Subprime Auto Loan

What Is a Subprime Auto Loan?

A subprime auto loan is a type of loan used to finance a car purchase that’s offered to people with low credit scores or limited credit histories. Subprime loans carry higher interest rates than comparable prime loans and may also come with prepayment penalties if the borrower chooses to pay off the loan early; however, so-called subprime borrowers may have no other avenue for purchasing an automobile, so they are often willing to pay the higher fees and rates associated with these types of loans.

Subprime auto loans became big business following the monetary expansion of 2001–2004, along with subprime mortgages and other forms of lending to higher-risk individuals or businesses. Financial institutions were so flush with money that they sought out the higher returns that could be had from charging higher interest rates to subprime borrowers.

The term “subprime” actually was popularized by the media a little later, though, during the subprime mortgage crisis or “credit crunch” of 2007 and 2008. The ranks of subprime lenders thinned out after the Great Recession, but they have been making a comeback.

Key Takeaways

  • Subprime auto loans are offered to people with low credit scores or limited credit histories.
  • Subprime auto loans have higher interest rates than regular auto loans due to the perceived increased riskiness of the borrower.
  • A credit score between 580 and 619 is considered subprime.
  • Fees can vary on subprime auto loans; shop around if you need to resort to one.

How a Subprime Auto Loan Works

There is no official cutoff score for subprime (versus prime) status, but usually, the borrower has a credit score between 580 and 619 to be considered subprime. (FICO credit scores range between 300 and 850.)

In evaluating a borrower, an auto-loan lender may ask to see pay stubs or W-2 or 1099 forms to prove income. If a borrower is in a line of work in which it’s hard to prove income—a restaurant server who has a lot of income in cash tips, for example—they may need to bring in bank statements that indicate a history of consistent cash deposits to their account. Some lenders will accept bank statements in place of, or in addition to, standard pay stubs.

In general, it’s best to shop around for rates if forced to go with a subprime loan. Not all lenders use the same criteria and some charge larger fees than others. The interest rates can be quite steep compared to a standard car loan because the lender wants to ensure it can recoup costs should the borrower default on the payments.

Alternatively, borrowers might try to improve their credit scores before they try to get financing for an automobile purchase. That way, they could qualify for a loan with much better terms.

Subprime Auto Loan Rates

As there is no official subprime credit score, there is no official subprime auto loan rate. Interest rates will vary among lenders, and, of course, depend on the type of vehicle (new versus old) and the loan term or length. Here are typical interest rates one can expect when shopping for an auto loan to buy a new or used vehicle as of Q4 2021.

New-Car Loan:

  • Super prime (781-850): 2.47%
  • Prime (661-780): 3.51%
  • Near prime (601-660): 6.07%
  • Subprime: (501-600): 9.41%
  • Deep subprime (300-500): 12.53%

Used-Car Loan:

  • Super prime (781-850): 3.61%
  • Prime (661-780): 5.38%
  • Near prime (601-660): 9.8%
  • Subprime: (501-600): 15.96%
  • Deep subprime (300-500): 19.87%

As you can see, the rate jumps dramatically between borrowers with acceptable credit scores and those with subprime status. An auto loan calculator can provide a more detailed window into how a credit score will affect a loan's interest rate and, by extension, the monthly payment.

Can You Get a Car Loan With a Subprime Credit Score?

Yes, you can get a car loan with a subprime credit score; however, the interest rate on the auto loan will be high; significantly higher than that of non-subprime loans. It is advised to try and improve your credit score before taking out any loan.

What Is Considered a Subprime Auto Loan?

A subprime auto loan is an auto loan made to borrowers whose credit scores are considered to be subprime, which is typically a range between 580 and 619, though this can vary depending on the institution or lender.

What Is the Average Auto Loan Interest Rate?

The average auto loan interest rate will vary by credit score, but for a prime borrower (credit score between 661 to 780), the rate is 3.51% for a new car and 5.38% for a used car.

The Bottom Line

A subprime credit score is one that is considered to be poor and of high risk to a lender. Subprime loans, including auto loans, come with higher interest rates due to the risky credit profile of the borrower. Regardless of the high interest rates, subprime loans are sometimes the only options for a borrower.

It is advised that borrowers make an effort to improve their credit score or create a credit history if possible before seeking out any loan so as to pay a lower interest rate on their loan, thereby reducing the overall cost of their purchase.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "Borrower Risk Profiles."

  2. Market Watch. "Average Auto Loan Interest Rates by Credit Score (June 2022)."

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