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How long does it take to get approved for a car loan?

Compare approval times and learn how to speed up the process.

Car loan approval is an important step in the car buying process. It’s only one factor. While short approval time might be appealing, you could end up with a less favorable deal than you’re eligible for.

How long does it take to get approved for a car loan?

It can take as little as a few seconds and as long as a few days to get approved for a car loan. How long it takes depends on several factors. These including what type of lender, your personal finances and the type of car you’re interested in buying.

How long top providers take to approve a car loan

While many lenders offer preapproval when applying for a car loan, not all do. Here’s what you can expect from top car loan providers:

LenderIs preapproval available?How long is the approval process?
Auto Credit ExpressVaries by lenderVaries by lender
car.Loan.comVaries by lenderVaries by lender
LendingTreeVaries by lenderVaries by lender
Bank of AmericaYes60-second approvalRead review
USAAYesSame-day approvalRead review
ChaseNoFrom three hours up to three business daysRead review
Navy Federal Credit UnionYesFive-minute approvalRead review
Alliant Credit Union Car LoansYesUp to 1 business dayRead review Car LoansNoAs little as 30 minutesRead review
M&T Bank Auto LoanNoUp to 1 business dayRead review

How long does the car loan application process take?

It depends on the lender you choose to apply with, the amount you need to borrow and your creditworthiness. Here’s an idea of how long to expect for each step in the application process:

  • Submitting your application. It usually only takes 10 to 15 minutes to complete an online application. However, if you have to visit a lender’s office to apply in person, it could take longer.
  • Immediate response. Some lenders offer instant preapproval after you submit your application. Those that don’t could take a few days to get back to you.
  • Full approval. The turnaround time for full approval differs, as our table shows.
  • Loan funding. After receiving full approval from your lender, you can generally expect to receive your funds within one to three business days. However, it’s best to confirm the specific timing with your lender.

How long does it take to get preapproved for a car loan?

Car loan preapproval generally takes the same amount of time as getting approved — sometimes a few seconds, others a few days. Car loan preapproval is a way to lock in rates with a lender before signing the paperworks so you have time to shop around. This gives you the ability to negotiate down your price and determine exactly how much you need to borrow.

Preapproval generally involves a hard credit check, which briefly lowers your credit score. And you must submit documents verifying your income, residency and other aspects of your application.

How long will it take my lender to finalize my loan?

Type of lenderTypical turnaround
Online lendersOne business day to a week
Banks and credit unionsOne business day to a few weeks
DealershipsThe same day to a few business days

Banks and credit unions tend to take longer than online lenders, while typically dealerships are faster than lenders. If you need to provide more documents than usual to verify your identity or income, it could also slow the process down. Buying from a private seller rather than a dealership can also take longer.

Online lenders tend to have a quick turnaround when it comes to preapproval. If you apply during business hours, you may see a response the same day. However, your lender won’t be able to fully approve you and fund your loan without first receiving proof of income, employment and citizenship.

This could take a few days to process, and it may take one to three business days for your funds to show up in your account. From start to finish, it can take up to a week to receive a car loan from an online lender.

The approval time for car loans from banks and credit unions varies. Some have quick online applications that take the same amount of time to approve as an online lender.

Others require you to visit a branch, fill out an application and wait days for the more traditional approval process. Because the time varies so widely, talk to your bank or credit union to see how long it might take.

Dealership financing can be as fast as the same day, but it comes with a caveat: The loan you walk out the door with may not be fully approved. Spot financing, also called spot delivery, is when your dealer allows you to drive off the lot before the financing is in place.

If you don’t have good to excellent credit and a strong income, you might have to renegotiate your loan — usually for a less optimal rate — or return your car. This is commonly referred to as yo-yo financing because the lender promises you one monthly payment or interest rate, then readjusts it if it can’t find a lender to approve you.

Make sure your purchase agreement doesn’t have language that states your loan is subject to approval. If so, your quick loan approval time might not mean much.

What can slow down my application?

If you want to have your loan in hand quickly, avoid these three pitfalls when submitting your application:

  • Not submitting all required documents

    Lenders can only fully approve your loan once all the required documents have been received. If yours is waiting on proof of income or residence, it could hold up your application. To speed up the process, check what documents are required and have them on hand before you apply.

  • Applying late in the day

    Some lenders can offer same-day approval if you apply by a certain time, usually by the end of the business day. If you apply outside of business hours or on the weekend, your application may fall to the back of the queue.

  • Not providing enough info about your vehicle

    This is especially important if you’re purchasing a used car, as some lenders have year and mileage limits. If you’ve already been preapproved and have found a car, have the dealer send the car’s info to your lender immediately so it can finalize your loan.

  • Not checking if you qualify

    Getting rejected for a car loan can slow down the whole process. Make sure you’re eligible before you apply for a car loan by checking your lender’s minimum income requirements, credit score and vehicle standards.

Compare car loan providers

1 - 3 of 3
Name Product Filter Values Minimum credit score APR Loan term Requirements
PenFed Auto Loans
Starting at 5.19%
3 to 7 years
Active membership with PenFed
One of the largest national credit unions in the U.S., it offers new and used auto financing with transparent low rates.
Varies depending on the lender
3 to 6 years
Varies depending on the lender
No minimum credit score
3.9% to 27.9%
1 to 6 years
18+ years old, annual income of $4,000+, no active bankruptcies
Get pre-qualified for used car financing and receive competitive, personalized rates.

Other factors to consider when getting a car loan

  • APR. Your annual percentage rate (APR) includes both interested and fees. It’s the easiest way to compare the cost of car loans with similar terms.
  • Down payment. Lenders generally recommend that you make at least a 20% down payment on your car to offset the cost of financing.
  • Loan term. Go for the shortest loan term you can afford to save on interest.
  • Availability. Many lenders have restrictions on which cars they’ll work with. Make sure yours can finance that vehicle you’ve had your eye on.

Bottom line

Quick turnaround from a lender means you’ll be in the driver’s seat of your new car faster. Provided you submit all of your documentation and apply during business hours, there are plenty of lenders that can process your application within just a few days.

Want to compare other options? Browse our guide to car loans to learn more about how they work and what else to look for in a lender.

Frequently asked questions

What’s the difference between preapproval and full approval?

Preapproval can happen quickly — usually the same day you apply — and gives you an idea of the loan you might qualify for. It doesn’t mean that you’re guaranteed to be approved for a car loan, however. Your lender will still need to underwrite your application, check your documents and confirm the car you’re buying before you can be fully approved.

How long do I have to look for a car after being preapproved?

Many lenders give you 30 days to shop around for the car you want. Your final interest rate, loan term and loan amount will depend on the vehicle you choose.

What documents will I need to submit?

Although it varies by lender, you’ll usually need to submit at least one of the following:

  • Proof of identity. Your driver’s license, passport or other government-issued ID should all work fine.
  • Proof of income. This can include bank statements, pay stubs or tax returns. If you’re unemployed, your lender may request to see proof of your benefits and monthly income.
  • Proof of residence. Either your lease agreement, mortgage statement or utility bill can be used to prove where you live.
  • Proof of employment. Providing the name of your employer and its contact information should be enough. Your lender may then contact your employer as confirmation.

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