How Your Credit Score Works for a Car Loan


Credit Scores. To some people, they are scared; to others, they are a game of never-ending catchup. Either pride or infamy accompanies the thought of a personal credit score. However, regardless of how you feel about your credit score, when it comes to obtaining a car loan, it is a vital tool to know and understand.

Fortunately, if you can get approved for a car loan and keep up with the payments, your investment will improve your credit score. Once you are financially ready, getting an auto loan is one of the best ways to help your credit.
So, how does that all work? Here is an explanation of how your credit score works when obtaining a car loan:

What Is A Credit Score?

credit score is a number between 300 and 850 that determines your creditworthiness. This score develops from various factors that help creditors decide whether you are a high or low lending risk.

Creditors use your history, your income, and the number of current credit lines to figure out your debt to income ratio.

Your credit score is the number that gives them a summary of this information so they can quickly decide whether they should grant you the loan for which you applied.

This credit score is often called a FICO Score. When it comes to auto loans, though, even though they are directly related to your credit score, they work a little differently than traditional credit inquiries.

(Spoiler alert: This difference can sometimes work in your favor when trying to obtain an auto loan.)

FICO Score

FICO stands for Fair Isaac Corporation. This abbreviation exists because this corporation was the first to extend credit using the numerical risk model that is now the standard for credit lenders.

Yet, what many people do not realize is that your true FICO Score is not exactly the score that is used when you try to obtain an auto loan. Instead, there is a secondary FICO Score, called an Auto FICO Score. This specific score only determines your eligibility for buying a vehicle.

Auto FICO Score

Your Auto FICO Score differs from your generic FICO Score in that it is tailored towards your creditworthiness of purchasing an automobile. While your FICO Score ranges from 300 to 850, respectively, your Auto FICO Score ranges from 250 to 900.

Therefore, it is easy to see how, with a fifty-point difference both at the bottom and at the top, auto lease brokers can be a little more forgiving than strict, generic FICO Scores.

Now, much like its universal credit counterpart, an Auto FICO Score continues to be a work in progress. Over the years, this score has undergone its fair share of variations, with the most recent finalization happening in June 2016.

This most recent update is called the FICO Auto Score 9 XT. This score utilizes data from TransUnion CreditVision Data to uncover 30 months (or 2.5 years) of credit history. This small window of data eliminates outdated information and helps offer you a clean slate sooner.

Here are the best ways to actively increase your FICO Auto Score 9 XT:

  • Pay your credit cards down consistently.
  • Pay off any debt that has gone to collections (if applicable).
  • Keep your credit utilization at or below 30% at all times.

Auto Interest Rates

Interest rates vary substantially, and that variation is directly dependent on your credit score. If you have a high credit score, you will have a better interest rate offer than a person who barely has a high enough credit score for approval.

What Is An Interest Rate?

The interest rate is how lenders get paid. Leasing vehicles and awarding auto loans are big business, and if they only charged you what you borrowed, they would never turn a profit.

So, car leasing lenders determine an interest rate that corresponds with their level of risk when lending to you.
According to Experian, this is the data for interest rates in 2019:

According to Experian, this is the data for interest rates in 2019:

Credit ScoreAverage Interest Rate for New Auto LoansAverage Interest Rate for Used Auto Loans
300 to 50014.25%19.81%
501 to 60011.51%16.88%
601 to 6607.55%10.85%
661 to 7804.75%6.15%
781 to 8503.82%4.43%

Remember, these are averages, and it is possible to find interest rates across the board, depending on your specific lenders, situation, and agreement. The critical thing to garner from this information is the stark difference in interest rates concerning your credit score.

Subsequently, the higher the interest rate (APR) is for the loan, the higher your monthly payment. This same information revealed that the average difference between having excellent credit and credit that needs improvement is $75 per month.

Why Does A New Car Have A Lower Interest Rate Than A Used Car?

In the table above, it is easy to spot that one aspect, regardless of the credit score, is buying a new car comes with a lower APR than purchasing a used car.

You may be wondering, what’s the deal with that?

Used cars are less expensive, so on the surface, it could make sense that the interest rate should be lower for older cars.

Yet, the reason there is such a consistent difference in the interest rate of a new car versus a used car is the associated risk. When loan interest rates get factored, the primary variable is the amount of risk the lender is taking.

Unfortunately, even if you have a stellar credit score, if you decide to buy a used car, you will need to settle for a higher interest rate. The good (and maybe not so good) news is that this has nothing to do with you or your ability to pay back the loan.

You are not the risk. When you buy a used car, the risk is inherent in the vehicle. New vehicles are easier to fix, have brand new parts, and the companies are actively making new cars.

Used cars are cheaper because all that assurance is no longer available. The loss of this assurance means that when you get an auto loan for a used car, you and the loan company are taking a risk. To mitigate that risk, the lender will raise the interest rate. That way, they can recoup a good portion of their investment quickly, so if something does go wrong with the car, they limit their losses.

As a consumer, you limit your losses by paying for insurance, but you are still taking a risk by buying a used car. It may be cheaper, but make sure you do your homework before getting behind the wheel of any vehicle, new or used.

Breaking Down The Percentages

Sometimes percentages can be misleading. Paying an interest rate between 4 and 11 percent on a $100 purchase is not such a big deal. After all, the sales tax in some states is upwards of 7%.

However, when you are making a big purchase or borrowing a substantial amount of money, such as when buying a car, that 5% can be a small fortune.

For instance, if you buy a $20,000 car and have a reasonable interest rate of 4.75%, you will only end up spending $20,950 for that car if you pay off your loan in one year. Yet, if you have an interest rate on the higher side, let’s say 11.51%, you will end up spending $22,302 for the same car if paid off in the same amount of time.

The Relationship Between My Credit Score And My Auto Loan

When it comes to your credit score and your auto loan, it is a consistent flow of giving and taking. For instance, if your credit score is deep subprime and you get a loan, you will have a higher interest rate than a loan candidate with a non-prime, prime, or super-prime credit score.

However, suppose you continuously pay your bill on time and remain in good standing with your auto loan. In that case, it will play a more significant role in helping your credit score than if you were already an established prime or super-prime credit score holder.

Ironically, having a diverse portfolio of loans in good standing will help your credit much more than if you never took out a credit line. This information is not to say that you should max yourself out on loans or credit lines of any kind. Yet, it is good news that even if you do not have a perfect credit score, the relationship between your credit score and your auto loan work together to help you overall.

Whether your credit score is good or needs improvement, it pairs well with obtaining a car loan. Not only is a good credit score necessary to get a car loan, but it also works in tandem with your car loan to help get your credit to an acceptable level.

Once you have achieved this level, and you use your auto loan to control your credit score, getting a car is only the first step into a world of possibilities.

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