25%
  • Deep Subprime (<550): 12.42%

Average Used Car Rate Q2 2014

  • Super Prime: 3.53%
  • Prime: 5.09%
  • Nonprime: 8.18%
  • Subprime: 14.15%
  • Deep Subprime: 18.33%

Your credit score may also be evaluated if you lease a vehicle, usually to assign your application to “tiers” that affect the lease you get. According to Experian, the average VantageScore credit score for those with leases was 717 (Q2, 2014) while the average credit score on new car loan was 711, and 644 for the average used car loan.

First Steps

If you are nervous about letting the car dealer check your credit (and even if you aren’t), it’s helpful to check it yourself in advance. You can check your credit reports for free at AnnualCreditReport.com to make sure they don’t contain mistakes. And you can get a truly free credit score from Credit.com to find out where you stand. The credit score an auto lender will use may be a different number because it will be customized for the auto loan industry, but if your free credit score is strong, the credit score the dealer uses should be strong as well.

It can also be helpful to try to get pre-approved for a car loan before you go into the dealership. If the dealer can offer you a better interest rate, then great. If not, you’ll know what you can qualify for on your own. A tip though: Credit inquiries related to auto loans that are made within a short window of time (usually 14 days, or 45 days depending on the credit score model being used) are supposed to count as a single inquiry. However, some of our readers have found that multiple inquiries generated by car dealers shopping their loan applications have dropped their credit scores. So if you are able to land an attractive interest rate when you get pre-approved for financing, you may want to just stick with that.

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