Cars are integral to our daily lives: We drive them to and from work and school. We use them to get groceries and go to the doctor. And, when our budget allows, we use them to get out of the house and treat ourselves to an evening of fun.
But what happens when your car breaks down and you don’t have the money saved up to fix it? That’s a reality for more than half of Americans, according to Bankrate’s 2023 Emergency Savings Report, an annual survey done in partnership with the survey and market research firm SSRS. Almost 60% of Americans say they wouldn’t use cash from emergency savings to pay for an unexpected car repair. Instead, they’d turn to credit cards, friends and family, or personal loans.
Using personal loans for car repairs can be a good solution when you don’t have the cash on hand, and it may be more affordable than paying with a high-interest credit card. Below, we’ll explore the pros and cons of using personal loans for car repair as well as some alternative options.
What Personal Loans Are and How They Work
A personal loan is a loan from a financial institution that borrowers can use for a wide range of purposes, from weddings and vacations to debt consolidation and medical costs to home renovations and, yes, car repairs. You’ll repay your personal loan, plus interest, over a set number of months.
As you start to explore your options, it helps to understand how personal loans work and the different types of personal loans available.
Pros and Cons of Personal Loans for Car Repairs
Taking out a personal loan to cover the cost of car repair can be helpful, but are there drawbacks to consider? Let’s review the pros and cons:
|Get fast funding to cover repairs||Increased debt|
|Prioritize your family’s safety on the road||Upfront fees|
|Ensure you can still drive to and from work to generate income||Temporary drop in credit score|
|Avoid high-interest credit card debt to cover repairs||Less room in monthly budget|
• Get fast funding to cover repairs: Many personal loans offer same- or next-day funding, which means you can pay for car repairs quickly and get back on the road.
• Prioritize your family’s safety on the road: Without access to cash, some drivers may be tempted to forego necessary repairs and put themselves, their families, and other drivers in danger by driving with a damaged vehicle. A personal loan allows you to pay for damage now at a potentially lower cost before the issue grows and becomes more expensive to fix.
• Ensure you can still drive to and from work to generate income: Despite the advent of remote working, many people still rely on their vehicle to get to and from their job. Without it, you’ll need to pay for rideshare or a car rental or depend on the kindness of a coworker to give you a lift. Otherwise, you may need to skip work and miss out on that pay. Repairing your car quickly with a personal loan helps ensure you can get yourself to and from work on time.
• Avoid high-interest credit card debt to cover repairs: Many Americans reach for their credit card to cover the cost of emergency car repair. According to Bankrate’s 2023 survey, 25% of respondents said they’d swipe their card to pay for repairs. The problem? More than a third of Americans have more credit card debt than emergency savings — and such debt can be hard to overcome when you don’t have funds set aside for unexpected expenses.
• Increased debt: The biggest drawback of taking out a personal loan is the increased debt. Sometimes debt is necessary, like taking out a mortgage to buy a home or getting a student loan to pay for college. However, if it’s possible to avoid debt for small expenses like car repair, you typically should. That said, fixed-rate personal loans may be a more manageable form of debt for borrowers than a variable-rate credit card.
• Upfront fees: Many personal loans come with origination fees at the start, especially for borrowers without great credit. These fees, plus the interest on the loan, mean you’ll end up spending much more for the car repair than you would if you paid out of pocket.
• Temporary drop in credit score: While many lenders allow you to prequalify for a personal loan without an impact on your credit score, there will be a hard inquiry on your credit report when you officially apply. Such hard inquiries temporarily lower your credit score, but don’t worry: Your score will likely rebound over time, and if you responsibly manage your personal loan, you may even see it grow higher than when you started.
• Less room in monthly budget: When you take out a personal loan, you’ll have fixed payments for a set number of years. It’s crucial that you make these payments every month and on time. That means you’ll have a little less room in your budget until it’s paid off. If you’re living paycheck to paycheck or struggling to build your emergency savings, this tighter budget can be problematic.
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How to Use a Personal Loan for Auto Repairs
Personal loans are straightforward. Aside from a few restrictions that vary by lender, you can use personal loans for almost anything. You’ll apply and, upon approval, have the funds deposited in your checking account. Then you can take that money and pay the mechanic directly to repair your car.
Applying for a Personal Loan
So how do you get a personal loan for car repairs? First, make sure you meet a lender’s requirements, and then you can go through the application process.
These are the typical personal loan requirements you’ll need to meet to get approval:
• Credit score: Each lender will have its own personal loan credit score requirements. If you have bad credit, don’t sweat it: There are lenders out there with personal loans for poor-credit borrowers. Just expect to pay higher fees and interest.
• Collateral: Many personal loans are unsecured, meaning you don’t have to put up any collateral. However, if you are struggling with your credit score, you may have an easier time getting approved (and at a lower rate) if you’re willing to put up collateral, such as your car.
• Proof of income and employment: Lenders want to know that you have a means of repaying the loan. To that end, you may need to prove that you’re employed — and that you make enough to cover the monthly payment.
• Debt-to-income ratio: Lenders commonly analyze your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio, which compares your monthly debt payments vs. the amount of money you make in a month. The lower the ratio, the more likely you are to be approved.
• Origination fee: Some personal loans may include an origination fee to be paid up front, often expressed as a percentage of the loan amount (somewhere between 1% and 10%). You may be able to pay this out of pocket, but often lenders roll it into the loan’s total cost or even deduct it from the loan amount you receive.
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When you’re ready, you can apply online, over the phone, or in person (it’ll vary by lender). You’ll usually hear back about approval quickly — and may even receive the loan funds on the same day.
Many lenders let you check your personal loan rates and eligibility online before you apply. There’s no hard credit inquiry for this, so it’s a nice way to see if you qualify and compare lenders.
Alternatives to Personal Loans for Auto Repairs
The ideal alternative to getting a personal loan to fix a car is paying with cash from your emergency fund. But if you don’t have an emergency fund — or don’t have enough saved up yet — paying with credit is your main option.
Personal loans are a top option, but there are some alternatives to personal loans for auto repairs:
Many mechanics will let you pay for auto repair with a credit card. This can be an attractive option if you have a rewards credit card that pays cash back.
The problem is that many borrowers have variable-rate credit cards with high APRs. If you don’t pay off the debt quickly, the interest charges will start to rack up.
Title loans allow you to use your car as collateral to secure funding. It’s a common option for bad-credit borrowers who can’t afford car repair, but be cautious: These loans are short-term, and if you don’t repay yours, the lender will take your vehicle from you.
This is a last-resort loan. For most borrowers, there’s likely a better, safer option.
Payday loans are convenient for borrowers who need cash now, because there’s usually no credit check or collateral, and you can get the money right away.
The catch? These predatory loans can have high fees and interest rates reaching more than 600%. When it’s time to repay the loan (your next payday), you might find that you can’t afford to repay it — and you’ll have to take out a bigger loan to pay off the first one.
If you’re thinking about a payday loan for car repair, it’s a good idea to reconsider. Payday loans can lead to mounting debt and bankruptcy. And even if you pay yours off, it typically won’t help build your credit score (most lenders don’t report on-time payments to credit bureaus).
Instead, you might want to consider other alternatives, like secured personal loans or even a loan from friends and family.
💡 Quick Tip: Just as there are no free lunches, there are no guaranteed loans. So beware lenders who advertise them. If they are legitimate, they need to know your creditworthiness before offering you a loan.
Personal loans for car repairs may be a smart option when you don’t have the cash on hand. With a personal loan, you can get fast funding to pay for the repairs within a day or two, and the small available loan amounts mean you don’t have to borrow more than you need. There are some alternatives to personal loans for auto repairs, including credit cards. However, if you’re unable to pay off what you owe quickly, the interest charges will begin to pile up.
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.
Can personal loans be used for car repairs?
Yes, you can use personal loans for car repairs. In fact, unexpected emergencies such as car repairs are a very common use case for personal loans. You can use personal loans for almost anything.
What sorts of financing can you get for a vehicle repair?
Drivers who can’t afford vehicle repair with their own emergency savings can consider a number of financing options, including personal loans and credit cards.
While title loans and payday loans are alternatives, they’re generally a risky solution that could lead to car repossession, major debt, or even bankruptcy. Similarly, some mechanics may offer their own financing, but Consumer Reports warns that these loans can be predatory, with interest rates up to 189%.
Is getting a personal loan to repair a car a good idea?
If you can’t afford to repair your car out of pocket, a personal loan can be a good idea. Personal loans may have lower rates than a credit card, and making on-time payments on your loan could even help boost your credit score.
And if the alternative is not fixing your car, you’ll either have to drive an unsafe, damaged vehicle or get around without an automobile — which can be inconvenient and lead to lost wages if you miss work.
Photo credit: iStock/demaerre
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