What Credit Score Is Needed to Buy a Car

Credit scores of all shapes and sizes can lead to your next car purchase.

Credit check for auto loan applicationShutterstock

What credit score do you need to buy a car

If buying a car is the goal, then qualifying for an auto loan is generally the gateway to get there. The process of qualifying for an auto loan considers multiple factors like:

  • Income — proof of stable income supports your potential to make timely payments

  • Proof of residence — confirming residence allows the lender to locate the car in the event it requires repossession

  • Credit score — a favorable score reflects your ability to manage multiple lines of credit or loans over time, and sustain a fiscally healthy debt profile

A majority of lenders use Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO) credit scores which range from 300 to 850. Unless you plan to buy a new car in cash, your credit score can play a critical role with how well you qualify for the best auto loan terms. The credit score to buy a car for many lenders will vary — some offer flexible requirements like no bankruptcies while other eligibility standards hone in on simply being of legal age to enter a contract. You’ll likely be hard pressed to find a minimum credit requirement with many lenders since your score is only one indication of your overall financial profile.

What is a good credit score to buy a car

Scores starting at 670 are categorized as “Good” by FICO. These scores can begin to earn more attractive incentives like a lower annual percentage rate (APR) from lenders in the financing agreement. Anything above 800 is considered an “Exceptional” FICO score. Lenders may be more likely to want to land a deal with you if your score indicates a strong history of consistent repayment and good credit management.

When considering what credit score is needed to buy a car, it may be helpful to think through which terms you actually want at the closing table. If you’re looking for wiggle room in the asking price or competitive APR rates, the credit score you need could be higher than if you’re just looking to qualify for a new, used, or Certified Pre-Owned purchase. Therefore, the better your score, the more likely you are to hold negotiation power and tailor the auto financing to your preferences.

Can I buy a car with this credit score

If you are on the fence about whether your score will make the cut, all hope isn't lost. In fact, it is not uncommon for people with less than perfect credit scores to achieve an auto loan. There is also the option to prequalify or receive pre-approval for an auto loan. These alternatives will result in a soft credit pull that won’t negatively impact your credit score, but instead give you a more realistic view concerning your chances of approval.

If you do not pre-qualify or get pre-approved for a loan, you may want to consider other options like a trade-in or down payment. Trade-ins or putting a down payment on a car can lower your prospective loan amount and improve your ability to qualify. You also can find a co-applicant with an improved credit score to co-sign your loan. This means that your co-signer will legally enter the contract with you as part-owner of the car, and is thus dually responsible for the loan repayment.

In your car-buying journey, you may come to realize that the credit score needed to buy a car is different from the score achieving the best incentives. Credit scores are only one part of the equation in auto financing, and every lender may hold different requirements. These ranges of good scores or not so good scores are relative to other working parts in the deal that you can only confirm once you’ve started your application. So if you want to buy a car but are concerned about your credit score, a little compromise in negotiations can steer you into driving your newly-purchased ride off the dealer lot.

This site is for educational purposes only. The third parties listed are not affiliated with Capital One and are solely responsible for their opinions, products and services. Capital One does not provide, endorse or guarantee any third-party product, service, information or recommendation listed above. The information presented in this article is believed to be accurate at the time of publication, but is subject to change. The images shown are for illustration purposes only and may not be an exact representation of the product. The material provided on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice or to indicate the availability or suitability of any Capital One product or service to your unique circumstances. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.
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Tia Brown
As a self-proclaimed enthusiast for deals, my passion is to engage with the world of auto finance through relatability and life hacks. I’m a loyalist who sticks with what works. When it comes to cars, I am the kind of owner who places lifestyle at the core of my decision-making. My desire to drive is fueled by factors of sound quality to enjoy handpicked soundtracks on long trips, smooth gliding across open roads, and enough interior space to accommodate my growing collection of vinyl records and yard-sale treasures on any given Saturday. I’m the one you’ll find planning my next purchase around a buy I’ve been eying for months, waiting until the clearance closeout rolls around before I make a move.