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Personal Loan Vs Auto Loan: Differences and Which is Better?

Personal Loan vs Auto Loan: Differences & Which is Better ; Can you use a personal loan to buy a car? In a lot of cases you can, but there is more you need to understand before you do so as some loans have restrictions.
Brian O'Connell
Brian O'ConnellUpdated April 19, 2023
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Editor’s note: Lantern by SoFi seeks to provide content that is objective, independent and accurate. Writers are separate from our business operation and do not receive direct compensation from advertisers or partners. Read more about our Editorial Guidelines and How We Make Money.
Which is the better deal when you’re buying a car — a personal loan or an auto loan?While interest rates, repayment terms, and loan fees matter when you’re considering a personal loan vs. an auto loan, the decision that works for you depends on your unique financial situation, needs, and goals.In order to make an informed decision about using a personal loan or an auto loan to buy a car, there’s another question you have to consider first: What are the pros and cons of each option in my specific situation? Let’s take a closer look at both options to see which might work better for you.

Personal Loan Vs Auto Loan: Definitions and Differences

There are many factors to keep track of as you make your decision. This chart summarizes a few of the most important for many people.
FeaturePersonal LoanAuto Loan
APRCan range from 6.7% to 35.99%, depending on credit scoreCan range from 0% to 21% depending on the lender, your creditworthiness, and whether the car is new or used 
Loan TermCan range from 12 months to 12 years, depending on lender and amount financedCan range from 12 months to 15 years, depending on lender and amount financed
Down PaymentNot requiredNot necessarily required, but down payments of 20% for a new car and 10% for a used car are generally encouraged
CollateralNot required for unsecured loansVehicle being purchased serves as collateral on secured auto loans

What is a Personal Loan?

Here are several key features of personal loans:
  • A personal loan is funding that you borrow from a financial institution, i.e., a bank, credit union, or online lender, to cover specific and usually immediate financial needs. That includes the possibility that you might be applying for online personal loans to get a car, but the format is not auto-specific.
  • While buying a car certainly qualifies as a reason you might want a personal loan, those loans are typically borrowed to cover short-term financial needs, like covering a medical bill or consolidating personal debt.
  • Personal loans are typically structured so that you repay them in fixed monthly payments, usually for a term between one and seven years (although the repayment term may extend further than that, depending on the lender.)
  • Personal loans are typically an option if you can’t rely on emergency funds or savings accounts to cover a relatively unexpected cost. These include small personal loans under $5,000 and large personal loans up to $100K.
  • Personal loans may or may not require collateral like a savings account or house (they are termed ‘secured’ if they do, and ‘unsecured’ if they don’t). Typically, the lender’s decision to approve the loan comes after it assesses your financial health, including credit score, annual income, employment status, and household debt-to-income ratio. If your loan is secured, it may also need confirmation of your collateral’s worth.

What is an Auto Loan?

Here are several key features of auto loans:
  • Auto loans are typically secured by the financed vehicle and may come from banks, credit unions, online lenders, and finance companies. The lender typically “secures” the loan by requiring that the financed car serves as collateral for that loan. In other words, if you default on an auto loan, the lender can repossess the vehicle and use it to cover the loan costs.
  • With an auto loan, you agree to repay the funds over a specific period of time, usually between 12 months and seven years. Some lenders may offer 144-month car loans or longer.
  • Interest rates tied to auto loans can be fixed or variable.
  • Auto loan applications and auto refinancing will usually also require a credit check, along with a review of your recent work history, household income, debt-to-income review, and a history of any loan defaults.
Both personal loans and auto loans can be accessed directly with the lender or through online loan comparison platforms that allow you to review multiple loan offerings and make the best choice for your auto purchase needs.Once a decision is made, the loan application can easily be completed online, at the lender’s location, or over the phone with a customer service representative.Recommended: ATV Prices & Expected Maintenance Costs to Know

Factors to Review Before Borrowing Money to Buy a Car

Whether you’re using an auto loan or personal loan to buy a car, there are some common realities you’ll probably want to review before moving forward with the consumer loan and the purchase:
  • Loan interest rate. By and large, auto loans may have a lower interest rate than personal loans. That’s mostly due to the security built into the auto loan. With a secured auto loan, the lender already has collateral in the form of the vehicle. That reduces the lender’s risk of losing money, which typically translates to lower interest rates.
  • Loan fees. Both auto loans and personal loans may come with fees. You should understand the fees (what they are, why they’re being charged, and in what amount) before you make any loan decisions. Common loan fees for both auto and personal loans may include origination fees (charged basically for processing the loan), documentation fees (charged by car dealerships to process an auto’s paperwork), late payment fees (charged if your payments are late), early repayment fees (which may be charged if you want to pay off your loan early), and destination/sticker fees (which reflect what manufacturers may charge to ship a new car to the dealership lot). Those fees can add up to several hundred dollars so it’s a good idea to vet them thoroughly.
  • Down payments. Auto lenders may require down payments. If you’re using a car loan, the lender may require a down payment based on a percentage of the vehicle’s estimated value. If you’re getting an unsecured personal loan, you won’t be asked for a down payment, though you may be asked about the intended use of the loan before you’re approved.

Pros and Cons of Using a Personal Loan to Buy a Car

What are the upsides and downsides of leveraging a personal loan to buy a car? Here’s a snapshot:

Pros of a Personal Loan

  •  No strings attached. With a personal loan, the lender doesn’t mandate how you use the loan money. While you may be required to give the reason for the loan on the application, the lender probably won’t force you to use the cash to buy a new vehicle.
  • No collateral required. When using a personal loan to purchase a car, you frequently won’t have to provide any collateral for the loan. Better yet, your personal loan lender can’t repossess the vehicle if you fall behind on payments (although in that scenario, your credit score may suffer.) 

Cons of a Personal Loan

  • Higher interest rates. Since personal loans are often unsecured, in which case they require no collateral, lenders may look to protect themselves with higher interest rates than they charge on auto loans. Depending on your credit, personal loan interest rates can range from 6.7% to 35.99%. The average auto loan rate, meanwhile, is 6.07% on a new car and 10.26% on a used car as of the fourth quarter of 2022.
  • Harder to get approved. Typically, personal loan applications are reviewed more diligently by lenders compared to auto loans. That’s primarily due to the unsecured nature of many personal loans. As lenders want to make sure they’re lending to a borrower who will pay the loan back, they’re more likely to take a harder stance on loan approvals and thoroughly vet the financial health of any personal loan borrower.
Recommended: Guide to Loans for Car Repairs

Pros and Cons of an Auto Loan to Buy a Car

Here’s a look at the upsides and downsides of leveraging an auto loan to land a new set of wheels: 

Pros of an Auto Loan

  • Lower interest rates. The difference between a $10,000 loan with an interest rate of 4% and one at 8%, can amount to thousands of dollars over a multi-year period. Consequently, the likelihood that you’ll get a lower interest rate on an auto loan can be a significant factor in deciding between the two loans. 
  • Quick approval. If you have decent credit and you’re in the midst of negotiating a new car purchase with a dealer, chances are you can get a quick loan approval via the dealer’s auto financing company. While getting a quick approval is great, it’s not a good reason for you to rush into making a major financial decision. That said, quick access to an auto loan approval can prove valuable if you’ve spotted the vehicle of your dreams and want to lock down a deal.

Cons of an Auto Loan

  • Patience is required. Much like a mortgage borrower isn’t really the full owner of the home until the loan is paid off, an auto loan borrower typically won’t take full possession of the vehicle title until the secured auto loan is fully paid off.
  • Down payment. Auto loan providers may require a down payment before signing off on the loan deal. Any resistance you put up on the down payment could well lead to a “no” on the loan application, so it’s best to come to the bargaining table with a decent down payment before applying for an auto loan.

The Takeaway

There’s a lot to consider about what kind of funding is best when you’re looking to buy a car, and a lot depends on your situation. But if you’re in the market for a new car, truck, or SUV, and you want to save money over the life of the loan, working with an auto loan provider may be your best bet, since auto loans typically come with lower interest rates than personal loans.Correspondingly, if you don’t want to partner up with an auto loan provider and simply need some quick cash to lock down a new or used car purchase (without a down payment or collateral), a personal loan can provide that flexibility for you. Lantern by SoFi can help you compare personal loan rates.Consider personal loan offers with Lantern.

About the Author

Brian O'Connell

Brian O'Connell

Brian O’Connell is a freelance writer based in Bucks County, Penn. A former Wall Street trader, he is the author of the books CNBC's Creating Wealth and The Career Survival Guide. His work has appeared in multiple media platforms, including, Bloomberg, CBS News, Yahoo Finance, and U.S. News & World Report.
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