Getting pre-approved for an auto loan gives you more control over the buying process. You walk into the dealer already knowing how much car you can afford and the type of loan and interest rate you qualify for. Even if you don't use the pre-approved loan, it will give you significant leverage when negotiating price and financing terms with the dealer.
The Pre-Approval Process
- Get a copy of your credit reports and scores from all three credit bureaus before applying for any loan. (Checking your own credit won't have any negative impact.) If there are any negative items that are incorrect, contact the credit bureau and have them fixed.
- Gather documents you might need for pre-approval for an auto loan from a bank or credit union. You might have to submit proof of income like pay stubs; bank account statements; information about credit card and other debts; and copies of your most recent tax return.
- Shop around and compare rates at banks, credit unions, and dealers. Inquire about any penalties for early payoff or refinancing.
- Be prepared to provide specific vehicle information to the lender (make, model, year, etc.). Some lenders will require this before pre-approving you for a loan.
- Compare your pre-approved loan offer to any offers the dealer can find though its own finance department. Don't worry about multiple inquiries from a variety of lenders—the credit bureaus know when you're shopping around for a loan and will treat them as a single inquiry.
- You might choose the loan with the best interest rate; if you like working with a particular lender and its rate is competitive, though, you may prefer to give that bank your business. Be aware of all the details and read all fine print extremely carefully before you make a final decision.