Car finance: what is APR/an interest rate?

APR lets you compare finance costs, showing the interest and fees charged.Deposit contribution discounts aren’t taken into account, though

BuyaCar team
Sep 12, 2019

What is APR?

APR stands for Annual Percentage Rate and shows the true cost of finance. It takes into account loan interest and any additional fees - which may not always be obvious. The higher the APR rate, the more you’ll pay overall. Lenders calculate APR using a standard method, so it’s the best way to compare quotes.

Every car finance quote should include an APR figure, whether you're taking out Personal Contract Purchase (PCP), Hire Purchase (HP) or what's referred to as Conditional Purchase finance. You won't find an APR if you're leasing a car because this type of arrangement works in a different way, however.

Do bear in mind, though, that deposit contribution discounts aren't taken into account in the APR figure. This means that if a large deposit contribution is offered, the APR figure shown will be higher than the real premium you're paying to finance the car. That's because this finance discount covers some of the cost of the interest and in some cases the deposit contribution is large enough to outweigh all of the interest.

Consequently, the most reliable way to compare the costs of any finance deals is to get like-for-like quotes for different models with the same type of finance, the same deposit, mileage allowance and contract length. Do this and you'll immediately be able to see which car offers you the lowest monthly payments. 

How to get the lowest APR for car finance

The cost of finance depends largely on your credit score, as finance companies use this to work out the risk of lending you money; the lower the risk you pose, the lower the APR charge you can expect to be offered.

It's based on your history of repaying credit and the stability of your position: whether you have a permanent job; own a house; or are listed on the electoral roll, for example.

Those with the highest credit scores can expect the lowest APR car finance, whereas having a low credit score will increase the rates you're offered, with 0% APR deals likely to be unavailable (see below).

Increasing the size of deposit on your car finance can decrease the APR as well, because you'll be borrowing less money, reducing your risk to the finance company and meaning that if you were to miss repayments, selling the car would be more likely to cover the debt.

Read our guide to find out whether your credit score is good enough to finance a car, or if you know you don't have the best score, find out how to maximise your chance of being approved for finance. Or if you don't have a credit history at all - if you're particularly young or haven't borrowed money before, for instance - see how to build a credit score and secure car finance.


What is 0% APR?

No interest and no extra fees: 0% APR finance means that you only repay the amount that you borrow, so there's no penalty in taking out finance, compared with buying outright - at least on the face of it. 

In reality, many 0% APR deals aren't quite the bargain that they may seem. For example, many offers aren't available in conjunction with other discounts, including savings on the cash price or finance incentives. In this scenario, the price of the car is effectively higher, so you may be saving less than you think.

In some cases, you may even pay more with 0% APR; this may be the case if a large deposit contribution discount is offered with a deal that charges interest, for instance, though no discount is available when taking the interest-free credit option. Should the deposit contribution exceed the interest charged, the 5.0% APR offer would cost you less.

That's why it's always worth exploring all of your options and getting like-for-like finance quotes with different deals to see which offers you the best value.

See our list of the latest 0% APR car deals for more information on the best deals currently available.


APR on new car finance

As well as 0% APR - interest-free credit - offers, manufacturers typically offer low-interest deals on new cars, so you might be offered finance at 2.9% or even 1.9% APR, which would result in you paying very little interest. However, new cars come with dramatically higher list prices than even a one-year old equivalent, so they may still cost you more per month, as the amount you're financing is likely to be higher.

As with 0% APR deals, low-interest new car deals may not be available in conjunction with other discounts, so it's worth getting like-for-like finance quotes to determine exactly which car or offer gives you the best deal.


APR on used car finance

Without the manufacturer finance discounts that are offered on new cars, you're extremely unlikely to find 0% APR finance on a used car - and if you do, the cash price is likely to be artificially high to compensate for what the dealer or finance company loses by not charging interest - but rates are still competitive.

Make sure you compare APR to get a true picture of what you're paying rather than the lower interest rate. Rates on BuyaCar tend to start at around 6.9% APR, but will alter depending on the car that you're buying and your credit score.

All PCP and Hire Purchase finance quotes should include the total amount payable which will enable you to compare deals, reflecting the full amount you'll pay if you make all of the monthly payments plus, in the case of PCP finance, the optional final payment to take ownership of the car.


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