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5 reasons to get financing before visiting the dealership

Looking for the best rate? It's all about that preapproval.

Updated

If you want to find the most competitive rate out there and don’t want to spend hours in the dealership’s finance office, getting preapproved before you hit the car lot is the way to go. And with more lenders than ever offering a quick online prequalification process, it’s easier than ever to find the best rate available to you.

Here are five reasons to get financing before hitting the dealership:

1. Get an idea of your potential interest rate

It’s no secret that dealerships mark up their rates to turn a profit on your loan. Even a seemingly small markup of a percentage point or two can add hundreds of dollars to your loan. When you apply for preapproval, you’ll have a good idea of the rate you can expect to receive. This makes it easy to avoid dealership markup and know when you’re being offered a good deal.

2. Pick a loan that fits your budget

Preapproval means you know the exact amount you can borrow, the term of your loan and the rate you can expect. You can use it to calculate your car loan’s monthly payment. Just be sure to reserve about 10% for taxes and fees.

Once you know your monthly payment, you can ensure it fits your budget — without the stressful guesswork the dealership’s finance office would put you through.

And if your loan doesn’t fit your budget? You can always borrow less than the maximum for a less expensive car that won’t break the bank.

3. Simplify the negotiation process

With preapproval, you’re considered a cash buyer. You’ll be in a better position to negotiate, largely because you don’t need to worry about how you’ll finance your car.

Instead of talking monthly payments, you can talk total cost. Tell the salesperson that you only have a certain amount of money to spend. Any car they show you will need to be under that, or you walk away. You won’t to worry about the salesperson potentially “packing” your payment with unrelated charges and fees.

And of course, you can avoid last-minute additions that raise the cost of your loan. An extended warranty or GAP insurance are common ways for a dealership to make a quick buck — especially because you’re unlikely to ever use what you pay for.

4. Score a better rate from the dealership

If you have good credit, you may still want to fill out a loan application at the dealership. This gives you a chance to see if the finance office at the dealership is willing to beat the rate you got preapproved for. A few percentage points lower, or special discounts available through manufacturer financing, may be worth the switch.

5. Look like an informed buyer

Preapproval sets you apart from an inexperienced buyer. It proves to the salesperson that you’ve done the legwork and are prepared for a big purchase. You’ll look like someone who knows what type of deal they can get — largely because you do. Combined with a firm stance on the money you can spend, you’ll be less susceptible to sales tactics meant to trick buyers into bad deals.

How to get preapproved for a car loan

To get preapproved for a car loan, simply visit the websites of the lenders you’re interested in and fill out their prequalification forms. You can also call or apply in person with some lenders if you need more guidance during the process.

It’s best to fill out prequalification forms with two or three lenders so you can compare rates. And remember: Preapproval offers may be good for up to 45 days, but you can avoid multiple hits to your credit score by submitting your applications within a 14-day window.

Compare more car loans

Data indicated here is updated regularly
Name Product Filter Values Minimum credit score APR Loan term Requirements
Carvana
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.
car.Loan.com Car Loans
300
Varies by network lender
Varies by lender
Must be a US citizen with a current US address and employed full-time or have guaranteed fixed income.
Apply with a simple online application to get paired with a local auto lender. No credit and bad credit accepted.
CarsDirect auto loans
Varies by network lender
Varies by network lender
Must provide proof of income, proof of residence, and proof of insurance.
Save time and effort with this lending service specializing in beginner-friendly or subprime car loan.
Auto Credit Express Car Loans
300
Varies
Varies
Must be employed full-time or have guaranteed fixed income of at least $1,500/month and be a current resident of the US or Canada.
Get connected with an auto lender near you, even if you have bad credit.
Monevo Auto Loans
500
3.99% to 35.99%
3 months to 12 years
Credit score of 500+, legal US resident and ages 18+.
Quickly compare multiple online lenders with competitive rates depending on your credit.
LightStream Auto Loans
Good to excellent credit
Competitive
2 to 7 years
Good or excellent credit, enough income or assets to afford a new loan, US citizen or permanent resident, 18+ years old
Quick car loans from $5,000 to $100,000 with competitive rates for borrowers with strong credit.
LendingTree
Good to excellent credit
Starting at 3.09%
Varies by lender
18+ years old, good to excellent credit, US citizen
Compare multiple financing options for auto refinance, new car purchase, used car purchase and lease buy out.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Bottom line

Getting preapproved before you hit the dealership can help you find a better rate, avoid common sales tactics and get a better deal on the overall cost of your car.

Ready to get started? Compare your car loan options to find the best preapproval offers out there.

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