A down payment includes the cash you have on hand, the value of your trade-in and any rebates you qualify for. All of these work together to reduce the amount you need to borrow. They show lenders you are serious, which in turn can help you score a better interest rate.
In general, a down payment of 10 percent to 20 percent is best. But if you can afford to put down more, it can save you hundreds of dollars in interest.
4 benefits of making a down payment
Down payments are usually a necessity — lenders frequently want at least 10 percent down. But even if it is not required, it is still worth it. After all, it can save you money each month and help you pay less interest.
1. Lower monthly payment
Since putting money down reduces the overall amount you need to borrow, you can expect to pay less each month, which means a lower monthly payment.
It’s easy to see the math. Use an auto loan calculator to estimate monthly payments. If you borrow $30,000 at 5 percent interest for 48 months, you’ll pay $691 a month. With a 20 percent down payment of $6,000, you’ll cut the amount you need to borrow to just $24,000. And that results in a monthly payment of $553.
2. More equity starting out
Equity is the difference between what you own for a car and its potential sale price. Large down payments increase your equity because you won’t need to finance as much through a lender.
Cars are a depreciating asset. As the value of your vehicle decreases, you’re more likely to go upside down on your loan — when you owe more than your car is worth.
A larger down payment protects against depreciation because the equity acts as a buffer. Since you own a greater portion of your car from the start with a higher down payment, you are less likely to get stuck paying for a loan that costs more than you could sell your car for.
3. Less interest paid
The biggest benefit of a large down payment is that it reduces the amount you need to borrow. When you borrow less, you pay less interest. More money in your pocket — and less in the lender’s — is always a good thing.
Just like with the monthly payment example, a 20 percent down payment can make a big difference in the cost of an auto loan. If you borrow that same $30,000 at a 5 percent interest rate over 48 months, you’ll pay $3,162 in interest. With a $6,000 down payment, you’ll only pay $2,530 over the life of the loan.
4. Potentially lower rates
Some lenders may be willing to give you a lower rate if you have a significant down payment. Because a down payment shows you know how to handle money, you’ll be less of a risk to the lender.
There are a number of factors that influence your interest rate, like credit score and income, so this is far from guaranteed. Still, a large down payment is something that lenders consider and can help make up for areas you might not be as strong in.
Experts suggest putting down at least 20 percent
The most common advice is to put down 20 percent or more on a vehicle. More, of course, is preferable. The less you need to finance, the better.
But it is a lot of money. In 2021, the average new car price topped out at $47,000 in December, according to Kelley Blue Book (KBB). A 20 percent down payment on that $9,400. Even used cars averaged out at $28,000 — which equals a 20 percent down payment of $5,600. These are averages, so you will certainly be able to find less expensive options. Just know that prices continue to go up because of global shortages on important parts like semiconductors.
You certainly don’t want to deplete your savings for a down payment. Take advantage of rebates if you want to buy new, and shop around for a good price on your old car. Selling it or trading it in at a dealership can go a long way to getting you at that coveted 20 percent mark.
If you absolutely can’t afford 20 percent, it’s okay to put down as little as 10 percent. Some dealers that work with bad credit may only require a $1,000 down payment. No matter what, try to put down as much as possible to avoid taking out a big loan that could leave you upside down.
Avoid putting nothing down
You should always have a down payment when buying a car. Some experts say it might not be necessary if you’re able to score 0 percent APR — but most people won’t qualify for that.
Dealers offer zero-down financing because they stand to make the most in interest. After all, it is the opposite of a large down payment. Even with low rates, you will wind up needing to finance more. That means more interest paid and a higher chance of becoming upside down on your loan.
A zero-down offer may also come with a long loan term to offset higher monthly payments. This is the biggest trap. The longer your loan term, the more you pay to the lender.
The more you can pay upfront, the better off you will be. A down payment of 20 percent is the go-to amount, but you can always put down more if you can afford it. Just avoid paying less than 10 percent or $1,000 — especially if you have bad credit — so you can still secure a competitive interest rate.
Take the time to compare auto loans and find financing before you start car shopping. This way, you will know exactly how much you can afford and how much you will need for a large down payment.