How Much Can I Borrow For a Car Loan?

Determine how much can you borrow for your car loan using our comprehensive guide.
Published on December 14th, 2020
  Written by 
Thomas Perrotta
Thomas Perrotta is the managing editor of Savvy. Throughout his time at the company, Thomas has specialised in personal finance, namely car, personal and small loans, although he has also written on topics ranging from mortgages to business loans to banking and more. Thomas graduated from the University of Adelaide with a Bachelor of Media, majoring in journalism, and has previously had his work published in The Advertiser.
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   Reviewed by 
Bill Tsouvalas


Bill Tsouvalas
Bill Tsouvalas is the managing director and a key company spokesperson at Savvy. As a personal finance expert, he often shares his insights on a range of topics, being featured on leading news outlets including News Corp publications such as the Daily Telegraph and Herald Sun, Fairfax Media publications such as the Australian Financial Review, the Seven Network and more. Bill has over 15 years of experience working in the finance industry and founded Savvy in 2010 with a vision to provide affordable and accessible finance options to all Australians. He has built Savvy from a small asset finance brokerage into a financial comparison website which now attracts close to 2 million Aussies per year and was included in the BRW’s Fast 100 in 2015 as one of the fastest-growing companies in the country. He’s passionate about helping Australians make financially savvy decisions and reviews content across the brand to ensure its accuracy. You can follow Bill on LinkedIn.
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Determining how much you can borrow for a car loan is based on how much you earn, how much you spend each month, and your credit habits. This calculation is used to figure out your borrowing power – how much you can afford to pay back to a lender each month or repayment period.

How do I figure out my borrowing power?

According to the lending indicators from December 2023 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the value of new fixed term loans taken out to purchase a vehicle was over $15.6 billion across 2023, at an average of around $1.3 billion per month. Additionally, data released by Australian lender Plenti states that the average loan size is $31,738.40.

Your borrowing power is determined by looking at your income and expenses and seeing what is left over to service (pay back) a loan.

Let’s take this as an example: if you earn $100,000 a year and spend about 60% on essentials like rent/mortgage, bills and groceries, this means you have $40,000 in disposable income. You may use about 20% of that on disposable purchases like nights out, movies, sports days and holidays. This leaves you with $32,000 left over.

$32,000 in disposable income could demonstrate you can comfortably pay back a $50,000 car loan over five years without running into any financial difficulty (provided you don’t lose your job, fall ill, or have another family emergency).

Using this example, if you take out a five-year loan for $50,000 with a $4,000 deposit, your borrowing power may range from $868 to $1,047 per month. Owing more each month might put you in financial trouble and lenders are less likely to approve applications if they believe you may struggle with your repayments.

A lender won't simply lend out $300,000 for a luxury vehicle to someone who earns $50,000 a year, even if their credit is spotless – this would put the borrower at risk.

Savvy's car loan borrowing power calculator

What is creditworthiness? Is it tied to my credit score?

Creditworthiness is measured with a credit score by the major credit reporting agencies. ASIC MoneySmart says a credit score is “based on personal and financial information about you that's kept in your credit report”. It'll list the following information:

  • Which lenders you owe money to and how much
  • How much you've borrowed
  • How many times you’ve applied for credit
  • Unpaid debts or maxed out credit
  • Whether you make your payments on time
  • Any court orders or agreements related to unpaid debts or bankruptcy

Credit agencies, the bodies that prepare your credit reports, give you a score between 0 and 1,000 or 1,200. The following table breaks down how scores are categorised by the three major credit reporting agencies in Australia:

Below average Average Good Very good Excellent

Note: This table uses Equifax's category names. Different credit reporting agencies have different names for some of these categories.

If you have a high score, you may be deemed more “credit-worthy.” If you have a low score, you are more of a risk and may be in the “bad credit” or “below average” category. For example, applying for credit in many places and being rejected shows lenders you may be desperate for credit and could have trouble paying them back. This all drops your credit score.

This can hinder your attempts for credit approval and may mean you have to prove your creditworthiness in other ways. Even so, lenders may only give you a loan with a higher interest rate, as this is “insurance” against not being paid back (known as defaulting).

How does a lender figure out my borrowing power?

A lender will conduct a soft credit check, which doesn't go on your credit file, to assess whether you're eligible for a car loan. This is part of responsible lending practices which are in place to protect consumers.

Using this publicly available information, a lender can determine whether you are a risky borrower or not. Some lenders may offer you a preliminary interest rate so you can do your first set of repayment calculations. It's a check to verify you are who you say you are. This is also known as loan “pre-approval” or “approval in principal”.

Before making a “hard” or formal credit inquiry with a credit reporting agency, you may supply payslips, employment statements, bills in your name that you have paid, and other financial statements to show you can afford to pay back a loan. These will often also form part of your pre-approval and paint a clearer picture to your lender of what you can manage.

The formal credit inquiry confirms the lenders’ assessment of a borrowers’ creditworthiness. This will only be done during a formal application process and will be recorded on your credit file.

Looking at repayments over interest rates

Low interest rates aren’t the be all and end all of saving money on a car loan. A lender can advertise the lowest interest rates, but it doesn’t mean you’ll be paying less over time in repayments. Some interest rates may be low but when expressed as a comparison rate, which includes the main fees in the percentage, the costs can be much higher.

Looking at your repayments instead of looking at interest rates will give you a clearer picture of how much the loan costs each month and how much you'll be able to budget for. This is a fixed cost and can be factored into how much you can afford to borrow once registration, insurance, fuel costs, and other on road costs are considered.

Using a car loan calculator can give you a general idea of how much you can expect to pay each period. All you need to know is the comparison rate you’re likely to pay and how much you want to borrow. The calculator can be useful in figuring out your own borrowing power.

What you’ll need to prepare for a car loan application

Check your credit history

Checking your credit history helps you understand your borrowing power before a lender makes any sort of judgment. If your credit history has mistakes or defaults that aren’t your fault, you can use this opportunity to correct them. It could save you plenty of money in interest.

A realistic budget

There's little point in having no idea how much you can afford to borrow before you apply, even for pre-approval. Take the time to work out the loan amount and term that suits your situation before you get the wheels in motion on your application. 

Payslips and employment information

Having payslips to confirm your income is always a plus when you apply for a car loan. This proves your creditworthiness in an additional way apart from just checking your credit score.

Financial statements

If you have supplementary income or can prove you are responsible with savings, this can further aid your car loan application. If you have more disposable income than what your initial assessment shows, it could improve what interest rates are available and/or your borrowing power.

Paid bills or proof of residency

Showing lenders you are responsible with bills and residency (e.g. not moving often) can also tip the scales in your favour, as these point to a more stable situation and more stable finances as a result.

Car loan affordability questions answered

My repayment calculator says I can afford to pay X amount per week. Is this my borrowing power?

Yes, this is what is known as your borrowing power. How much you can afford to pay back per week, fortnight, or month will determine how much you are able to borrow. Responsible lenders will not approve loans a customer has little chance of paying back.

As a sole trader or businessperson, how much can I borrow for a car loan?

When you're self-employed, the amount you can borrow will still depend on the same factors. However, it's important to know what documents you'll need to provide instead of payslips, such as tax returns. You should also be aware of whether you're buying for personal or commercial purposes, as a chattel mortgage is a business car loan product that can offer tax benefits to owners. Speak with your accountant or a qualified tax advisor if you're unsure which option is right for you.

How do I check my credit score or credit history?

Australians can check their credit score or history for free every three months by filling out an application at one of the three major credit reporting bureaus. Contact your agency if you want to check over your report.

Why does putting down a deposit affect my car loan?

Putting down a deposit through cash or trade-in can affect your car loan because of the decreased risk for the lender. The less risky a transaction is for a lender, the more willing they may be to “reward” a borrower for taking on the risk themselves by lowering the interest rate available to them. It also reduces your loan size, which in turn cuts down the amount of interest charged overall.

What is a comparison rate?

A comparison rate is a car loan interest rate plus all major fees and charges associated with the loan expressed as a percentage per annum (per year). This doesn't cover conditional fees such as early exit or late repayment charges, as these won't always apply.

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This guide provides general information and does not consider your individual needs, finances or objectives. We do not make any recommendation or suggestion about which product is best for you based on your specific situation and we do not compare all companies in the market, or all products offered by all companies. It’s always important to consider whether professional financial, legal or taxation advice is appropriate for you before choosing or purchasing a financial product.

The content on our website is produced by experts in the field of finance and reviewed as part of our editorial guidelines. We endeavour to keep all information across our site updated with accurate information.

Approval for car loans is always subject to our lender’s terms, conditions and qualification criteria. Lenders will undertake a credit check in line with responsible lending obligations to help determine whether you’re in a position to take on the loan you’re applying for.

The interest rate, comparison rate, fees and monthly repayments will depend on factors specific to your profile, such as your financial situation, as well others, such as the loan’s size and your chosen repayment term. Costs such as broker fees, redraw fees or early repayment fees, and cost savings such as fee waivers, aren’t included in the comparison rate but may influence the cost of the loan. Different terms, fees or other loan amounts may result in a different comparison rate.

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