What Are the Different Types of Auto Loans?


Whether you’re planning to purchase a new or used car, buy out a lease, or refinance an existing auto loan, understanding the different types of auto loans available can help you make the right decision for your financial situation.

Each type of car loan comes with its unique set of advantages and drawbacks, along with specific use cases. The main distinguishing factors among them include whether the vehicle is used as collateral, the method of interest calculation, and the source of the loan.

woman buying car

Additionally, some unique auto loan types cater to specific circumstances. This comprehensive guide aims to shed light on the various types of auto loans, helping you navigate the auto financing landscape with ease.

Secured Auto Loans vs. Unsecured Auto Loans

Secured Auto Loans

In most instances, when you hear about auto loans, they’re referring to secured auto loans. These loans use the vehicle you’re purchasing as collateral. If you fail to make your monthly payments, the lender – often a bank, credit union, or online lender – has the right to repossess your car.

The appeal of a secured auto loan lies in its typically lower interest rates and flexible loan terms, largely due to the reduced risk to the lender. However, the consequence of failing to repay the loan can result in losing your vehicle.

Unsecured Auto Loans

In contrast, unsecured auto loans, often in the form of personal loans, don’t require collateral. Because the lender doesn’t have the safety net of repossessing your vehicle if you default, these loans are generally harder to qualify for and come with higher interest rates. They can, however, be a viable option for car buyers with a strong credit history who might not want to risk their vehicle.

Simple Interest Loans vs. Precomputed Interest Auto Loans

Simple Interest Loans

A simple interest loan calculates interest on your outstanding loan balance on a daily, monthly, or annual basis. This type of loan can save you money if you plan to pay off the loan early or make additional payments on top of your fixed monthly payment, reducing the principal loan amount faster.

It’s important to remember that the interest rate on a simple interest loan can vary depending on your credit rating and loan term.

Precomputed Interest Auto Loans

Precomputed interest auto loans, on the other hand, calculate the total interest over the loan term and add it to the principal when the loan is originated. Your monthly payments first go towards the interest, with the remaining going towards the principal.

If you plan to stick strictly to your payment schedule, this type of loan might work for you. However, paying off a precomputed interest loan early won’t save you as much in interest compared to a simple interest loan.

Direct Auto Financing vs. Indirect Auto Financing

Direct Auto Financing

Direct auto financing involves getting a loan directly from a bank, credit union, or online lender. This method allows you to compare car loans from different lenders to secure the best interest rate and loan term. Moreover, it grants more control over the borrowing process and can make loan approval easier for those with bad credit.

Indirect Auto Financing

Indirect financing occurs when the dealership coordinates your loan through a third-party lender. While this process is convenient – often allowing you to choose a vehicle and secure financing in one place – it may not always yield the best interest rates or loan terms. Dealerships may mark up the interest rate offered by the finance companies they work with as part of their compensation.

Prequalification vs. Preapproval


Prequalification is a preliminary step some lenders offer to give you a ballpark figure of the loan amount and interest rates you might qualify for based on a soft credit check, which doesn’t impact your credit score. It’s a good starting point for car buyers to understand their budget, but it’s not a guarantee of a loan.


Preapproval involves a more thorough check of your financial status, including a hard credit check. It offers a concrete loan amount, rate, and term. Although it’s a more involved process, it provides car buyers a clear budget and negotiating power when visiting the dealership. Remember, a preapproval can impact your credit score, so it’s advisable only when you’re serious about buying a car.

Other Types of Car Loans

Refinancing Auto Loans

Refinancing your auto loan is akin to refinancing a mortgage. Essentially, you’re using a new loan to pay off your existing car loan. This new loan, ideally, comes with more favorable terms or lower APRs that can lead to significant savings over the loan’s lifetime. It can be especially beneficial if your credit score has improved since the original loan, you’ve found a lender offering a lower APR, or if market interest rates have dropped.

One thing to remember is that refinancing might not be beneficial in all scenarios. If your existing loan has prepayment penalties or if the new loan extends your repayment period considerably, the costs might outweigh the benefits.

Lease Buyout Loans

When you lease a vehicle, you’re essentially renting it for a set period. Once that lease period ends, you usually have the option to return the vehicle or buy it outright. If you’ve grown attached to your car and want to keep it, that’s when a lease buyout loan can be helpful.

Lease buyout loans allow you to finance the purchase of your leased vehicle once the lease term ends. They can be a suitable choice in two scenarios. The first scenario is if the buyout price of your vehicle, as defined in your lease agreement, is less than its current market value. The second is if you’re facing hefty penalties for lease-end conditions such as exceeding the mileage limit or excessive wear and tear.

Keep in mind, the interest rates and terms of lease buyout loans can vary greatly based on your credit score and other factors, so shopping around for the best deal is essential.

Subprime Auto Loans

Not everyone has perfect credit. If your credit score is below average, a subprime auto loan might be the only option available to finance a vehicle purchase. These loans are specifically designed for those with a poor credit rating or no credit history at all.

While subprime auto loans offer a lifeline to car buyers with poor credit, they do come with their share of drawbacks. The most notable among these is higher APRs, which are imposed due to the perceived risk of lending to someone with a spotty credit history.

In the end, you might end up paying significantly more for your vehicle than you would have with a conventional loan. As such, it’s crucial to weigh the pros and cons carefully and explore other options, such as improving your credit score or saving for a larger down payment, before opting for a subprime loan.

Private Party Auto Loans

Traditionally, most auto loans are set up for purchases from a dealership. However, if you’re looking to buy a car from a private seller – say, from an online listing or a neighbor – a private party auto loan could be your answer.

These loans are typically structured similarly to other car loan types but are designed specifically for private sales. Some potential advantages include more room for negotiation and the possibility to purchase a unique or hard-to-find vehicle. However, there are also potential drawbacks, such as higher APRs and shorter loan terms.

It’s also worth noting that not all lenders offer private party auto loans, so finding a suitable loan may require some research. Furthermore, due diligence is necessary to ensure the vehicle’s condition and ownership history are as described, as private sales lack the consumer protections of buying from a dealership.

Buy-Here-Pay-Here Loans

Buy Here, Pay Here (BHPH) loans are a type of auto loan offered by certain car dealerships. With this type of loan, the dealership itself extends the credit for the car purchase, rather than a bank, credit union or another third-party lender.

These car loans are often geared towards those with bad credit or who have trouble securing a traditional car loan. The significant difference here is that payments are typically made directly to the dealership, often on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.

While BHPH loans can be beneficial to those in need of a vehicle who might not otherwise qualify for a loan, they usually carry higher interest rates. This is due to the increased risk the dealership takes on by not involving a traditional lender. It’s essential to review the loan terms closely, and consider alternative options, before deciding on a BHPH loan.

Title Loans

Title loans are another type of car loan that are based on the equity you have in your vehicle. In this case, the car’s title is used as collateral for the loan.

A title loan can be a fast way to get cash, but it can be risky. Title loan lenders typically don’t consider your ability to repay the loan. As a result, if you’re unable to make your payments, you risk losing your car.

One important thing to remember about title loans is that they often come with high interest rates and fees. The annual percentage rate can be much higher than other types of auto loans, making it an expensive way to borrow money.

Like with any loan, it’s important to understand the terms and costs before you sign for a title loan. As always, consider all your options and only borrow what you can afford to repay.


Understanding the types of auto loans available can be your first step towards a wise vehicle purchase. Remember, what works best for you depends on various factors such as your credit score, down payment, budget, and the type of vehicle you’re buying, among others.

Take time to compare auto loans, ask questions, and consider your financial situation before borrowing money. This can lead to a lower monthly payment, potentially saving you a significant amount over the life of the loan. Regardless of the type of car loan you opt for, the key lies in being a responsible borrower to ensure a smoother road towards owning your new or used car.

Every car buyer has unique needs, and the beauty of this diverse market lies in its ability to cater to everyone. Always remember to check your credit report and consider all the options at hand.

By fully understanding the ins and outs of auto loans, you’ll be better equipped to choose a loan that best fits your needs, ensuring your car purchase is a joy ride rather than a bumpy one. Happy driving!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I get an auto loan with bad credit?

Yes, it is possible to secure an auto loan with bad credit, but it might be more challenging and the interest rates may be higher. Some lenders specialize in subprime lending to those with less-than-perfect credit.

What is the typical term for a car loan?

Loan terms can range greatly, but most fall between 36 and 72 months. Some lenders extend terms up to 84 months, but keep in mind that while longer terms may lower your monthly payment, they can also lead to paying more interest over the life of the loan.

Can I get preapproved for a car loan?

Yes, many lenders provide preapproval for car loans. Preapproval can give you a clear idea of what you can afford and can give you more bargaining power at the dealership.

Does applying for multiple auto loans affect my credit score?

When lenders make a hard inquiry into your credit, it can slightly lower your credit score. However, the scoring models used by most credit bureaus count all inquiries for auto loans within a typical two-week period as a single inquiry to encourage rate shopping.

What’s the difference between interest rate and annual percentage rate (APR)?

The interest rate represents the percentage of the loan amount that you pay in interest each year. On the other hand, the annual percentage rate (APR) includes the interest rate and any additional fees charged by the lender. This makes the APR a more accurate representation of the total cost of the loan.

Should I have a down payment when applying for an auto loan?

A down payment is not always required, but it can bring several benefits. First, it can lower your loan amount and monthly payment. Second, it reduces the risk of owing more on your loan than the car is worth. Lastly, it could improve your chances of loan approval and the terms you’re offered.

Can I refinance my auto loan?

Yes, if interest rates have dropped or your credit has improved since you took out your original loan, you might be able to save money by refinancing to a lower interest rate or better loan terms.

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