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How to use a personal loan to buy a car

Learn when and when not to consider this car loan alternative.

Car loans aren’t the only way to finance a car. When you’re looking for a convenient and easy way to buy a car, a personal loan may offer a few extra conveniences you won’t get with a car loan. However, the interest rates may be higher, so compare your rates carefully before you apply.

Personal loans vs. car loans

Personal loanCar loan
Cars you can financeAny carNew and used cars under around 10 years old
CollateralNone with an unsecured personal loanYour new car
TermsTypically 12 to 84 monthsTypically 36 to 84 months
  • Finance any type of car
  • Plenty of different loan options
  • Funds can be used for additional expenses
  • Own your car outright
  • No down payment required
  • Designed for car purchases
  • Larger loan amounts sometimes available
  • Secured loans have competitive rates
  • Access to add-ons like a warranty or insurance
  • May qualify with less-than-perfect credit
  • Rates are sometimes higher than car loans
  • More difficult to meet eligibility requirements
  • Expensive if you have poor credit
  • Must pay for insurance and fees yourself
  • Restrictions on the type of car you can buy
  • Can’t be used to cover additional expenses
  • Lender technically owns the car
  • Usually requires an upfront deposit

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  • Work and education get you better rates
  • Hardship program
  • Accepts fair credit

No fees required

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  • Competitive APRs from 8.99% to 29.99%
  • Loans up to $100,000
  • No required fees — not even late fees
  • Career training and networking events available
  • Optional banking system

Checking won't affect your credit score

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  • Fast turnaround
  • Transparent website
  • Stellar customer reviews
  • Available to residents of 47 states
Name Product Filter Values Minimum credit score APR Loan term Requirements
LightStream Auto Loans
Good to excellent credit
2 to 7 years
Must have a good to excellent credit profile, be a US citizen or a permanent resident with a valid green card, have a valid Social Security number, credit card verification requested upon loan approval and have a valid US address.
Quick car loans from $5,000 to $100,000 with competitive rates for borrowers with strong credit.
Varies depending on the lender
3 to 6 years
Varies depending on the lender
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CarsDirect auto loans
No minimum credit score
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.
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.

How does using a personal loan to buy a car work?

Personal loans work in a very similar way to car loans, although they have a few notable differences:

How much you can borrow

Request a loan for much more than the value of the car with a personal loan lender, and you don’t need to supply the vehicle details to your lender, just what you plan to do with the funds.

How you spend the money

Once you’ve received the personal loan amount you can use it for the car and however else you see fit. This can be especially useful if you need to pay for taxes and state title fees, or if you don’t have a large down payment saved up.

Who gets the money — and when

With a personal loan, you get your funds before you purchase the vehicle. This means that you can use that money like cash — simply use the deposit in your bank account to finance your car purchase. Car loans sometimes go directly to the dealership.


You have the option of applying for a loan with or without collateral when you apply for a personal loan — though you won’t be able to back it with your car.

Personal loan terms can range between one and seven years, and you can generally borrow between $2,000 and $50,000.

Borrow up to $50,000 for your next car

What are the benefits of using a personal loan?

While a car loan may be better in certain situations, personal loans offer a range of benefits to those looking to finance a vehicle.

  • Flexible use of funds. Personal loans allow you to borrow as much as you need for nearly any purpose, so you can use your loan funds to purchase a car, upgrade your insurance or install custom modifications.
  • Buy a used car. While some car loan lenders only allow you to purchase a used vehicle under a certain age, you can finance nearly any car you want with a personal loan. This includes classic vehicles and used cars over 10 years old.
  • Variety of lenders. You may find a larger range of lenders and loan options if you look for an unsecured personal loan from an online lender rather than keeping your search solely on car loans.

What are the drawbacks of using a personal loan?

Choosing a personal loan to finance a car has downsides as well. Here are some of the drawbacks to consider:

  • Costs. Compared to a car loan, you will generally find personal loans have higher interest rates.
  • No add-ons. Car loans offer car specific extras — extended warranties and service plans —that generally aren’t available with personal loans.
  • Tougher requirements. You might have better luck qualifying for a car loan if you have mediocre credit — those are secured and more forgiving of a low credit score than unsecured personal loans.

3 situations where a personal loan makes more sense

Here are three situations where you might benefit more from a personal loan than a car loan.

  1. You’re buying from a private seller. Many car loans come with restrictions on where you can buy your car. If you’re interested in buying a car from a friend — or some guy you found on Craigslist — you might have an easier time getting a personal loan.
  2. You want to buy an older car. Vintage collectors and lovers of older vehicles can have a hard time finding car loans if the car is over a certain age or has too many miles on it. You might want to look into personal loans if you’re buying a fixer-upper or purchasing a customized classic.
  3. You can qualify for a lower interest rate. While most car loans may have a lower interest rate because they’re secured by your car, borrowers with less-than-perfect credit may find a better deal by opting for a personal loan instead.

Buying from a dealership? A car loan could be a better idea

It may be better to use a car loan or dealership financing when you’re thinking about buying from a manufacturer or car dealership You’ll be able to get a competitive rate and may have access to more convenient features with dealership financing.

How much does a personal loan cost?

While how much your loan costs depends on your unique circumstances, you’ll want to consider two main factors: Interest and fees:

  • Interest rate. Interest can be either fixed or variable and can range from 5% to 36% depending on the type of loan you apply for and your credit.
  • Origination fees. You may need to pay a fee to borrow your loan, typically 1 to 3% of the loan amount.
  • Ongoing fees. Some personal loans may come with annual fees that will increase your ongoing repayments.
  • Late payment and non-sufficient funds fees. If you make a loan repayment late or fail to make a repayment you will be charged additional fees. Get in touch with your lender if you think you’ll be late with a repayment.

Where can I get a personal loan to buy a car?

Get a personal loan to buy a car from a variety of lenders. Here are some of our top suggestions:

  • Online lenders. Online lenders are known for their speed and easy process. It typically only takes a few minutes to fill out an application, and you may be able to have funds deposited into your account by the next business day.
  • Banks. You might want to also look into your bank’s personal loan offerings. They sometimes offer discounts or simplified applications to members. Banks also tend to offer relatively low interest rates, though you’ll typically need good or excellent credit to qualify.
  • Credit unions. These nonprofit financial institutions work similarly to banks but typically offer lower rates and have less strict credit requirements. It can take a while to get your funds, however, and you’ll have to open a savings account to qualify.
  • Peer-to-peer (P2P) marketplaces. Some online P2P marketplaces like LendingClub and Prosper connect borrowers with investors interested in funding their loans. Funding is typically quick and you can often get competitive rates.

Is a personal loan right for me?

To help yourself decide if a personal loan makes sense for your car purchase, try answering some of these questions:

  • Is my personal loan enough to cover the costs? In most cases, you won’t need to borrow a lot to purchase a car. But just in case, make sure you can borrow as much as you need with a personal loan before signing a loan contract.
  • Is a car loan an option? If you’re buying a car over 10 years old or has more than 100,000 miles on it, you could have trouble qualifying for a car loan to buy that vehicle. In this case, a personal loan may be one of your only options.
  • Can I get a better deal with a personal loan? Try prequalifying with a few personal and car loan providers — or at least reach out to ask what rates you can personally expect with each. This will show you which lending option can get you a better deal.
  • Is it important that I own the car? With a car loan, you don’t get the car title until you’ve made your last repayment. With a personal loan, you’ll own your car right away.
  • Does it fit my budget? Personal loans can sometimes come with shorter loan terms than car loans. While a short loan term means you’ll end up paying less in interest, they can also mean higher monthly repayments. Make sure you can afford the monthly repayments on a personal loan before applying.

Can I use a personal loan to cover the down payment on a car?

It’s possible to use a personal loan to cover the down payment on a new car. But it might not be the best idea, especially if you’re also getting a car loan.

That’s because you’ll end up paying interest on the full value of your car — which can get particularly expensive with a longer loan term. And if you’re applying for two separate loans, you might have trouble qualifying since each application involves a hard credit pull, which lowers your score.

If you need help with the down payment, consider only applying for a personal loan or a car loan company that offers at least 100% financing.

Bottom line

Finding the right financing option comes down to costs, features and flexibility. Car loans can be great for borrowers who want to buy from the dealership. Personal loans tend to work better for those who want to wander off the beaten path by getting an older car or buying from an unconventional seller. They could be best for borrowers who’ve bought a car a before and know what they’ll need to purchase on top of the car itself.

Compare your personal loan options before applying, or if you think a car loan might be more your speed, read our guide on qualifying for a car loan.

Frequently asked questions

What is an origination fee?

Some lenders charge an origination fee — typically a 1-3% of the loan amount — for underwriting and processing the loan. It’s usually deducted from the loan amount before you receive your funds.

What if I get denied for a loan?

You’ll likely have to take some time to actively improve your credit history to help your future chances of being approved for a loan.

Can I buy a car with a credit card?

It depends on where you buy the car from. Some dealers only allow you to purchase up to a certain amount with a credit card. This option only makes sense if you have a card with 0% interest and perhaps one that earns rewards.

Written by

Kyle Morgan

Kyle Morgan is SEO manager at Forbes Advisor and a former editor and content strategist at Finder. He has written for the USA Today network and Relix magazine, among other publications. He holds a BA in journalism and media from Rutgers University. See full profile

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2 Responses

    Default Gravatar
    DanOctober 9, 2018

    I have a car financed through Car Loans of America. I am not sure you have heard of them. I would like to refinance with you if that is possible.

      Default Gravatar
      nikkiangcoOctober 10, 2018

      Hi Dan,

      Thanks for your inquiry and for visiting our page.

      It’s great to know that you’re interested to apply for a car loan. However, please note that finder is not an approving body for car loans. The providers on our page are the ones who will. On the page above, you’ll see a list of car providers. Please enter your credit score and your city-state then it will show the list of providers available to you.

      As a friendly reminder, review the eligibility criteria of the loan before applying to increase your chances of approval. Read up on the product disclosure statement of the product and contact the lender should you need any clarifications about the card.

      Hope this helps! Feel free to message us should you have further questions.


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