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How to transfer a car title

Woman sits at table filling out paperwork with man standing to her left pointing something out, cars are in the background
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Woman sits at table filling out paperwork with man standing to her left pointing something out, cars are in the background
Photo_Concepts/Getty Images
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If you recently purchased a vehicle, or are in the process of selling, one of the most important steps in the sale process is transferring the car title. The title is the legal document that states the owner of the vehicle.

Title transfer laws and regulations vary by state so check out your state’s department of motor vehicles for the specific requirements. The process is usually simple and requires paperwork and signatures.

How to transfer a car title as a buyer

Being the new owner of a vehicle, it is important to get the paperwork handled as soon as possible. You will not have legal ownership of the vehicle until you get the new title sorted. But this cannot be done on your own, you will need to work in conjunction with the seller for the transfer to occur. Here are the steps to take:

  • Seller transfers title: The seller of the vehicle must transfer the title to your name. To do this, they must sign the release and transfer ownership to you.
  • Ensure liens are cleared: If the seller has a loan on the vehicle that lien must be resolved. As a buyer you will need proof the loan has been paid in full before accepting the vehicle’s title.
  • Get new title: After the owner and seller of the vehicle sign off on the title and liens have been cleared then you, the buyer, head to the DMV to get the new title issued under your name.
  • Temporary title issued: In many cases, a DMV will provide a temporary title and mail the final document within a few weeks.

How to transfer a car title as a seller

If you have sold your vehicle, you must transfer the ownership to the buyer. This is an especially important step in the selling process because you still hold legal ownership until the transfer occurs. This means that you will be held liable for any legal trouble or fees that are incurred on the vehicle from the new driver.

  • Sign the title: As the seller, you must sign the old title so that the buyer can get a new title in their name.
  • Joint owners both sign: If more than one person is listed on the title, you need to check whether the word between the names on the title is “or” or “and” before finalizing the transfer. In the case of an “and,” you will need the other person listed to sign off on the transfer as well.

How to transfer a car title with a loan

Although the transfer of vehicle title is fairly straightforward, transferring with a loan present can be a bit more complicated. If the vehicle being transferred holds a current loan, the lender will likely have possession of the title. This requires a conversation with the lender to ensure that your loan is paid off so that you can receive the title. At this point, you can request proof of loan pay-off to be sent to your local DMV so that the transfer can occur.

Documents needed

Although the necessary documents differ by state, when the time comes to transfer at your DMV, you will most likely need the following documentation:

  • Vehicle bill of sale.
  • Date of sale.
  • Vehicle insurance.
  • Buyer and recipient’s name and address.
  • License information.

The bottom line

Transferring your vehicle title is the final step in the car buying or selling process and it’s important that it is done correctly. Make sure all vehicle owners sign the title to transfer ownership to the buyer and all liens are cleared in order to properly finalize the sale.

Because the rules vary by state, it’s also important for buyers to check with the local DMV and call ahead to ensure you have all of the necessary documents before heading in for the new title.

Learn more

Written by
Rebecca Betterton
Auto Loans Reporter
Rebecca Betterton is the auto loans reporter for Bankrate. She specializes in assisting readers in navigating the ins and outs of securely borrowing money to purchase a car.
Edited by
Auto loans editor