What Minimum Credit Score Do You Need to Buy a Car?

About 69% of cars financed go to borrowers with scores of 661 or higher, but those with lower scores have options.
Lauren Schwahn
Amanda Barroso
By Amanda Barroso and  Lauren Schwahn 
Updated
Edited by Kathy Hinson
Credit score needed to buy car

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

MORE LIKE THISPersonal Finance

Buying a car is a huge financial step, and knowing your credit score can help you enter the buying process on strong footing. A third-quarter 2023 report by credit bureau Experian found that about 69% of cars financed were for borrowers with credit scores of 661 or higher.

Experian Information Solutions. State of the Automotive Finance Market Q3 2023. Accessed Dec 4, 2023.

The report also found that on average, the credit score for a used-car loan was 690, while the average score for a new-car loan was 735.

A lower credit score won’t necessarily keep you from securing a car loan, but it might spike your interest rate, leading to higher payments.

Get score change notifications
See your free score anytime, get notified when it changes, and build it with personalized insights.

What minimum credit score is needed to buy a car?

There isn’t one specific score that’s required to buy a car because lenders have different standards. However, the vast majority of borrowers have scores of 661 or higher.

Borrowers with scores of 501 to 600 account for about 13% of cars financed, while people with scores of 500 or below account for less than 2%, according to Experian.

How credit scores affect auto loans

Interest rates differ based on your credit score, so knowing what to expect on average can help you budget for your car. Usually, higher scores mean lower interest rates on loans. A target credit score of 661 or above should get you a new-car loan with an annual percentage rate of around 6.88% or better, or a used-car loan around 9.33% or lower.

Credit score

Average APR, new car

Average APR, used car

Superprime: 781-850.

5.61%.

7.43%.

Prime: 661-780.

6.88%.

9.33%.

Nonprime: 601-660.

9.29%.

13.53%.

Subprime: 501-600.

11.86%.

18.39%.

Deep subprime: 300-500.

14.17%.

21.18%.

Source: Experian Information Solutions.

Someone with a score in the low 700s might see rates on used cars of about 9.33%, compared with 18.39% or more for a buyer scoring in the mid-500s, according to the data from Experian. Using a car loan calculator illustrates the difference that can make.

For example, on a $20,000, five-year used-car loan with no down payment, that’s a monthly payment of about $418 for the buyer with a higher credit score versus about $512 for the buyer with a lower credit score. The buyer with better credit would pay about $5,102 in interest over the life of the loan, while the buyer with lesser credit would pay around $10,727. Plus, in most states, bad credit can mean higher car insurance rates, too.

The differences aren’t quite as steep for new-car loans: Borrowers with scores in the low 700s can expect an average rate of 6.88% compared with 11.86% for borrowers with credit in the mid-500s.

What is a FICO Auto Score?

It’s smart to have some idea what dealers will see when they check your credit profile by checking your credit score. Chances are, however, that your dealer might use a FICO automotive score instead of a traditional FICO score or VantageScore.

Your FICO Auto Score is a specialty score ranging from 250 to 900 that weighs past car-loan payments more heavily than the traditional FICO score does. It also gives more weight to any repossessions or auto-loan bankruptcies you might have previously filed. To check your automotive score, you can buy a full set of FICO scores at myFICO.com and then cancel the service rather than pay the fairly steep monthly fee.

Other factors can help you buy a car with bad credit

If you have a credit score below 700 and are concerned about approval, prepare by focusing on the positives in your financial life. Remember, people with major blemishes on their credit are routinely approved for car loans. If you have poor credit, here are some positive financial behaviors to highlight in the finance office.

Bring a bigger down payment to the table

A big down payment can help offset a bad credit score by lowering your monthly payments. It might even help you get a lower interest rate. For some lenders, a big down payment might make you appear less risky, despite a lower credit score.

Bring documents showing financial stability

If your credit score is low, potential lenders are less likely to see you as a risk if they can see you have stability in other areas of your financial life. Bringing documentation like your most recent pay stubs and proof of address to show lenders how long you have lived at your current address and worked at your employer could help you seem more reliable.

Consider bringing your own financing

While dealerships do provide financing, checking with your local bank or credit union is a good idea, too. You can even compare car loan rates online. Compare quotes from the top potential lenders and, once you’ve settled on your top choice, you can get preapproved to make the process run smoothly.

Keep in mind that getting financing requires a “hard pull” on your credit. It helps to cluster applications closely together when rate-shopping for a loan.

If you end up with a loan with a higher rate than you wanted, keep an eye on your scores. You may be able to refinance your auto loan at a lower rate after you’ve made on-time payments for six to 12 months.

How to build your credit before car shopping

If you still aren’t getting car loan rates that work for you, it might be time to delay your car purchase and work on building your credit. That means:

  • Paying bills on time. A payment that goes 30 days past due can devastate your score, so pay at least the minimum on time.

  • Keeping credit card balances low compared with your credit limits. How much of your limits you're using is called your credit utilization, and it has a big effect on your score. You can try a number of tactics to lower your credit utilization in order to bump up your score.

  • Avoiding applications for other credit within six months of applying for a car loan.

  • Keeping credit card accounts open unless there's a compelling reason to close them. Closing cards reduces your overall credit limit, which can hurt your credit utilization.

How your car loan can help you build better credit

Once you've secured your car loan, it will help you build credit in two important ways: payment history and credit mix.

Payment history is your track record of paying bills on time. It accounts for more of your credit score than any other single factor. Traditional lenders report your payments to the three major credit bureaus, which provide the data to calculate your credit scores.

Credit mix means whether you have both installment loans (with equal payments over a set period) and revolving credit (variable payments and no set end date, as with credit cards). If you have mostly — or only — credit cards, adding a car loan may help your score a bit.