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Key takeaways

  • Direct auto financing is when you get financing directly from a lender, rather than through a third party.
  • Direct financing allows you to shop around for the best deal and potentially avoid markups from dealerships.
  • The process of direct auto financing involves prequalifying with multiple lenders, choosing a lender and applying, buying the car, and making payments.
  • Direct lenders can be found through local banks and credit unions, online lenders, and captive finance companies owned by auto manufacturers.

Once you’ve zeroed in on your preferred color, brand and model for your soon-to-be car, the next step is deciding your buying strategy. Considering the high prices of new cars, it’s crucial to know the finance options at your disposal.

One of these options is direct auto financing, which is when you get financing directly from a lender. You may find a better rate by cutting out the dealership, which acts as a middleman in indirect financing. Consider the benefits before determining if direct financing is right for you.

What are direct auto loans?

Direct auto financing is one of the two most common vehicle financing options. With direct auto financing, you sign off with an online lender, bank or credit union.

Its counterpart, indirect financing, is when a car dealership or loan marketplace arranges funding by a third party.

Direct financing could be a hassle if you prefer a streamlined car buying and financing process. But dealer financing is not perfect either. Dealerships often mark up the rates their lending partners offer.

Direct vs. indirect auto financing

In the case of direct financing, you’ll work with a bank, credit union or online lender on your own. You can get quotes from several lenders and choose the best deal based on the terms, rate and other factors rather than simply taking what you’re matched with.

Once you’re preapproved, you can visit the dealership, pick out your vehicle, negotiate the best deal and sign the paperwork.

With indirect financing, on the other hand, you will be matched with a lender. This type of funding tends to come when working with a dealership or an online loan marketplace, like Autopay or RefiJet.

Despite having a guide through the entire process, this route has a major downside. The dealer will likely mark up the interest rate. So, it’s worth getting preapproved from an outside lender before shopping for a car and presenting it to the dealer to possibly negotiate more favorable loan terms.

How direct auto financing works

The process of financing your car through a direct lender varies, but these basic steps will always apply.

1. Prequalify with multiple lenders

Prequalifying lets you shop for the best rate quotes among multiple lenders. You can choose from offered rates, loan terms and monthly payments among other features. Compare the auto loan rates offered by multiple lenders to make sure you’re getting the best deal.

2. Choose a lender and apply

Once you have prequalified with multiple lenders, you can choose the lender with the most favorable terms. You will likely need to provide proof of income, a Social Security number and a bank account number for verification to prequalify for a loan.

The lender will determine the loan amount they can offer based on your income, debt, employment and other factors.

3. Buy the car

You can then head to the dealership or shop around online. Since you already have financing lined up, you can shop like a cash buyer would.

4. Start making payments

You’ll need to begin making payments as soon as possible. Most lenders accept online payments, and you can sign up for this service by creating an online profile. You may also have the option to pay by mail or phone, but a processing fee may apply.

Where to find direct auto lenders

When looking for a direct lender, it is wise to start with institutions you already have an account with. If that is not an option, check out other sources.

Check with your local bank or credit union

Many banks and credit unions offer direct auto loans — though they may have dealership limitations. If you have an account with that specific bank or credit union and are on good terms you may get a decent rate even if your credit isn’t perfect.

Look online

Many online lenders offer direct auto financing, like myAutoLoan or Capital One. You can often get financed the day you apply. Depending on the lender, you may not even need a car picked out.

Captive finance companies

Captive finance companies are in-house financing entities owned by auto manufacturers.

You can get vehicle lease and car loan options for cars made by their parent company. For instance, GM Financial offers both options for vehicles made by General Motors.

The bottom line

Financing your car through a dealership is one of the easiest ways to acquire financing for a new vehicle. But whether it’s the right option depends on your circumstances. For example, if you already have a bank or credit union account, you may qualify for a lower interest rate through direct auto financing. Shop around with at least three lenders to ensure you get the best deal on a new auto loan.