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Cheap Hire Purchase

Spread the cost of buying your car

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By Harriet Meyer | Edited by Johanna

Updated March 2018

car hire

If you need a car and can't pay for it upfront, hire purchase is one of the options open to you. It's been used to buy cars almost since there's been cars, but that doesn't mean it's the right deal for you.

Here’s a guide to break down the basics, including how it works and how to work out if it's right for you. We also reveal where to go to find the cheapest deal.

This is the first incarnation of this guide. Please suggest any changes or ask questions in the hire purchase discussion.

Not the car finance option you were looking for? Check these out...
Personal car loan PCP Leasing Buying a Car with a Credit Card

What is hire purchase?

If you’re buying a new or used car and need to borrow, and know you want to own the car at the end of the deal, there are three main types of finance you can get.

You can get a standard personal loan, and there's tons of info in the Personal Car Loans guide to help you pick the right one. Another way is Personal Contract Purchase, but it's not cheap if you know you want to own the car. Or, dealers – and other car salesmen – offer something called hire purchase (HP).

Around a fifth of new cars, and many more used cars, are bought using HP – though it's not as popular as it once was. HP is similar to a standard loan when you're paying it, but there are two key differences. As the name of this form of car finance suggests...

You essentially HIRE the car over the period of the contract, with the option to PURCHASE it at the end.

So, the first difference between HP and a standard loan is that while you're paying off the finance, the finance company STILL owns the car. It's only once you've made ALL the payments (including the 'option to purchase' fee at the end, which is usually £100-£200) that ownership transfers to you.

car hire

The second key difference is that the debt is secured against the car. So if you can’t pay it, the finance company could repossess the car to help pay off your debt.

This sounds bad – and it can be – but what it also means is the risk of granting the finance is lower for the lender than it would be with an unsecured personal loan. This usually means that some turned down for a normal loan would be able to get an HP deal.

But, whether you get an HP deal or a personal loan (or you're still considering both), compare the APR – the annual percentage rate – to give you the overall cost of buying a car this way. Provided all the deals you're comparing are over the same number of months or years, the one with the lower APR is the best deal.

How does hire purchase work?

car hire

Once you’ve found a car you want to buy, you’ll know the amount you want to borrow.

Dealers usually ask for a deposit of 10% or more of the car's price – and if you're buying a new car, many franchised dealers (those affiliated with manufacturers like Ford, BMW etc) run promotions giving you a contribution towards this if you take one of their finance deals.

You then pay fixed monthly payments over a period of one to five years, and typical APR interest rates for HP tend to be between 4% and 8%. Some dealers will offer 0% finance – but this is more likely if you’ve a chunky deposit to put down. Remember, if you fail to keep up payments the finance company is entitled to seize the car.

What happens at the end of the finance deal?

Once all repayments have been made, you pay a final fee – referred to as the 'option to purchase' fee – to own the car outright. This covers the cost of transferring ownership to you, and is typically around £100-£200. It should be mentioned in the HP agreement you sign at the start – but if you can't find it, make sure you ask the dealer how much the fee is.

Let’s take an example of how much you'd pay in total…

Say you're buying a car priced at £14,000:

  • You pay a 10% deposit of £1,400, leaving £12,600 left to pay.
  • You borrow £12,600 over three years.
  • You get a 5% APR deal, meaning payments would be £378 a month (£13,608 for the three years).
  • After three years you can take ownership of the vehicle, paying a transfer fee of £200.

  • So in total you’d pay £15,208.

Remember! The car is owned by the finance company until the final payment and 'option to purchase' fee have been paid. Until then, you have no legal right to sell the car (though the finance company may let you if you ask, and use the proceeds to fully settle the finance agreement).

Paid off half the debt? You can return the car & walk away

Known as a voluntary termination, there's a little-known clause in the Consumer Credit Act which allows you to get out of an HP agreement early. Provided you’ve repaid at least half the total amount owed, you can terminate the agreement and return the car to the finance company.

This is a handy clause in an HP contract if you find:

  • You no longer need the car.
  • You want to cut costs.
  • You can’t afford repayments.
  • You can get a similar car for a lower cost than you would by making the remaining payments.

If you decide to do this, the car should be in good condition when you hand it back. If not, you’ll have to pay for any outstanding repair work that needs doing.

If you're not yet halfway through the payments, you’ll need to pay the amount outstanding to reach halfway before you can get out of the agreement.

Important! If you decide to end the agreement early, make sure to get everything in writing and keep a copy so nobody can claim you have defaulted on your payments.

Is HP the right option for me?

There are so many different options when it comes to buying a car, it can be difficult to choose. We've highlighted the main benefits and pitfalls of choosing HP here:

Pros

  • You can spread the cost, meaning you can get a better car than if you had to pay upfront.
  • It's simple to arrange and understand.
  • It's flexible – with terms from 1-5yrs (the longer the term, the more interest you’ll pay).
  • You would own the car once you’ve made all payments.
  • You may get a deposit contribution from the manufacturer.
  • HP can be easier to get than a standard, unsecured loan for people with poor credit histories (as the car is used as collateral).
  • It's possible you might be able to get 0% finance, though this is often reserved for those with large deposits.

Cons

  • Monthly payments are higher than for PCP and leasing deals.
  • You don’t own the car until you make the final payment.
  • Rates are often higher than standard car loans.
  • You cannot sell or modify the car over the contract term without the finance company’s permission.
  • If you fail to keep up payments, the finance company may take the car away (it can do this without a court order until you’ve paid a third of the total amount).

Where can I get an HP deal?

There are two main options here. The most common is to get the finance through the dealership you're buying from. However, it's worth comparing any quote you get from a dealership with what an online broker can offer – and go for the cheapest.

car hire

Online finance brokers

HP deals can be found from a handful of online brokers. These are handy to get an idea of the prices and repayments you might be looking at on your ideal car. Brokers offer a wide range of deals, including those for buyers with a tarnished credit history. They simply supply the finance through a variety of lenders.

If you're asking for a quote from any of these brokers, check whether they'll do a hard or soft credit search when they give you a quote. If it's a hard search, be wary, as this is fully visible on your credit file to other lenders as an application, even if you then don't take out the loan.

Too many of these in a short space of time is a red flag and could wreck your chances of getting credit in the future, so think carefully.

Some of these brokers will also be able to source vehicles for you, as well as finance. But you can still get your car from any dealer in the UK, and just use the broker for the loan. Funds will be sent to the dealer after the finance agreement's signed. Here are a few of the larger brokers operating in the UK:

  • Carfinance247. One of the UK's biggest car finance brokers, Carfinance247* offers deals to suit almost any budget. You source a car from any UK dealer. Once you've done this, and know how much you need to borrow, you can get a quote from Carfinance247 to see whether it can find an HP deal for you, and at what rate.

    It has different deals depending on your credit score, with rates starting from 5.8% APR and going up to 30% APR for people with a bad credit history.

  • Zuto. Broker site Zuto allows anyone to apply for car finance with it, but specialises in helping people who may find it difficult to get finance, for example, the self-employed, or people with a poorer credit history.

    The rate you'll get depends on how good your credit history is. If it's excellent, rates are available from 9.7% APR. But poor credit scorers could end up being charged 34.3% APR or more.

  • Carzu. If you want a broker to look after the process of finding a car, as well as getting the HP deal (although you can opt to just get finance through it), try Carzu. APRs depend on how much you want to borrow.

  • Halifax Bank. Although not an online broker, Halifax also offers a Fixed Car Plan HP deal, which provides a similar service, yet it's only for its current account customers at the moment.

    As with the other finance providers here, Halifax will send the cash straight to the dealer you're buying from. This means it will therefore own the car until the end of the deal. Halifax has a 3.4% representative APR on its car plans.

Dealer finance

car hire

Often known as forecourt finance, or just car finance, it's offered by almost every dealer in the UK – and HP is one of the options available.

Dealerships come in three main types: franchised (tied to one or more manufacturers, eg, BMW garages), independent (not tied) and car supermarkets.

Getting an HP deal through a franchised dealership

In a franchised dealership, finance deals are usually arranged through the car finance arm of a manufacturer – for example, Ford Credit, or Volvo Financial Services. It's definitely worth looking at what these dealerships can offer you on a finance deal, especially if you're buying a new car.

If this is the case, it's not uncommon for the manufacturer to give £500-£2,000 to you as a deposit contribution, and also offer 0% finance. If you don't qualify for 0% finance, you'll usually get an advertised APR offer of around 5%; though this is representative, so if you have a poorer credit history, you may be offered a much higher rate.

Getting an HP deal through an independent dealership or car supermarket

Many independent dealerships and car supermarkets get their finance from big banks' consumer arms. Blackhorse (part of Lloyds) and Santander Consumer Finance, for example, supply finance deals to non-franchised dealerships.

These finance providers aren't tied to manufacturers, and therefore can't offer the heavily subsidised 0% finance or deposit contributions that the car companies' finance arms can. If you go to one of these dealerships, expect a representative APR of somewhere between 5% and 10% – or more if you've a bad credit record.

It’s a competitive market out there – check what’s available online and from dealers, and ask yourself what you can really afford. It’s vital you can afford the repayments before you commit. With all these types of finance, if your application is accepted, finance is sent directly to the dealer.

How do I get the best deal?

car hire

The rate you’re offered will depend on your credit score, with the best rates available only to those with a squeaky clean history. Also, having a big deposit will help.

Ideally, and try to do this before you apply for HP finance, take the time to check your credit history at one of the main agencies. If it’s in need of improvement, consider ways to boost your score. See our Credit Scores guide for more.

Once you've checked your credit score, then find the cheapest deal you can. If you've got your heart set on HP finance, then find the cheapest HP deal. If you'd be happy with a personal car loan then this is almost certainly going to work out cheaper, though they are harder to get than car finance, as they're unsecured.

With car finance, much depends on where you're buying the car, how much you need to borrow and how good your credit record is. As such, there's no one-size-fits-all answer, other than to say: compare all the finance options, and pick the cheapest.

Hire purchaseQ&A

  • What effect will getting an HP deal have on my credit rating?

  • Are HP loans ever worth it compared with standard loans?

  • What happens if I miss a payment?

  • Why do dealers sometimes quote 'flat' interest rates?

  • How can I make repayments as low as possible?

  • What if I want to pay off my HP deal early?

  • What if there's a problem with the car?

  • The dealer's offered me gap insurance to protect me in case I write the car off. Do I need it?

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