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3 Factors That Affect Auto Loan Rates

By: Kiana Wright, Vice President of Consumer Lending

Posted on 9/4/2019 3:34:01 PM

3 factors that affect auto loan rates

When you purchase a new or used car from a dealer, unless you’re paying the total cost upfront, you’ll finance your car through an auto loan. An auto loan is made up of both the principal payment, which is the original amount of the car, plus the interest rate and fees.

The interest rate plus the additional fees are sometimes referred to as the auto loan rate, because it is calculated as a percentage of the principal amount of the car and added on to your auto loan. An auto loan rate can vary, and you might be wondering why. So, that’s what we’re going to take a look at in this article:  

Understanding Auto Loan Rates

Couple sits at a desk, happy and hugging. A woman sits across from them, smiling, looking down at some papers. There are keys on the table and a car in the background, indicating the couple is buying a new car

An auto loan rate, also called an APR (annual percentage rate) is a percentage rate that is added on to the total amount of the purchase price of your car and includes both the interest rate and any fees for the loan. These rates can vary wildly from institution to institution and are often lower at credit unions than banks.

Though auto loan rates are usually single digit percentages, small variations can make a huge difference in what you end up paying for your car. The difference between 4% vs 2% can mean thousands of dollars in additional payments. These payments are spread out over the length of your car loan, but paying an extra $10, $40, or even $100 each month can quickly add up.

That’s why you want to try and find the lowest auto loan rate possible. But it can be a little tricky to find the lowest APR when they vary so much. Understanding what influences these rates, however, can help you find the lowest possible auto loan rate and help you save money.

What Determines Your Auto Loan Rate?

Happy couple standing in front of a red car in a car dealership. They are looking at each other, arms wrapped around each other. The man is holding up the keys to the car

There are several factors that determine the APR for your auto loan, some of which are within your control, while others are not. Let’s take a look at the top three factors:

  • Your Credit History
    Your credit history, including your credit score, plays a major factor in determining your auto loan rate. Lenders rely on your credit history to determine if you are financially ready for the responsibility of making on-time, monthly payments. The lower your credit score, the higher your auto loan rate will be. So, one way to ensure lower auto loan rates is to work on getting financially fit and improving your credit score.
  • The Details of the Purchase
    There are many factors to an auto loan including the purchase price of the car, whether it’s new or used, your down payment, and the length of your loan terms. Each of these factors can influence your auto loan rate. In general, a new car with a significant down payment and short loan terms will result in lower auto loan rates and vice versa.
  • Inflation
    Outside of your control, auto loan rates rise and fall, and right now, they are at the highest they have been since 2009. While this might seem like a bad thing, it’s actually a sign of a healthy economy. Since you have no control over this, focus instead on improving your credit and saving up for a bigger down payment.

If you want a lower auto loan rate, plan accordingly by taking actions to improve your credit score, strengthen your credit history, and save for a down payment. When you’re ready to purchase a car, be sure to work with a lender from a credit union, as credit unions have lower rates and come with additional benefits.