Applying jointly with your partner may help you qualify for more competitive rates.
Looking to invest in a new SUV or minivan for your family? You’ll likely want to explore your different financing options first. After all, a car loan will be with you for a few years, so doing your homework now can help you save in the long run. Rather than jumping on the first loan you find, consider your family’s finances to determine what rates and terms will best suit your needs.
What types of car loans are suitable for a family car?
Because family cars are financed the same as any other car, you have quite a few options to consider:
- Car loans. Taking out a car loan from a bank, credit union or online lender is the most common way to finance a car. These types of loans are usually secured by the vehicle you’re purchasing. Most lenders have borrowing limits upwards of $100,000, although you’ll still need to be able to prove you can afford the monthly repayments.
- Car leases. A car lease is a temporary contract that allows you to drive a new car for a set number of miles each year. Most leases have terms from two to four years. When the contract is up, you can choose to return your car, extend the lease or buy it out. This is a great choice if you’ll only need that big SUV a few years while hauling around your kids’ sporting equipment, and you’ll likely be able to keep your monthly payments low.
- Dealership financing. Dealerships offer car loans and leasing options, typically through your car’s manufacturer or a local bank. While this can be convenient — especially if you don’t have time to search for loan deals with a busy schedule — it often ends up costing more than borrowing directly from a lender.
- Personal loans. Personal loans can also be used to finance a car. Many are unsecured, so you won’t have to put up collateral. And since there are few restrictions on how you use your funds, this is a great option if you’re looking to cover other family expenses on top of buying a new car.
Compare car loans to finance a family car
How do I compare loans for family cars?
As a busy parent, comparing car loans might not be your top priority. However, asking yourself a few basic questions can help you find the best loan for your family’s needs.
- What fees will I be charged? Before you sign any loan contract, check out the fees. Many come with upfront charges like origination and application fees, as well as prepayment penalties for paying back the loan early.
- What is the interest rate? You can usually choose between fixed and variable interest rates. Fixed rates stay the same throughout the life of your loan — ideal if your family’s on a budget since your monthly repayments will be predictable. Variable rates have the potential to go lower — or higher — than fixed rates depending on changes in the lending market.
- How restrictive is the loan? Certain lenders may impose restrictions on how you can use your funds or the type of car you can buy. If you’re looking for a used car, make sure your lender will finance it based on its age and mileage. If you want to cover taxes and title fees with your loan, check to see if your lender allows it.
- Are the repayments flexible? A family’s budget can change from month to month. Look into whether your lender allows you to make additional repayments or change your repayment due date.
- What are the loan terms? Most car loans come with terms from one to eight years. However, the term you qualify for can depend on how much you’re borrowing and whether you’re purchasing a new or used car. Make sure the lender offers the terms you’re looking for before applying.
- How much can I borrow? You can generally borrow anywhere from $1,000 to $100,000 depending on the lender. But the exact amount you qualify for — and your interest rate — will depend on the type of car you’re purchasing and your family’s financial situation. You may only be able to borrow a certain amount if you buy a used car. And if your finances aren’t the best, you may not qualify for the largest loans.
What should I consider before applying?
When you’re buying a family car, take a look at your budget and figure out how much you can comfortably afford to pay each month. This will avoid putting your family finances at risk. Consider your needs when deciding between fixed and variable rates, how much you should borrow and the loan term. If you have young children, consider that they may be starting school soon and your expenses could increase.
When comparing offers, use our car loan calculator to determine what your potential monthly payments would be based on the loan amount, interest rate and term. This can help you find a loan that fits your family’s budget.
How do I apply for a family car loan?
Applying for a family car loan works just like any other car loan — you provide basic financial information and wait to see if the lender is willing to finance your purchase. You can often apply for a car loan online, though some banks and credit unions may require you to visit a branch to complete the application in person. Typically, you need to be a US citizen or permanent resident and at least 18 years old to qualify.
While all lenders allow you to apply for a car loan individually, some may also offer the option of applying with a coapplicant or cosigner. Here’s how each works:
Applying as an individual
When applying for a car loan as an individual, you’ll typically need to provide the following details:
- Personal information, including your name, address, phone number, email and government-issued ID.
- Financial information, including your income, assets, debts and open credit accounts.
- Employment information, including your employer’s name and contact information.
- Vehicle information, including the make, model, mileage and VIN of the car you’re interested in buying.
If you’re applying for preapproval, you may not need to provide details about the car you’d like to purchase right away. Most lenders allow you to shop for a car up to 30 days after being preapproved, which can help make the price negotiation process easier.
Applying with a coapplicant
If you have a partner or older child that still lives at home, you may want to consider taking out a family car loan together. Applying with a coapplicant or coborrower can help increase your chances of approval — usually at a lower rate or for a higher amount. This is because the lender considers both your and your coapplicant’s financial information when determining your rates and terms.
You’ll need to provide the same details as with an individual application, but for both you and your coapplicant. If approved, you both share equal responsibility for paying back the loan each month.
Applying with a cosigner
Applying with a cosigner works similarly to applying with a coapplicant. The financial information of both the primary borrower and the cosigner are considered during the application process. Again, this can help you get approved for more favorable rates and terms. The main difference is that only the primary borrower is responsible for making loan payments each month. But should you default, your cosigner will be contacted to help repay the loan.
What safety features should I look for in a family car?
Once you’ve been preapproved for an auto loan and know how much you can borrow, it’s time to begin your search for the perfect family car. Pay close attention to the safety ratings and features of each car to find the one that best fits your needs.
- NHTSA rating. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has a simple 5-star rating system that judges how well vehicles perform in crash tests. Its score is based off four tests: frontal, side barrier, side pole and rollover. The higher the rating, the better a vehicle performed.
- IIHS rating. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has a bit more in-depth rating system. It judges eight features and gives each a rating of Good, Acceptable, Marginal or Poor. And in addition to its safety ratings, the IIHS also has a section for choosing the best vehicle for your teen driver.
- Active safety features. Active safety features take advantage of new technology to prevent accidents. These can include warning systems for lane departure or forward collision, stability control, antilock braking systems and safety cameras.
- Passive safety features. Passive safety features are meant to protect you in the event of a crash. These features, which are imperative to keeping you safe, include crumple zones, seatbelts, airbags and headrests.
You should also take into account more than just safety when choosing a car for your family. If you have younger children that often need to have equipment lugged around, storage and comfort should be on the forefront of your mind. If you have a new driver who will be borrowing your car to practice, look for crash-prevention systems that can keep your teen safe while on the road.
At the end of the day, a car loan is more than just a loan — it’s a way to get the car your family will be using for the foreseeable future. Take your kids along to the test drive and get their opinions. After all, a family car should be a family decision.
A family car loan works just like any other car loan. By comparing offers from different lenders, you can put your family in a better position to keep monthly payments low. And if you’re part of a family with two incomes, you may be able to benefit by applying jointly to make your application more competitive.
Before you invest in a family car, check out our general guide to car loans so you know exactly what to expect.
Frequently asked questions
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