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How to Transfer a Car Title

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A car title provides proof of ownership of a vehicle. It’s equivalent to a deed for a house — it’ll have information about the car, like the make, model and year, vehicle identification number and mileage. It may have your name and address and the lien holder that financed the car purchase if the loan has not been paid off.

Here’s what you need to know about a car title transfer when you sell or trade in the car, and the process you’ll follow.

How a car title transfer works

Both the seller and buyer are involved in the process of transferring a car title. The seller releases the rights to ownership by signing the title in the designated area on the document. The buyer takes the title to their local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), or the appropriate authorized office in their state or county, to register ownership of the vehicle in their name. The agency will issue a new title in the buyer’s name.

Some states, like Arizona, are moving to electronic titles. You may have to pay a fee if you want a paper copy of the title.

Here’s a brief overview of how the title transfer process happens — check with your state DMV to find out the specific details of transferring a title in your state.

If you’re working with a dealership

If you’re buying a new or used car from a dealership, the dealership will take care of most of the title paperwork. The dealer will charge you the title and registration fees as part of the transaction and pay those on your behalf, and the cost of this will be part of the doc fee that dealers charge. The lender will then keep the title until you pay off the loan. Once you’ve paid off the loan, the lender will mail the title to you or send a lien release letter that you can use to get a new title in your name without the lien or use to verify the pay off when you sell the car. It’s also possible to sell a car when you still have a loan.

The seller signs in the seller’s section on the reverse side of the title.

If you’re working with a private party

If you’re selling to a private party, create a bill of sale with the necessary information:

  • Date of sale
  • Buyer’s name and address
  • Sale price
  • Odometer reading

Some states require the seller to sign a car title in front of a notary public. If the seller and buyer go to the DMV office together, the clerk can take care of that.

The buyer must sign in the designated spot on the title with their full name, date of birth and address; some states will also require your Social Security number or equivalent. The buyer must disclose if the car is being purchased with a loan so the title will indicate the lien.

In addition to signing the title, you’ll likely have to fill out an application for title transfer and registration form with all your personal information.

When you register the title transfer, be prepared to pay transfer and title fees, registration fees, sales or use tax and property or other taxes that your state or county may charge. Titling fees often vary by state: As an example, in Minnesota, the filing fee is $11 for each title transaction plus $8.25 for all title transfers, while in New Jersey, it ranges from $60 to $110, depending on whether the vehicle’s financed and the number of liens it has on it.

A vehicle title is a legal document — so if you make a mistake, don’t scratch through or mark out information on the title, and don’t use Wite-out or an eraser on it either. Instead, create an affidavit or correction form with the accurate information and have it notarized. You may otherwise have to order a duplicate title and start over.

11 tips to seamlessly transfer a car title

If you’re a seller…

Consider accompanying the buyer to the state or county agency than handles titles 

Until the buyer registers the car, it’s still your responsibility. As such, you should use your state’s notice of sale service (if it’s available) to show that you no longer claim ownership of the vehicle. This service registers the change of ownership with the state agency even if the buyer doesn’t register the car — otherwise, you could be responsible for parking tickets or toll violations.

Remove the license plates if required

In some states, the plates stay with the vehicle and transfer to the new owner. In other states, the seller removes the plates and either turns them in or moves them to another vehicle they own. It’s important to check with your local DMV to learn more about the specifics in your state.

Report the sale of the vehicle

If you sell or donate a vehicle, report it sold to the title agency in your state, such as the DMV or appropriate county agency responsible for recording titles. The notice of sale service records the change in ownership, so you’re no longer responsible for the car. If you trade it in, the dealer will take care of this step at some point. However, a dealer may not transfer the title until the car is sold, which could be months after the trade-in — that’s why it’s important to file the notice of sale as soon as possible.

What to do if you’ve lost the title or have no proof of ownership

If you’ve lost the title, you can apply for a duplicate title from your state agency.

If you’re a buyer…

Verify the VIN

Make sure the vehicle identification number (VIN) on the title matches the VIN on the driver’s side front dash, visible under the windshield of the vehicle or on the driver’s side door jamb.

Verify the name on the title

Check to make sure the person’s name on the title is the person selling the car. In addition, note that if more than one person is named, both may have to sign the title for the transfer; this will depend on whether the names are listed with “and,” “or” or “and/or” between them. (For example, if Bob Smith “and” Jane Smith or Bob Smith “and/or” Jane Smith are listed, your state may require both people to be present to sign.) Check before you head to the DMV to make sure who will ultimately need to be present. Meanwhile, when you’re transferring the car into your name, think about how you want to title it for when it comes time to sell it.

Verify the lien release

Make sure the title can be transferred with a lien release letter if the vehicle you’re buying has been paid off. If there’s still a lien, the owner will have to get permission from the lender to transfer the title to the buyer.

Make sure you have the proper documentation 

The required documentation varies by state and the type of transaction. You may need different documents for a private party sale compared to inheriting a car, buying one that’s never been titled or an out-of-state transfer.

Here’s a list of the types of documents you may need — check out your state’s DMV website for specifics for your situation:

  • Photo ID
  • Proof of name change (marriage license or divorce decree)
  • Completed and signed title and registration application
  • Signed and notarized vehicle title (including odometer reading)
  • Lien release (if necessary)
  • Other documents (power of attorney or personal representative papers)
  • Title and registration fees
  • Buyer proof of insurance

You should also check out your state’s DMV website for any additional items specific to your situation.

Check insurance requirements

Most states require proof of insurance when transferring a title. If you have insurance on the vehicle you’re trading in or on another car, use that policy number as proof of insurance to finalize the transaction at the dealer. Insurance carriers usually offer a grace period of five to 30 days to update your policy with the new vehicle information. Check with your insurance carrier for details.

Know the deadline for title transfer

States have a deadline to apply for a title after buying a car. A dealer will typically take care of this step, but in a private sale, the deadline is usually 10 to 15 days, or even up to 30 days, depending on the state. If you don’t get the new title in time, you may face penalties.

Check for liens

Your state may have an online system to check for liens and other financial obligations — such as a mechanic’s lien or child support lien — that may not be indicated on the title. Don’t pay for a vehicle until you’ve verified the title can be transferred.

How to transfer a title across state lines

Transferring a title across state lines is only a little more complex than within state lines. One thing to be aware of is whether each state issues paper titles or not.

If you’re moving to a new state…

You’ll need to follow the basic process for the new state, including filling out the application for title and registration and paying fees and taxes.

If the state where you bought the car doesn’t issue a title, use the registration or bill of sale. New residents may have a grace period before they have to register the car in the new state.

If you’re transferring a title to a family member or selling the car across state lines…

Follow the basic car title transfer process above, but note that there may be a few more steps if you’re buying or selling a car across state lines:

  • Out of state title or registration
  • Emissions inspection, if required
  • Vehicle inspection, if required, to match VIN on title and vehicle

The details of transferring a title to a family member vary according to the circumstance. If the owner is deceased, the title can be transferred depending on the legal situation of the person’s estate. You may need to seek the help of an estate attorney or go to the DMV to transfer the title to a surviving spouse or according to the terms of the will or trust.

If you’re gifting a car to a family member, you may need to file a specific form, as well as the application for title transfer and pay applicable fees and taxes.

Frequently asked questions about transferring a car title

How much does it cost to transfer a car title?

The cost to transfer a car title varies by state. Often, the transfer and registration fees are much smaller than sales or use taxes that are also due at the time of the transfer.

How do you remove a name from a car title?

To change the names on a title that doesn’t have a lien, each person listed on the title must sign the back of the current title. If one person isn’t available, you may need to use a Power of Attorney form. In the event of the death of the owner, follow the procedures mentioned above.

How do you fix an error on a car title?

To fix an error in a car title, contact the appropriate agency in your state. You may have to fill out and submit a form or present information to the agency.

How do you transfer a motorcycle title?

The process for transferring a motorcycle title is usually similar to transferring a car title. You’ll need the existing title and the Manufacturer’s Certificate of Origin or notarized bill of sale if it’s coming from a state that doesn’t issue titles. You’ll still fill out the title and registration application and pay the appropriate fees.

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