Car loans traditionally were referred to as notes, and the term “tote-the-note” simply translates to “we carry the loan” or “we take care of the loan.” These lots are sometimes also referred to as “buy here, pay here” lots. A tote-the-note car lot offers its own financing and, as such, can set up payment plans for those with bad credit who can’t get car loans elsewhere. Because no third party lender (e.g., a bank or credit union) is involved, the dealership can set the criteria for who it’ll sell to and can use things like proof of employment, instead of a credit score, to approve people for financing. Below, we have the pros and cons of buying from tote-the-note lots, as well as tips for finding and buying from them.
Pros and Cons of Tote-the-Note Lots
As mentioned, tote-the-note car lots are an option for people with bad credit. They should not, however, be used if you’re also struggling financially. These lots are more specifically for people who are comfortably able to make the payments but have no credit history or bad credit at the time of purchase that keeps them from receiving traditional financing. You’ll most often be asked to present proof of income and residency as an alternative to credit score.
At a tote-the-note lot, the buying process is essentially reversed. You start by speaking with a finance manager to determine your price range and whether you can make reliable payments. From there, you’ll take a look at what cars fall within your budget. Seems simple enough, but it’s important to remember that like any other financing option, the advantages and disadvantages should be explored before making a final decision.
- If you have a bad credit history and/or are a subprime borrower, a tote-the-note lot allows you the opportunity to get a car.
- Since there is no intermediary, the process is quite direct and simple. Normally, you can apply for tote-the-note financing before even going to the dealership, or you can speak to the finance manager when you arrive at the tote-the-note lot.
- Many tote-the-note lots guarantee approval depending on minimum income and debt.
- Tote-the-note lots offer great payment options that match your financial status and pay cycle.
- Tote-the-note lots generally offer cheaper, pre-owned cars — usually later model used cars with decent engines and low mileage.
- More often than not, the interest rates at tote-the-note lots are abnormally high because the dealer is working with buyers that have bad credit scores and run the risk of defaulting on the loan.
- Most don’t require credit checks, which means the payment likely will not be reported to the credit bureaus; therefore, your credit score will not improve. Some dealers will report timely payments, so it’s advised that you seek out that type of tote-the-note dealership.
- Some dealerships may take advantage of customers that don’t know how to keep track of their money by encouraging the shopper to purchase a car that they can’t afford in order to repossess the car and resell it. Nearly all vehicles sold on a tote-the-note lot are prepared with a GPS tracking device. The dealership will know where the car is at all times, which makes it less difficult for them to repossess the car if you don’t meet your payments on time. Some cars are even equipped with an automatic kill switch that can be activated if your payments are not made.
- The quality of vehicles available is usually decent, but it’s not a guarantee that they will always be up to standards that match the price of the car.
How to Find Tote-the-Note Lots
A simple Google search of tote-the-note lots in your area is usually a surefire starting point, but some websites and companies can help you find your local shops. A few options include:
There are also a few online and national used car retailers that offer in-house or “tote-the-note” financing. These include:
- CarMax (For more details on buying with CarMax, see our article on CarMax’s financing policy.)
- Carvana (For more details on buying with Carvana, see our article on Carvana’s financing requirements.)
Most of these sites allow you to apply online directly to see the loan amount you’re pre-approved for. You’ll probably be required to provide proof of income, employment, identity, residency, and any debts you may currently have. Should you receive approval, we recommend you contact the dealership via telephone to ask any preliminary questions you have about its stock and policies before heading to the shop.
Once you feel comfortable moving forward, you can head to the dealership to meet with your finance manager. You’ll want to bring the documentation that supports your loan application. From there, he or she will assist you in finalizing all the details of your loan and will work with you so you can test drive cars within your price range. Should you find a car you like, you can be a car owner and drive away in your new vehicle the same day. From that point forward, you will repay your loan directly to the dealer according to the details you outlined in your contract.
Tips for Buying at a Tote-the-Note Lot
Make sure you know what you’re getting into before you choose a tote-the-note lot. Here are our specific recommendations when choosing a lot and a list of questions you should ask the dealership before you buy a car from them.
- Do your research.
- Visit the dealership’s website to read through its purchasing process.
- Search online and connect with others for reviews on the dealership.
- Call and speak to someone at the dealership before making the trek to the shop and ask as many questions as you want.
- Put together a budget, so you have an idea going into the purchase what options might work best for you.
- Try to save up for a big down payment to avoid high interest fees.
Questions to Ask the Dealership
Don’t feel bad asking the dealership as many questions as you want. There’s no dumb question and getting all the answers you need to make a calculated decision is in your best interest. By asking the right questions, you are more likely to score the best deal on your purchase and avoid being scammed. Some questions to consider asking include:
- Will I, in fact, qualify with bad credit, no credit history, or if I’ve filed for bankruptcy?
- Will I need to make a down payment?
- Will my payments be reported to credit bureaus?
- Is there a penalty for paying the loan off earlier than outlined?
- What is required to complete an application for tote-the-note financing?
- How long is the application process?
- What types of documents or paperwork are needed in order to process my application?
- Is there an application fee? If so, what does the fee cover?
- If I currently have a car, can I trade it in?
- Is a cosigner necessary to qualify for financing?
- What kind of interest rate can I expect if I’m approved for financing?
- What is your return policy on tote-the-note car purchases?
- Where do you acquire your vehicles from?
- Do you have a record of the vehicle history report? If so, can I look at it?
- When and what was the last service performed on the car?
- Is there a warranty on the car?
We tote the note car lots are out there. Since there is no intermediary lender requiring a specific credit score to approve a loan, tote-the-note car lots are an option for those who are financially stable but have no credit history or bad credit history. It’s important to take your time to research the best tote-the-note lot and make sure that it will match your needs. Remember to ask the important questions in order to get the best deal and avoid being scammed.