3 Do’s & Don’ts — “Can You Buy a Car with a Credit Card?” (New & Used)

By: Brittney Mayer Updated: 5/24/2018

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Though credit cards have been around for decades, they have, as things do, changed and evolved during that time. So, it’s only natural that some of the most common questions people ask when it comes to credit cards revolve around what, exactly, can be purchased with one. For example, one popular question is whether you can buy a car with a credit card.

At the end of the day, the answer to that question is (un)simply: maybe. The ability to purchase a new or used car with a credit card will actually depend on a number of factors. These can include the rules of the particular dealer or seller, as well as the price of the vehicle. Which leads us directly into tip number one…

1. Do Research Ahead of Time

Before ever venturing into the dealership with your plastic, do some research. You should research the vehicle you are interested in to determine the price you will likely pay, checking to ensure the price will be below the credit limit of the card you want to use. You will also need to contact the dealership you plan to use to determine how much of the purchase, if any, you will be able to charge.

Whenever you make a purchase with your credit card, the merchant must pay the issuer and/or bank a processing fee to receive the funds. Because those processing fees can be as much as 1% to 4% of the purchase price of the car, they can quickly eat into profit margins that may only be less than 5% to begin with. Therefore, many dealers will not allow you to use a credit card to buy a vehicle or will limit the portion of the purchase price that can be charged.

Amount of Purchase Price ChargedCredit Card Issuer Processing FeeDealer Cost to Accept Credit Card Payment

Even if you are using an auto loan to purchase your vehicle and only wish to use a credit card for the down payment, you may run into limitations on the portion of the down payment that can be charged. Avoid wasting time at the dealership by doing your research ahead of time.

2. Don’t Get Stuck Paying High Interest Rates

When it comes to any large purchase, automobiles included, your best bet is always going to be to save up the cash before buying. If you have the money on hand (or, rather, in the bank) before making the purchase, it won’t matter which method you use — you won’t ever get stuck paying absurd interest rates because you’ll be able to pay the bill before you get charged interest.

That said, if you are confident you can quickly gather the funds to pay off your new car and are determined to use a credit card, there is another way to avoid high interest payments, at least for a while. Many credit card issuers have at least one card that comes with an introductory 0% APR on purchases made within a certain time after opening a new credit account. Using one of these offers, you could potentially go 12 or even 15 months before needing to pay a penny of interest.

+See More 0% APR Offers

Of course, the important thing to note is that the 0% APR offers are introductory; once you hit the end of the offer term, you will be charged interest. And, often, the new interest rate will be well into the double digits, which can get expensive fast; plan to pay off your balance before the terms expire.

3. Do Capitalize on Available Credit Card Rewards

Let’s say you’ve diligently saved your money and have the cash on hand to buy a new (or new-to-you) vehicle. You’ve checked that the dealer you wish to use accepts credit cards and you know exactly which car you want to buy. Now, all that’s left is deciding which card to use — no easy task, given all the options.

The key to making the most of any large credit card purchase is to take advantage of the giant signup bonuses being offered by many issuers these days. For some of the best signup bonus deals, look at cards offering travel rewards. Whether you get points or miles, these hefty rewards packages can be worth hundreds, especially when redeemed for airline or hotel purchases.

+See More Travel Rewards Cards

Most signup bonuses require hitting a certain spending limit in a given time period, so choose a card with a spending requirement less than the amount you intend to charge when purchasing your vehicle.

Always Use Credit Cards Responsibly

While credit cards may have evolved a lot in the decades they’ve been around, one thing about them has never changed: they need to be used responsibly. You shouldn’t charge more than you can afford to pay back in a timely manner and you should never make purchases you can’t cover just to meet a spending requirement. Interest charges can quickly negate any bonus earnings and make your purchase significantly more expensive than it would have been otherwise.

Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

About the Author

Brittney Mayer

Brittney Mayer is a contributing editor for CardRates.com, where she uses her extensive research background to write comprehensive consumer guides and in-depth company profiles. Leveraging her vast knowledge of the financial industry, Brittney’s work can be found on websites such as the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, US News & World Report, CreditRepair.com, Lexington Law, BadCredit.org, and CreditCards.com, among others. Brittney specializes in translating complex financial jargon and ideas into readable, actionable advice on lending best practices.