LightStream Auto Loans: 2017 Review

Auto Loans, Loans
lightstream auto loan review

Best for: borrowers with good credit looking for a no-hassle loan from a well-known bank

If you have strong credit and want to quickly get almost any type of auto loan, you may like LightStream.com’s simple approach.

LightStream, an online consumer lending division of SunTrust Bank, provides a full spectrum of auto loans: refinance and purchase loans for new, used and classic cars, lease buyout loans and even unsecured loans for top-tier applicants.

The company strives to give borrowers “the ability to get a low rate, with almost no effort and no fees,” says Julie Olian, LightStream vice president of public relations and social media. Once your loan is complete, the lender delivers the funds to your bank account.

The company:

  • Provides a wide variety of auto loans with no restrictions on make, model, age or mileage
  • Offers an easy-to-use online application process
  • Charges no application or prepayment fees
  • Is available in all 50 states

» MORE: Check out NerdWallet’s LightStream personal loans: 2017 review

LightStream auto loans at a glance

Typical APR

Purchase loan (dealer): 2.49% - 7.44%*


Purchase loan (individual): 3.89%- 9.04%*


Refinance loan: 3.09% - 8.44%*


Lease buyout loan: 3.39% - 9.34%*


(*with AutoPay discount)
Loan amounts$5,000 - $100,000
Time to fundingAs soon as the same day


(must meet certain requirements)
Origination feeNone
Soft credit check with application?No; a hard pull is required

LightStream auto loans review details

To review LightStream, NerdWallet collected more than 30 data points from the lender, interviewed company executives, completed the online loan application process with sample data and compared the lender with others that seek the same customer or offer a similar product.

LightStream is good for 

LightStream is tailored to serious shoppers with strong credentials. Applicants with good credit and healthy finances who are looking for a loan within days will appreciate the streamlined process and competitive rates.

Top-tier applicants could qualify for a rate as low as 2.49%. The maximum rate for purchase loans, 9.04%, is lower than that charged by many other auto lenders and signals the focus on customers with solid financials. (These rates reflect LightStream’s AutoPay discount of 0.5%.) Other companies may be more willing to serve those with poor credit — but at double-digit rates.

Minimum requirements

Compared with many other auto lenders, LightStream has high credit requirements, with a minimum credit score of 660 for auto loan applicants. But loan decisions aren’t purely based on credit scores.

We look closely at an applicant’s credit history, assets, savings and other information that indicate a strong background of solid financial management,” says LightStream business development officer Todd Nelson.

LightStream generally describes those with good credit as having several years of credit history, with few delinquencies or other issues, and evidence of saving ability, such as liquid assets, retirement savings and cash down payments.

Depending on your credit profile and what you are using a loan for, LightStream will determine your APR and whether to provide you with a secured loan or an unsecured loan, with no collateral (in this case your vehicle). Borrowers with good credit will likely receive a secured loan, which is more typical for auto loans.

However, “LightStream is unique in offering unsecured auto loans to people with excellent credit,” Nelson says. These borrowers won’t have to complete extra lien-holder paperwork and can use the funds to purchase any vehicle from any seller, though LightStream requires that all loans be used for the purpose stated in your application.

Note that the consequences differ for defaulting on secured vs. unsecured loans. With a secured loan, a lender can seize your property. With an unsecured loan, a lender must sue you and win a court judgment against you to collect what you owe.

Application process

LightStream’s one-page application requests personal and employment information and can be completed in a few minutes. It asks for your Social Security number and requires a “hard pull” of your credit upfront, which will slightly lower your credit score. People who go through LightStream’s process should be prepared to accept a loan, and not just casually shop rates. (Other providers might require only a “soft pull” initially and then a hard pull if you apply for the loan.) 

If you apply during business hours, you can receive a response within the day. Once presented with an electronic loan agreement, you have 30 days to take or reject the offer. If you agree, you’ll be asked for your funding and banking preferences and to complete a final verification process. Funds are then directly deposited within one business day (if all documents are completed by 2:30 p.m. ET).

LightStream has a customer satisfaction guarantee — $100 back if you’re not satisfied with your experience after receiving a loan.  

Restrictions

LightStream’s tagline states: “loans for practically anything.” You can use the funds on a vehicle of any make, model or age, and there’s no restriction on mileage when used-car shopping or refinancing. If your credit score is high enough, you can get a loan for any new, used or classic car you have your eye on. The company will also provide a loan so you can buy your leased vehicle rather than turn it in at the end of your term.

LightStream’s loan terms range from 24 to 84 months, with the maximum term depending on the loan amount. NerdWallet does not typically recommend loans over 60 months for new cars.

No fees

LightStream does not charge any fees, and you’re not obligated to accept its loan offer.

Rate shopping

It’s smart to comparison shop when you want to buy a car or get an auto loan. But that can lead to being contacted by dealers and lenders. If you’re concerned about your data, review LightStream’s privacy settings before submitting an application to see if there’s anything you want to opt out of.

In general, read the privacy information on a provider’s website if you’re worried about getting too many calls and emails. To manage them, create a new email account and get a Google Voice phone number that you can check separately. Both options are free and can be used for other shopping needs.

Before you take a car loan

Thanks to the internet and competition in the marketplace, many loan opportunities are available to you. But just because you can qualify for a loan doesn’t mean you have to take it if it severely stretches your budget. When choosing a car, pick one that addresses your needs. When shopping for a loan, select the one that fits into your budget and helps you achieve your long-term financial goals. If your financial picture changes, consider refinancing your loan to better suit your new situation.

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Nicole Arata is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: narata@nerdwallet.com.

Updated Sept. 15, 2017.