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When you buy a new or used car, the title is one of the most important documents you’ll need to get. 

A vehicle title serves as legal proof that you are the owner. You’ll need it to register the car for the first time, and you’ll also need it if you plan to sell, donate, or recycle the car in the future. 

Keep reading to learn about the general process for getting a car title. 

How to Get a Title for Your Vehicle

The process for getting a title depends on whether you’ve purchased the vehicle from a private seller or a dealership. 

If you’ve bought the car from a dealership, they’ll typically take care of all the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) paperwork on your behalf. 

As you’re completing the transaction, you’ll be filling out some documents that will then be sent off to the DMV to complete the title and registration application. 

If you’ve purchased the vehicle outright without financing, the title will be issued in your name after the DMV has processed the paperwork. 

If you’ve financed the vehicle, the lender or lienholder will keep the title until you’ve paid off the loan in most states. Once your loan is paid off, you’ll be able to remove the lienholder and get the title yourself. 

If you’ve bought a car from a private seller, you’ll need to submit your title application yourself. 

To get a title after buying a used car from a private party, you’ll typically need to:

  • Have the seller sign over their title and release it to you. 
  • Have the seller complete the odometer disclosure statement, if applicable. 
  • Get a bill of sale that shows the purchase price. 
  • Fill out the appropriate sections of the title yourself. (How to Fill out a Car Title).
  • Complete an application for a new title in your state. 
  • Visit your local DMV office to submit the paperwork and pay the tax, title, and tag fees. 

When do you get a car title? 

When you’ll get your title also depends on how you’ve purchased it. 

If you’ve purchased the vehicle without financing, you’ll typically receive the title within 10 to 60 days after the DMV has processed your paperwork, updated the vehicle records, and sent you the new title. 

If you’ve financed the vehicle, you’ll be able to get the title after paying off the loan. 

Who has the title when financing the car? 

Most states are title-holding states, which means that the lienholder will retain the title until the loan is paid in full. 

A handful of states are non-title holding states, which means that even if you’ve financed the car, you’ll still receive the title, but it will have a lien on it. 

Any time you finance the car, a lien will be listed on the title. This means that you cannot transfer the vehicle until the lien is released.  

Do you get the title when you lease a car?

In most cases, no, you will not get the title when leasing a vehicle. 

The title is retained by the leasing company. 

How to Get a Title for a Car that Doesn’t Have One

Sometimes, you may run into a situation where the seller of the vehicle doesn’t have a title for some reason. 

If you’re interested in buying the vehicle and getting it registered, you will still need to apply for the title yourself. 

So, how do you get a title for a vehicle that doesn’t have one? 

There’s a few options, including:

  • Having the seller apply for a duplicate title during or before the transaction (this is typically the easiest option).
  • Checking if your state requires a title for the vehicle (some states do not title vehicles over a certain age). 
  • Applying for a bonded title through the DMV. 

Getting a bonded title involves:

  • Contacting your state DMV to see if the vehicle is eligible for a bonded title. 
  • Getting a surety bond on the vehicle. 
  • Turning in the bond to the DMV and applying for a bonded title. 
  • Applying to clear the title once the bond period is satisfied. 

Whichever method you go with, it pays to do your research first. 

Here are some things you’ll want to do when buying a car without a title:

Need more resources for buying or selling a vehicle? Check them out below: