Personal Loans vs Car Loans: What’s the Difference?

By Timothy Moore · May 07, 2024 · 7 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

Personal Loans vs Car Loans: What’s the Difference?

For most Americans, having a car is a necessity. We need it to get to work, school, the grocery, the doctor, and all our weekly errands. Unfortunately, both new and used cars are expensive — and auto loan rates are on the rise as well.

So when buying a car, does it ever make sense to use a personal loan instead of traditional financing? We’ll break down the difference between personal loans and car loans and when you might want to use the former to buy a new set of wheels.

Personal Loan vs Auto Loan: An Overview

You can use a personal loan for almost anything, including buying a car. But why would you use a personal loan to purchase a vehicle when there are very specific loans — auto loans — to finance this purchase?

As we’ll see, personal loans can offer some benefits over car loans, including less buyer risk, no down payment needed, better negotiating power, and potential savings on car insurance. But car loans still have their place and may be cheaper in the long run.

Personal Loans

A personal loan allows you to borrow money from a bank, credit union, or lender to fund nearly any kind of purchase. People commonly use personal loans for debt consolidation, home renovations, weddings, vacations, and even new and used car purchases.

Personal loans can be unsecured (no collateral required) or secured (collateral required). For the sake of our personal loan vs. auto loan comparison, we’ll be looking at unsecured personal loans, as they’re more common.

Recommended: Types of Personal Loans

How Interest Rates Work on Personal Loans

Because unsecured personal loans aren’t backed by any collateral, interest rates tend to be higher than what you’d get for a car loan. Average personal loan interest rates vary depending on your credit score and the loan terms, but typically, they max out at 36%.

Most personal loans come with fixed rates, meaning your interest rate will stay the same over the life of the loan. It is possible, however, to get a variable-rate personal loan. Check out our guide to fixed vs. variable rate loans to figure out which is right for you.

Terms for Personal Loans

Personal loan terms vary by lender, but you can typically take out a loan with a repayment term of one to seven years. The faster you pay it off, the less you’ll pay in interest — but your monthly payments will be much larger.

💡 Quick Tip: Before choosing a personal loan, ask about the lender’s fees: origination, prepayment, late fees, etc. SoFi personal loans come with no-fee options, and no surprises.

Car Loans

When buying a new or used car through a dealership, the dealer’s finance department can help you find a loan through a bank or credit union. Alternatively — or when buying from a private seller — you can shop around for a car loan from various banks and credit unions on your own.

Auto loans are usually secured loans, meaning the car you’re buying serves as collateral. This means, if you fall behind on payments, the lender can repossess your car. (It’s possible, but less common and more expensive, to get a car loan without putting the car up as collateral.)

How Interest Rates Work on Car Loans

The collateral on the car loan reduces the risk to the lender, which usually results in a lower interest rate. Still, auto loan interest rates depend on your credit score.

Car loan rates for both new and used cars have increased in recent years, but they’re still typically lower than the average personal loan rate. Notably, car loan refinancing rates are lower than regular financing rates.

Terms for Car Loans

Like personal loans, car loans might stretch 84 months (that’s seven years), but some are as short as 24 months (two years). Also like personal loans, it’s common to repay your car loan over three to five years.

💡 Quick Tip: In a climate where interest rates are rising, you’re likely better off with a fixed interest rate than a variable rate, even though the variable rate is initially lower. On the flip side, if rates are falling, you may be better off with a variable interest rate.

Can You Use a Personal Loan to Buy a Car?

Yes, you can use a personal loan to buy a car. In fact, you can use a personal loan for (almost) anything. However, it often makes more sense to get traditional vehicle financing when buying a car.

Recommended: Personal Loan Calculator

Is It Better to Get a Personal Loan to Buy a Car?

In some ways, it can be better to buy a car with a personal loan. You don’t have to stress about saving up for a down payment, there’s no risk of your car being repossessed, and you might even have more negotiating power at the dealership.

However, many buyers prefer the structure of an auto loan. These loans tend to be cheaper in the long run because of the lower interest rates. And they’re easier to get — both because of lower credit score requirements for car loans and because dealerships can help you find the best car loan for you.

Pros & Cons: Car Loan vs Personal Loan

Buying a car with a personal loan instead of an auto loan has its share of advantages, but there are also drawbacks to consider.


•   Less risk: When you take out a car loan, the car itself serves as collateral for the loan. If you miss enough payments, the lender could repossess your vehicle. With an unsecured personal loan, you don’t face that risk, though there are still consequences if you default on a personal loan.

•   More negotiating power: When you don’t have to go through the hassle of securing financing, the car buying process is much easier and faster for you and the dealer. That means you might be able to negotiate a better deal, like a discount for paying in full.

•   Lower insurance costs: When financing a car, the lender may require you to carry comprehensive, collision, and gap insurance. But when you pay for the vehicle outright with the funds from your personal loan, no one can require you to carry those car insurance coverages.

•   No need to save for a down payment: Personal loans don’t require a down payment. Though some have origination fees, you might even be able to roll those into the cost of the loan. That means you could use a personal loan to get a car with no money down.


•   Higher cost: Interest rates are typically higher for personal loans, which means you’ll end up spending more money on your car in the long run than you would if you got traditional auto financing. Origination fees for personal loans may also be higher than they are for car loans.

•   Higher credit score requirements: Because auto loans are secured by the vehicle being financed, lenders are a little more willing to work with lower credit scores. The credit score you need for a personal loan is typically higher (around 670), though this varies by lender.

•   More insurance risk: There may not be an auto lender requiring you to carry comprehensive, collision, or gap insurance, but declining those coverages just because your personal loan lender doesn’t mandate them could open you up to a lot of risk. If your car is totaled and you don’t have the proper coverage to get reimbursed, you’ll still be on the hook for making your personal loan payments — so think carefully before minimizing your car insurance coverage.

The Takeaway

Both auto loans and personal loans can help you get behind the wheel of a new (or used) daily driver. Determining which type of loan is right for you comes down to your needs and preferences.

Think twice before turning to high-interest credit cards. Consider a SoFi personal loan instead. SoFi offers competitive fixed rates and same-day funding. Checking your rate takes just a minute.

SoFi’s Personal Loan was named NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Personal Loan overall.


Is it easier to get a personal loan or car loan?

Getting a car loan is usually easier than getting a personal loan. That’s because car loans are secured by the vehicle you’re buying. That means less risk to the lender, who will be willing to accept lower credit scores.

Should I take out a personal loan to buy a car?

While you can get an auto loan through a bank, credit union, or the dealership, you can also pay for a car with a personal loan. Personal loans reduce your risk — there’s no chance of your car being repossessed — and they may give you more negotiating power. However, personal loans typically cost more in the long run.

Am I allowed to use a personal loan to buy a car?

Yes, you can use a personal loan to buy a new or used car. In fact, you can use personal loans for just about anything. Just read the fine print of any loan agreement to make sure.

Photo credit: iStock/skynesher

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see Equal Housing Lender.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.


All your finances.
All in one app.

SoFi QR code, Download now, scan this with your phone’s camera

All your finances.
All in one app.

App Store rating

SoFi iOS App, Download on the App Store
SoFi Android App, Get it on Google Play

TLS 1.2 Encrypted
Equal Housing Lender