Understanding Vehicle Financing
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed June 20, 2016
With prices averaging more than $20,000 for a new vehicle and $9,500 for a four-year-old vehicle, most consumers need financing or leasing to acquire a vehicle. In some cases, buyers use "direct lending:" they obtain a loan directly from a finance company, bank or credit union. In direct lending, a buyer agrees to pay the amount financed, plus an agreed-upon finance charge, over a period of time. Once a buyer and a vehicle dealership enter into a contract and the buyer agrees to a vehicle price, the buyer uses the loan proceeds from the direct lender to pay the dealership for the vehicle.
The most common type of vehicle financing, however, is "dealership financing." In this arrangement, a buyer and a dealership enter into a contract where the buyer agrees to pay the amount financed, plus an agreed-upon finance charge, over a period of time. The dealership may retain the contract, but usually sells it to an assignee (such as a bank, finance company or credit union), which services the account and collects the payments.
For the vehicle buyer, dealership financing offers:
- Convenience - Dealers offer buyers vehicles and financing in one place.
- Multiple financing relationships - The dealership's relationships with a variety of banks and finance companies mean they can offer buyers a range of financing options.
- Special programs - From time to time, dealerships may offer manufacturer-sponsored, low-rate programs to buyers.
Before You Arrive at a Dealership
Do some research:
- Determine how much you can afford to finance and spend on a monthly payment by using the "Monthly Spending Plan" worksheet in this booklet.
- Get a copy of your credit report so you are aware of what creditors will see. Errors or accurate negative information can impact your ability to get credit and/or your finance rate.
- Identify your transportation needs.
- Check auto buying guides, the Internet and other sources to find out the price range and other information for the vehicle you want to buy.
- Compare current finance rates being offered by contacting various banks, credit unions or other lenders. Compare bank quotes and dealer quotes; there may be restrictions on the most attractive rates or terms from any credit source.
What Happens When You Apply for Financing
Most dealerships have a Finance and Insurance (F&I) Department, which provides one-stop shopping for financing. The F&I Department manager will ask you to complete a credit application. Information on this application may include: your name; Social Security number; date of birth; current and previous addresses and length of stay; current and previous employers and length of employment; occupation; sources of income; total gross monthly income; and financial information on existing credit accounts.
The dealership will obtain a copy of your credit report, which contains information about current and past credit obligations, your payment record and data from public records (for example, a bankruptcy filing obtained from court documents). For each account, the credit report shows your account number, the type and terms of the account, the credit limit, the most recent balance and the most recent payment. The comments section describes the current status of your account, including the creditor's summary of past due information and any legal steps that may have been taken to collect.
Dealers typically sell your contract to an assignee, such as a bank, finance company or credit union. The dealership submits your credit application to one or more of these potential assignees to determine their willingness to purchase your contract from the dealer.
These finance companies or other potential assignees will usually evaluate your credit application using automated techniques such as credit scoring, where a variety of factors, like your credit history,
length of employment, income and expenses may be weighted and scored.
Since the bank, finance company or credit union does not deal directly with the prospective vehicle purchaser, it bases its evaluation upon what appears on the individual's credit report and score, the completed credit application, and the terms of the sale, such as the amount of the down payment. Each finance company or other potential assignee decides whether it is willing to buy the contract, notifies the dealership of its decision and, if applicable, offers the dealership a wholesale rate at which the assignee will buy the contract, often called the "buy rate."
Your dealer may be able to offer manufacturer incentives, such as reduced finance rates or cash back on certain models. You may see these specials advertised in your area. Make sure you ask your dealer if the model you are interested in has any special financing offers or rebates. Generally, these discounted rates are not negotiable, may be limited by a consumer's credit history, and are available only for certain models, makes or model-year vehicles.
When there are no special financing offers available, you can negotiate the annual percentage rate (APR) and the terms for payment with the dealership, just as you negotiate the price of the vehicle. The APR that you negotiate with the dealer is usually higher than the wholesale rate described earlier. This negotiation can occur before or after the dealership accepts and processes your credit application.
What Influences Your APR
Your credit history, current finance rates, competition, market conditions and special offers are among the factors that influence your APR.
What About a Co-Signer?
You may be allowed by the creditor to have a co-signer sign the finance contract with you in order to make up for any deficiencies in your credit history. A co-signer assumes equal responsibility for the contract, and the account history will be reflected on the co-signer's credit history as well. For this reason, you should exercise caution if asked to co-sign for someone else. Since many co-signers are eventually asked to repay the obligation, be sure you can afford to do so before agreeing to be someone's co-signer.
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