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Can you buy a car with a credit card — and should you?

It depends on your dealer — and it's wise only if you can pay off your purchase quickly.

When buying a car, you’ve got several different options. They include — but aren’t limited to — a personal loan, car loan or lease agreement.

You may also be able to use a credit card, which can be a good option especially if yours has a low-interest promotion. However, buying a car with a credit card carries risks, and you’ll want to take care to minimize interest.

What are the rules on buying a car with a credit card?

If you’re thinking about buying a car with a credit card, ask your dealer if it accepts plastic and which card networks it accepts — for example, Visa, Mastercard, etc.

Should you buy a car with a credit card?

For many, the answer is: Yes, if you can pay it off quickly, and if you earn rewards.

Credit card interest is the main factor that affects whether it’s a good idea to buy a vehicle with your card. Consider these statistics:

Because credit card APRs tend to be much higher than those of auto loans, plastic tends to be a poorer option. Still, consider these pros and cons to decide whether using a card is right for you.

It might make sense to buy a car with a credit card if…

    • You pay off your balance immediately or very soon.
      Yes, credit card APRs can be much higher, but this is more relevant if you let your balance accrue interest for a long period. If you buy your car with your credit card and pay off the balance within your grace period, you’ll accrue no interest.
    • You’ll earn rewards on your spending.
      Provided you can pay off your balance very quickly, you could score a burst of rewards through your car purchase. For example, let’s say you have the Citi® Double Cash Card, which lets you earn 1% when you make a purchase and 1% when you pay it off. If you buy a $10,000 car with it, you’ll earn $100 cash back when you make the purchase and another $100 cash back as you pay off that balance. If you accrue no interest on that purchase, you get to keep all of the rewards.
  • You’ll leverage a 0% intro APR period.
    With a 0% intro APR card, you may have several months during which you won’t accrue interest on your purchases. This could be helpful for buying a car. But consider making the purchase only if you’re confident you can pay it off before your intro APR expires. Otherwise, your car could turn into a big financial drag, accumulating interest very quickly.

Buying : a car with a credit card might not make sense if…

  • You plan on paying off your car over a long period, and you don’t have a 0% intro APR or low-interest credit card.
    In this case, using a credit card is probably a poor idea. Interest payments will snowball quickly, making your car much more expensive than originally thought.
  • Your dealer adds a surcharge for paying with a credit card.
    This surcharge might add a significant amount on top of your already expensive car purchase. Plus, it can erase the value of any rewards you earn. A surcharge of even 3% on a purchase of $10,000 is a hefty $300. Check with your dealer and ask if you’ll need to pay extra for using a credit card.
  • You need your credit score to remain strong.
    Buying a car will likely take a big chunk out of your available credit. This increases your credit utilization ratio and, in turn, decreases your credit score. If you’ll be doing anything in which you’ll benefit from a good credit score — for example, applying for a mortgage — be careful about sucking up your available credit with a car purchase.

Can you pay your car loan with a credit card?

Yes, it’s possible to pay your car loan with a credit card. You’ll need to make a balance transfer, so using a card with a long 0% intro APR period on balance transfers would be the best choice.

Note: Card issuers will automatically decline balance transfers within the bank or with affiliated institutions. This means if your car loan is from Capital One, you will not be able to make a balance transfer to a Capital One credit card.

5 steps to buy a car with a credit card

If you’ve decided using a credit card is a smart choice, there are five steps to go about it.

  1. With your dealer, negotiate and settle on a price for your car.
  2. Verify that your dealer accepts credit cards and that it won’t add a surcharge for using a card.
  3. Select a credit card to use — preferably one with a 0% intro APR or rewards.
  4. Pay for your car purchase with your card.
  5. Pay off your credit card balance immediately or before your 0% intro APR expires.

What if the dealer wants to add a surcharge for using a credit card?

Your best defense is agreeing on the price of the car with your dealer before discussing payment options. This way, you’ll know if your dealer wants to add a surcharge.

What if the dealer won’t accept a credit card for my purchase?

As per merchant agreements with many credit card companies, businesses must accept credit cards for all transactions. Your dealer may accept cards for merchandise or servicing, which means it likely must do so for car purchases as well.

If using a credit card is really important to you, you can always choose not to buy the car. Coincidentally, walking away from a deal is among your best negotiating tactics with a car dealer.

Compare credit cards for buying a car

If you’re looking to make a direct car purchase with your card, look for a long 0% intro APR period on purchases. But if you’re looking to pay a car loan with a credit card, look for a long 0% intro APR period on balance transfers.

Name Product Filter values Rewards Purchase APR Annual fee
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
6% on select US streaming services, 3% on transit and US gas stations, 6% at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 annually, then 1% after that and on other purchases (redeem as statement credit)
0% intro for the first 12 months (then 13.99% to 23.99% variable)
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
Earn a $300 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card within the first 6 months. Having 6 months to earn a welcome offer is a rare benefit as most cards give you only 3. Terms apply, see rates & fees
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Earn unlimited 2x miles on every purchase, every day
15.99% to 23.99% variable
Earn 60,000 bonus miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months ​from account opening
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
0% intro for the first 15 months (then 14.99% to 24.99% variable)
One-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening

Compare up to 4 providers

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Other things to consider when buying a car with a credit card

  • Annual fee. Many credit cards come with annual fees. Consider this when working out how much this method of buying a car will cost you.
  • Credit card surcharges vs. auto loan origination fees. An auto loan may come with an origination fee, which is usually 1% to 2% of the loan amount. Compare this cost with a potential credit card surcharge.
  • Be aware of promotional periods. A 0% intro APR will end after a certain number of months. When this happens, your interest rate will revert to the standard purchase or balance transfer APR, which could be much higher.
  • Rewards points. Compare the value of your rewards with the interest you may pay. Interest charges could seriously reduce the value of any cash back, points or miles you earn from your purchase.
  • A car purchase could limit your cash flow. Because your credit limit will be reduced with your car purchase, you may have less credit for paying your bills and other expenses.
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Other ways to finance a car purchase

There are other ways of financing your car purchase. Consider them in addition to credit cards, so you can leave the car lot feeling like you got the best deal.

Car loan

When you get a car loan, the car you are planning to buy is used as security for the loan. If you can’t meet your loan obligations, the lender has the right to seize your car. The interest rates are usually lower on this kind of loan since it has been secured to an asset.

Personal loan

When you take out a personal loan for a car, you must make regular payments like you would with any other loan. Spread these repayments out anywhere between one to seven years. Either get a secured or unsecured personal loan for car financing, and this will influence both the interest rate and how much you are allowed to borrow.

Car lease

Leasing a car is a lot like renting. You put a down payment on a car, after which you’ll make monthly payments for as long as the lease lasts.

You’ll have the option to buy the vehicle, for a residual, when the lease has expired. The residual is the wholesale value of a car at the end of the lease, and it’s set by whoever finances the lease.

Bottom line

Even if a credit card turns out to be the most suitable option for you, cards don’t offer much protection in the event that you miss a payment or pay late. In fact, credit cards will often heavily punish you for a missed or late payment. A credit card may save you money on your car purchase, but if not managed correctly, it can also get you into trouble.

Ultimately, you should only use a credit card for a car purchase if you can pay off your balance quickly — and if you’ll earn rewards.

A car loan is a strong alternative, often coming with much better interest rates.

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