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Subprime Car Loans in Canada

Subprime Car Loans in Canada

Subprime auto loans are a type of lending that allows people with poor credit or limited credit history to finance vehicle purchases. These loans come with higher interest rates and fees compared to prime loans offered to borrowers with excellent credit.

This article will provide an in-depth look at subprime auto loans – who they target, how they work, their pros and cons, and alternatives for high-risk borrowers needing transportation. We’ll examine the tactics used by subprime lenders, the risks of default, and tips for consumers considering these loans.

The goal is to explain everything you need to know about subprime auto lending, including whether these loans are ultimately beneficial or predatory for the consumers who rely on them.

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What Are Subprime Auto Loans?

Subprime auto loans are a type of vehicle financing designed for borrowers with poor credit histories or low credit scores. These loans allow people to purchase cars even if they don’t qualify for regular auto financing from most lenders.

To be approved for prime auto loans from traditional banks, you generally need good to excellent credit—a FICO score of 660 or higher. Subprime loans are for borrowers with credit scores below 600, considered a high credit risk.

With lower credit ratings, subprime borrowers are charged much higher interest rates and fees. For example, prime auto loan rates currently average around 5%, while subprime loan rates average between 10% and 20%.

Lenders offer subprime auto loans despite the increased risks because they can charge these higher prices. The loans fill a gap for consumers with past credit problems who need vehicles. While default rates are substantially higher for subprime borrowers, lenders still generate profits on these loans due to the high interest and fees collected.


Who Takes Out Subprime Auto Loans?

Subprime auto loans are targeted at consumers with low credit scores, limited credit histories, or past credit problems. According to Experian, subprime borrowers typically have credit scores below 600. This includes:


  • Consumers with low credit scores due to missed payments, maxed out cards, collections, or other negative marks on their credit reports.
  • First-time borrowers with no credit history or thin credit files. Young adults often fall into this category.
  • Lower-income consumers who may struggle to keep up with payments. Their credit scores tend to be lower on average.


Lenders view these borrowers as higher risk, since their low scores indicate they may be more likely to default on a car loan. But subprime lenders are willing to provide financing to this demographic, albeit at much higher interest rates and fees compared to prime borrowers.

Without access to subprime loans, many of these consumers would struggle to purchase a vehicle. The loans fill a need for transportation, even if the terms are less favorable.


Why Subprime Borrowers Need Loans

Subprime borrowers often need access to auto loans because they have limited transportation options. Those with poor credit rarely qualify for loans from prime lenders that offer the best rates. However, having a reliable vehicle is crucial for getting to work, school, medical appointments, and taking care of other necessities. Public transportation is not available or convenient for everyone. Ride sharing services can get expensive over time. For lower income consumers, saving up to buy a used car with cash may not be realistic. Without financing, their only option could be an unreliable “beater” car purchased from a private seller. This leaves many with no choice but to turn to subprime lenders despite the higher costs.

Subprime borrowers may have past credit challenges due to a job loss, medical emergency, or other financial hardship. Their credit scores may not reflect their current ability to manage payments. But they still need a dependable vehicle to rebuild their credit and get their finances back on track. A subprime auto loan with a high interest rate is often their only chance at financing. These loans fill a critical transportation need that prime lenders cannot meet.


Subprime Loan Terms

Subprime auto loans come with less favourable terms compared to prime loans given to borrowers with good credit. Here are some key ways subprime loan terms differ:


Higher Interest Rates

The most notable feature of a subprime auto loan is a higher interest rate, often double or triple the rate on a prime loan. For borrowers with very low credit scores below 550, rates can exceed 20% or even 30%. The lender charges these high rates to offset the increased risk of default by subprime borrowers.


Larger Down Payments

Subprime lenders often require a down payment of 20% or more of the vehicle purchase price. This larger amount upfront provides the lender more equity in the car as collateral to secure the loan. Prime borrowers may put little to no money down.


Shorter Loan Terms

To limit long-term risk exposure, subprime auto loans frequently have shorter repayment terms of 3-4 years instead of 5-6 years for prime borrowers. The borrower must pay off the loan faster, resulting in higher monthly payments.


Marketing Tactics

Subprime auto lenders use targeted marketing tactics to reach potential borrowers with poor credit or limited credit histories. They often rely on aggressive advertising methods and make enticing offers to risky borrowers.

Some common marketing tactics include:


  • Advertising on cable TV and radio stations that target lower income demographics
  • Plastering their dealerships with prominent “Bad Credit? No Credit? No Problem!” signs
  • Prominently advertising interest rates without mentioning they are for borrowers with the best subprime credit
  • Emphasizing quick and easy approvals
  • Downplaying stringent loan terms in fine print
  • Touting relationships with thousands of lenders to get approval where others won’t
  • Making emotional appeals about owning a reliable car
  • Using targeted online ads offering guaranteed approvals
  • Getting referrals from used car dealerships after prime lenders reject applications


The marketing materials are designed to appeal to subprime borrowers’ desires to obtain auto loans even though they have poor credit. The lenders make approvals seem quick and attainable, often glossing over the stringent requirements and terms of subprime loans.


Pros of Subprime Auto Loans

While subprime auto loans come with risks like higher interest rates, they do offer some advantages for borrowers with poor credit or limited credit histories:


Allow Vehicle Purchase Despite Credit Challenges

The biggest pro of subprime auto loans is that they provide a pathway to vehicle ownership even if you have bad credit or no credit history. For many borrowers, a subprime loan is the only way they can purchase a car due to not qualifying for prime rate financing.


Provide Access to Transportation

Along with vehicle purchase access, subprime loans provide a way to obtain reliable transportation. For low income families or individuals with credit challenges, access to a vehicle can open up job opportunities, education, and services not reachable by public transit alone.


Can Help Build Credit History

If subprime borrowers make payments on time, these loans can help establish or rebuild credit, allowing access to better loan terms in the future. Responsible use of a subprime auto loan provides a chance to work towards improved credit scores and eventual prime rate financing options down the road.


Cons of Subprime Auto Loans

While subprime auto loans provide access to credit for higher risk borrowers, they come with several significant drawbacks that consumers should consider before taking on this type of debt.


Very High Interest Rates

The most notable downside of subprime auto loans is that they come with much higher interest rates than prime loans. Subprime rates typically range from 10% to 20% APR, compared to around 4% for prime borrowers. This means subprime borrowers pay thousands more in interest charges over the life of the loan.

For example, on a $15,000 5-year loan, a prime rate of 4% would lead to around $1600 in total interest paid. But at a subprime rate of 15%, the total interest jumps to over $5000 – more than triple the amount.


Predatory Lending Tactics

Some subprime lenders engage in predatory practices, like encouraging borrowers to take out larger loans than they can reasonably afford. They may approve loans without properly verifying income or push borrowers into loans with excessively high rates and fees.

Subprime lenders also frequently add on unnecessary add-ons like extended warranties which boost their profits at the borrower’s expense. Some may even manipulate loan terms to trap borrowers in a cycle of debt.


Aggressive Repossession Policies

Because subprime loans carry a higher risk of default, some lenders are very quick to repossess vehicles when payments are late. Even a single missed payment can trigger repossession, leaving the borrower without a vehicle.

Repossession also wreaks havoc on the borrower’s credit score and leaves them still owing any loan balance in excess of the repossessed vehicle’s value. Subprime lenders are more likely than prime lenders to pursue aggressive collections and lawsuits against defaulted borrowers as well.


Risks of Default

One of the biggest risks of taking out a subprime auto loan is the potential for default. Subprime loans have significantly higher default rates compared to prime auto loans. Industry data shows that over 30% of subprime auto loans end up in default, vs less than 5% for prime loans.

If a borrower falls too far behind on payments, the lender can repossess the vehicle. Not only does the borrower lose their car, but their credit score takes a huge hit. A repossession can drop someone’s credit score by over 100 points. It also makes it very difficult to get approved for future auto loans or other types of credit.

Beyond repossession, even being late on just a few payments can seriously harm your credit. Subprime lenders report payment history to the credit bureaus, so missed or late payments show up on your credit report. This damages your credit utilization ratio and payment history, two important factors in credit scoring models.

In short, subprime borrowers must be extremely diligent about making payments on time. Defaulting on a subprime auto loan makes it very difficult to rebuild credit and qualify for affordable financing in the future.


Alternatives to Subprime Auto Loans

While subprime loans provide a way for borrowers with poor credit to finance a vehicle, there are some alternatives that may be worth considering:


Save Up to Buy With Cash

The best way to avoid high interest loans is to save up and pay cash for a used vehicle. While this requires discipline and patience, it eliminates monthly payments, interest charges, and credit checks. Shoppers can find good used cars for $5,000-$10,000 if they are willing to forego luxury models and accept higher mileage.


Explore Other Lender Options

Some lenders, like credit unions, may offer auto loans to borrowers with credit scores just below prime levels. While rates are higher than for prime borrowers, they are often better than subprime loans. Shopping around with other lenders can uncover better options.


Improve Credit to Qualify for Prime Rates

Borrowers with poor credit have the option of taking steps to improve their credit profile over time. Paying bills on time, lowering balances on credit cards, and avoiding new credit inquiries will generally raise credit scores within 6-12 months. Once a prime credit score is achieved, standard auto loan rates become available.


Tips for Subprime Borrowers

If you have poor credit but need a vehicle, here are some tips to get the best subprime auto loan:


Shop Around for the Best Rates

Be sure to check rates from multiple lenders, as subprime rates can vary widely. Online lenders that specialize in bad credit loans often offer lower rates than traditional banks or dealerships.


Understand All the Fees

Make sure you know the full cost of the loan, including any origination fees, documentation fees, or prepayment penalties. Avoid loans with excessive fees.


Keep the Loan Term Short

Opt for a 2-3 year loan term if possible. The shorter the term, the less interest you’ll pay over the life of the loan.


Make Payments On Time

Payment history is very important for your credit. Making on-time payments can start to improve your credit score and open up better loan options in the future.


The Subprime Lending Industry

The subprime auto lending industry is dominated by specialized finance companies that focus on lending to higher-risk borrowers. Some of the major players in subprime auto finance include:


  • Eden Park – One of the largest subprime auto lenders in Canada.
  • Santander – A major bank with a large subprime lending arm.
  • iA Auto Finance – A top subprime auto lender known for approving deep subprime borrowers.
  • Lendcare – A fast-growing subprime lender with dealership relationships nationwide.
  • Scotia Dealer Advantage – An online lender providing loans to subprime borrowers.


The subprime auto lending industry has faced controversies and lawsuits over its lending practices. Critics argue that some lenders engage in irresponsible lending by approving loans with very high interest rates to borrowers unlikely to repay. There have been cases of lenders repossessing vehicles quickly after just one missed payment.

Lenders have also been accused of misleading marketing tactics and not properly verifying income and expenses before approving loans. Class action lawsuits have been filed against major subprime lenders over these issues. However, the industry argues it is providing an important service to underserved consumers.

Oversight of subprime auto lending falls under the jurisdiction of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The CFPB monitors consumer complaints and takes enforcement actions against lenders engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts and practices. It requires subprime lenders to disclose terms clearly so consumers understand the risks and obligations of loans.


The Future of Subprime Auto Lending

The subprime auto lending industry is projected to continue growing in the coming years as more consumers need access to vehicle financing despite poor credit. However, lenders will need to innovate to balance providing loans to higher-risk borrowers while also effectively managing default risk.

Industry analysts predict steady growth in subprime originations in the 5-10% range annually over the next few years. This growth will be driven by rising used car prices that necessitate financing, as well as demand from consumers rebuilding their credit after the economic impacts of the pandemic. The growth of online lenders and increased use of technology in underwriting is also expanding access to subprime borrowers.

To serve subprime consumers while also minimizing losses, lenders are innovating with their lending models. Many are utilizing alternative data sources and machine learning algorithms to better predict risk. Lenders are also experimenting with different loan structures like flexible terms or periodic payment options to improve affordability. New pooled securitization structures are emerging to spread risk across lenders. Improved digital servicing and communication with borrowers aims to reduce delinquencies.

The future of subprime lending involves increased use of technology and data to expand access responsibly. While default risk remains an issue, continued focus on customized lending models, affordability, and improved borrower support through education and communication will enable more consumers with poor credit to get the transportation they need while also creating sustainable lending programs.



In summary, subprime auto loans provide access to transportation for consumers with poor credit or limited credit history. By taking on the higher risks associated with lending to borrowers with low credit scores, subprime lenders fill a need in the auto finance market.

However, subprime loans come with considerable risks and downsides for borrowers. Interest rates are much higher, and terms often include prepayment penalties and aggressive collections tactics if the borrower falls behind. There is also a higher likelihood of repossession if payments cannot be made.

Consumers with poor credit should weigh the pros and cons before taking out a subprime auto loan. While these loans provide a pathway to vehicle ownership that may not otherwise exist, the higher costs and lending risks should be fully understood upfront. Borrowers must consider whether the benefits outweigh the potential for ending up in a cycle of debt that is difficult to escape.

Overall, subprime lending plays an important role in the auto finance industry, but regulators and consumer advocates argue more protections are needed. As with any major borrowing decision, consumers are best served by being informed and approaching subprime auto loans with eyes wide open.

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Questions About Subprime Car Loans in Canada

Subprime auto loans in Canada refer to car loans given to borrowers with low credit scores, typically below 600. As these borrowers are seen as higher risk, lenders charge higher interest rates and fees to compensate. Common subprime auto loan terms in Canada are interest rates from 10% to 29% and loan amounts up to $45,000.

In Canada, a credit score below 600 is generally considered bad credit by auto lenders. Those with scores in the 300-500 range would be classified as deep subprime borrowers and pay the highest rates on car loans, sometimes exceeding 29%. Near prime loans for scores 550-599 can expect rates around 13-20%.

Some of the top Canadian lenders offering bad credit car loans include Rifco National Auto Finance, AutoCapital Canada, Santander Consumer, Credit Canada Auto Finance, and First Choice Finance. Many banks also have subprime lending programs. Dealerships can provide financing through subprime lenders too.

The average interest rate on subprime auto loans from specialty lenders in Canada tends to fall between 13% and 25%. Deep subprime borrowers can expect rates exceeding 25%, while near prime borrowers may qualify for rates around 13% to 15% from some lenders.

To qualify for the lowest rates on subprime auto loans from most Canadian lenders, you typically need a credit score of at least 550. Borrowers in the 550-599 near prime range can sometimes find rates around 13%, much lower than deep subprime loans exceeding 25%.

Subprime lending does provide auto financing options if you have poor credit, but the higher rates add considerably to the overall cost. Weigh interest savings against delaying your purchase to improve your credit score first. Understand the rates and fees before signing any subprime car loan.

The maximum loan amount lenders will approve with bad credit varies case by case, but often falls in the range of $10,000 to $45,000. Factors like income, existing debt levels, and credit score impact loan limits. Deep subprime borrowers generally see lower maximums closer to $10,000 or less.

Yes, making consistent and on-time payments on a subprime auto loan can help rebuild damaged credit over time. Just be sure to only accept loan terms you can realistically manage based on your budget. Defaulting on a subprime loan makes matters even worse.

Most major cities in Canada have a network of bad credit auto dealerships that arrange financing through subprime lenders. These dealers stock models affordable for subprime buyers and understand how to navigate financing for poor credit borrowers.

Subprime lenders often require little or no money down on car loans, unlike standard financing. But borrowers with very low scores below 500 may need 10-20% down to get approved. Higher down payments also lead to better rates from some subprime lenders.

Subprime lenders can launch repossession quickly after a default, sometimes in as little as one missed payment. Review loan terms carefully, have a backup plan to avoid repos if struggling to make payments, and consider GAP insurance to avoid remaining loan balances if the car is repossessed and resold.

Most subprime lenders only finance vehicles purchased from an approved dealership inventory. But a few specialized lenders like Rifco National Finance do offer subprime financing programs for private sale vehicles inspected by a certified mechanic.

Wait times vary by lender, but usually it takes around 12-24 months after a repossession to qualify for subprime financing again. Some may allow 6-12 months, while others wait 24 months. Pay any past due repo deficiency balance first before applying.

Yes, some subprime lenders work with borrowers who have active consumer proposals, which helps consolidate and repay debt under reduced interest rates. Expect higher rates than standard applicants but possible to get approved with enrolled proposals.

Typical documents subprime lenders require include government-issued ID, proof of income (pay stubs), proof of address, list of assets/liabilities, bank statements, and references. Having all documentation ready speeds the pre-approval process.

While most subprime lenders require income verification, some may offer starter loans with minimal documentation for amounts less than $10,000. Interest rates are very high, repayment terms shorter, and criteria strict despite no income proofs.

If denied by one subprime lender, shop around to others as approval criteria varies. Improving your credit score before reapplying also helps. Consider saving up and buying from private sellers with cash/short-term loans as an alternative.

Tips to boost subprime car loan approval odds include paying down other debts to lower your debt-to-income ratio, getting a cosigner with better credit, verifying your income, minimizing hard credit check applications, and putting more money down on your purchase.

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