Legal Age to Own a Car

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Bethany Hickey is a Content Manager and Writer for Auto Credit Express, CarsDirect, and many other automotive blogs. She's a graduate from the University of Michigan-Flint, with a bachelor’s in English-Writing. 

, Content Manager - August 12, 2021

If you have a valid driver’s license, a vehicle can typically be registered in your name, but not in every case. The legal age to own property depends on your state, but if you’re under 18, then entering a legal contract is almost always out of the question.

Minors and Vehicle Ownership

In the U.S., a minor is anyone who hasn't reached the age of majority, which is 18 in most states. This is the age at which you're allowed to enter into legally binding contracts without the permission of a parent or guardian. The exact age varies by state – it's 19 in some states and 21 in a few others.

If you’re under the age of majority and your state doesn’t allow minors to own property, then it’s very unlikely that you’re able to get a vehicle in your name and officially “own” the car on paper.

Additionally, you need proof of car insurance to register a vehicle. If you’re under the age of majority in your state, which is typically 18, then you aren’t able to get an auto insurance policy alone to register the vehicle. If you’re a teen driver, then you’re likely to need the help of a parent or guardian to get car insurance.

And, if you’re a minor, you likely need some help to finalize legal documents surrounding vehicle ownership. Check with your state’s laws regarding ownership of a car to see what age you need to be to own and register a car in your name.

Exceptions to the Rule of Thumb

There are some exemptions to the rule of a minor entering a legal contract, but in most cases, they need permission from a parent or guardian to enter into that contract.

A minor may enter into a binding contract if they're able to obtain emancipation through one means or another (court order; after getting married with required parental consent; or enlisting in the military after getting parental consent).

Regular, unemancipated minors may be able to register a vehicle in their name in some states at the age of 16, with a valid driver's license. However, this is rare.

Can a Teen Finance a Car?

Since a minor can’t sign a loan contract, they can’t finance a car. An auto loan is a legally binding contract between a borrower and a lender. If you’re a minor and sign a contract, it’s void.

Many new drivers get their first vehicle with the help of their parent(s) or guardian. If you have a parent that’s willing to help, they can either finance a car for you and register it in their name, or buy one outright with cash. Or, if your parent(s) or guardian has a spare vehicle, could allow you to drive it. And this is perfectly fine as long as you have a valid driver's license.

A minor can be listed as a driver on the auto insurance if they have a valid driver’s license. Additionally, auto insurance typically follows the car, not the driver.

It’s also common for teens to assist in the purchase of their first vehicle, by either giving money to their parents to purchase it or even helping with the insurance premiums. It’s also common for parents to register a car in your name once you reach the age of majority.

First-Time Financing a Car

New borrowers or first-time car buyers typically have thin credit files, which can lead to a lower credit score. Most traditional auto lenders require a robust credit history with a high credit score to be eligible for vehicle financing. A new borrower may struggle to qualify for a car loan if they’ve never borrowed before. Credit unions and subprime lenders tend to be more forgiving when it comes to credit score requirements, though.

If you’re on the hunt for an auto loan with a new credit history and you’re no longer considered a minor in your state, applying with a credit union where you’re a long-standing member may give you higher approval odds. If a credit union doesn’t work out, then seeking out a subprime lender signed up with a special finance dealership may be a good next route.

Subprime lenders often have first-time borrower programs, which could be just the thing a new borrower needs to get their hands on their first vehicle.

Even if you have a lower credit score, subprime lenders can tell the difference between no credit and bad credit. Traditional bad credit is seen as a lower credit score as a result of the mismanagement of past accounts. A new borrower with no credit history may be given some slack if they’re able to prove they have the chops to repay a loan.

Aside from factoring in your credit history, lenders also consider your income, work history, living stability, and down payment amount. If you have a lower credit score, expect to need a down payment, often at least $1,000 or 10% of the vehicle’s selling price.

Let Us Be Your Guide

At CarsDirect, we’ve cultivated a nationwide network of special finance dealerships. Instead of spending your time looking for a dealer that’s signed up with lenders you need for poor credit, let us do the hard work for you.

Fill out our free auto loan request form and we’ll look for a dealer in your local area.


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, Content Manager

Bethany Hickey is a Content Manager and Writer for Auto Credit Express, CarsDirect, and many other automotive blogs. She's a graduate from the University of Michigan-Flint, with a bachelor’s in English-Writing. 

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