When Do You Get the Title After You Buy a Car?

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Bethany Hickey is 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 - November 9, 2021

When you get your car’s title depends on what state you live in, and whether or not you're financing the vehicle. If you’re financing, you may not get the title until you’ve completed the loan. Here’s what you need to know about car buying and your vehicle’s title.

When Do I Get My Title?

Forty-one states are title-holding states, so odds are your lender has your car’s title if you’re financing. A title-holding state is one where the lienholder (your lender) keeps the title until you’ve paid off the auto loan. You get the title sent to you once you’ve finished the loan in this case. Your name is still listed as the registered owner, even though you don’t have the title in hand. If you’re financing, your lender is listed on the title, too.

The nine non-title holding states are Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Arizona, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Maryland, and South Dakota. In these states, even if you’re financing, the title is sent to you after you take delivery of the vehicle and you typically get it within two to six weeks. You’re listed as the registered owner and your lender is listed on it, too, as the lienholder. Once you complete your loan, the lender sends you a release of lien letter, which allows you to get a new title with just your name listed on it.

Who’s Listed on a Vehicle Title?

When you're financing, a lien is listed on the title to give the lender ownership rights. If you stop paying on the loan, the lien gives the lender the right to repossess the car. In a title-holding state, the lender holds onto the title and they’re listed on the title until you either: get enough money to pay off the loan or you’ve successfully finished your loan.

If you pay cash for a vehicle from a private party, the seller can just hand you the title if they don’t have a loan on it. You both then head to a Department of Motor Vehicles or Secretary of State to transfer the ownership in your name, since both the buyer and seller must sign the title. If the private seller has a loan on it, they must get a large enough offer from the buyer to pay off their loan so ownership can be transferred.

Ready for Another Car?

If you’re looking to trade in your car for something else, chances are you're looking for your title. When you still owe on your auto loan and live in a title-holding state, your lender has the title. In this case, you need to contact your lender for your loan balance or request a 10-day payoff letter to see how much you need in order to sell your vehicle.

Dealerships can often help with this process as well since most of them accept trade-ins. If you trade in your car and you get an offer high enough to cover your loan balance, the amount gets sent to your lender to release the lien.

Trade-ins are a very common way for bad credit borrowers to meet down payment requirements that many auto lenders have. However, not every lender can work with less than perfect credit – the ones that do are called subprime lenders. They’re signed up with special finance dealers.

If you need bad credit lending resources, start with us at CarsDirect. We’ve created a network of dealerships that covers coast to coast, and we’ll look for one in your local area at no cost. Start by filling out our car loan request form.

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, Content Manager

Bethany Hickey is 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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