When to Refinance a Car (and When to Wait)
Figuring out if and when you should refinance a car can be tricky, but if you approach it the right way (and ask the right questions), you’ll be able to make the right choice. You should refinance a car when it could help you save money, get you a lower payment — or both. You should probably skip refinancing if you’re underwater on your current loan, you’ve bought the car recently or your current loan has prepayment penalties.
Here’s more on when to refinance a car and when to wait.
When you should refinance your car loan
There are a few situations where you should refinance your car, but first look closely at your finances and make sure you understand the details of the new loan you’re signing up for. Here’s when you should refinance your car loan.
Your credit score has improved
Your credit score is very important in car finance, as auto lenders sort applications by credit tiers. The APR you get, as well as whether you even receive an offer, are both largely determined by the credit tier you’re in. If your credit score has improved since you initially purchased the vehicle and you’ve moved up a tier, then it’s likely you’ll qualify for a better financing deal. Here’s how you could improve your credit score.
Getting a better APR could save you quite a bit in interest over the life of your loan. For example, refinancing $15,000 from a 7% rate to 5% when making a monthly payment of a couple of hundred dollars would save you around $800 in interest.
Here’s how much you would pay in interest over the life of a 5-year loan if you borrowed $25,000, based on the APRs for closed auto loans by credit score on the LendingTree platform in the first half of 2021.
|Lifetime Interest Charges on a $25,000 Loan|
|Credit Score||Average APR||Interest Charge|
|less than 620||16.32%||$11,733|
You want to change the loan term
It also makes sense to refinance your car loan when you need a lower monthly payment. You could extend the length of the loan on your car refinance to get a lower payment. Still, it’s important to note that extending the length of your loan, which is known as the loan term, reduces your payment but also increases the amount of interest you’ll pay over time. And it works the other way, too: Reduce the term, and your monthly payment will increase while the amount of interest you pay overall will fall.
Loan rates are down
If U.S. consumer loan rates have dropped since you took out the auto loan, you may qualify for a better APR. For example, in March 2020, the Federal Reserve cut consumer loan rates to 0%-0.25%. Auto loan rates correspondingly went down as well. A small change in rates can save you money on interest.
You have positive equity
You may get a better auto refinance rate if your car is worth more than what you owe on it. To discover your loan-to-value ratio, contact your current lender, find out how much you owe and then divide it by your car’s value.
You hate your current lender
Many people choose to refinance simply because they don’t like the way their current lender does business. Rude customer service reps or poor record keeping can really sour a relationship with a lender. If you really can’t stand your current lender, refinancing with a new lender may help alleviate some of your frustrations.
When you shouldn’t refinance your car loan
Here are a few situations when it would be unwise to consider refinancing your auto loan.
You have an older car
If you have a car that’s 10 years or older, you may have difficulties finding a lender willing to refinance. Many lenders set limits on how old a vehicle can be in order to qualify for the loan. If you find yourself in a situation where you need to refinance, consider taking out a personal loan or trading in the vehicle as alternative options.
You’re underwater on your loan
Finding a lender to refinance a vehicle when you’re upside down on your loan isn’t easy. Even if you can find a lender, it may not be the best move. The interest rate is likely to be much higher than average, and it will cost you more in the long run.
When you refinance your upside-down vehicle, you add to the overall cost of the vehicle. One way around this is to pay the difference in cash so you’re no longer upside down, then you can refinance at a lower rate. Even if it takes you a few months of making a few extra payments, it may be worth it in the long run. Alternatively, you could also take out other financing, like a personal loan or home equity loan, to help you cover the full cost of refinancing.
You bought the car less than 6 months ago
While technically you could refinance your car as soon as you buy it, it’s best to wait at least six months to a year to give your credit score time to recover after taking out the first car loan, build up a payment history and catch up on any depreciation that occurred when you purchased. Unless there are other reasons to refinance, it’s unlikely you’ll get a lower rate than what you currently have.
It’s vital to know you can afford a new car before you make the initial purchase. If you have any doubt about your ability to make the payments, you’re better off not making the purchase and looking for an alternative.
Your loan has prepayment penalties
Some auto lenders charge penalties for paying off the loan early, though most do not. If your current auto loan comes with prepayment penalties (usually noted in the fine print), then you’ll want to do some math to determine if refinancing is a good deal after you pay the penalties.
Is refinancing worth it?
If you’re simply refinancing, and you know you’ll get a better rate and save yourself some money, it’s really a no-brainer. If, however, you’re not sure you’ll save any money, use this auto refinance calculator to estimate your savings and decide if it makes good financial sense to refinance.
In many cases, people refinance because they need to lower their monthly payment, usually due to some unforeseen financial crisis. Finding balance between your immediate financial needs and long-term financial health is never easy — but if you do the math and plan accordingly, you can make the right financial decision for you and your family.
If refinancing your vehicle is necessary to improve your cash flow, you may refinance now to get back into a positive financial situation. Once your personal finances have stabilized, start making extra payments on your auto loan to pay it down faster, provided that there aren’t prepayment penalties on your new loan. You’ll pay off your auto loan sooner and save yourself some interest expense.
Speak to a credit counselor
If you’re not sure refinancing your auto loan is the right move, you may want to seek professional help, like talking to a certified counselor with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC). The NFCC is the largest nonprofit financial counseling service in the U.S. and helps people get financial control over their lives. It offers debt and credit counseling for free or at a minimal charge, and can help you figure out if refinancing is right for you.
Even though an auto loan can’t be included in a debt settlement plan, there’s still a benefit to talking with a credit counselor if you’re having trouble making payments. A nonprofit credit counselor could provide solutions that you may not be able to find on your own. You can use the NFCC locator to find a credit counselor in your area.
Next steps: How to refinance a car loan
When it comes time to actually refinance your loan, there are some steps you’ll need to take. These include gathering your documentation, doing some comparison loan shopping, choosing a lender, applying, then paying off your old loan and making payments to your new lender. Here are six steps you can take to refinance your car.
When you’re shopping around, make sure you don’t go with the first offer you’re presented with, either. Take your time and request quotes from multiple lenders. Compare the APR, term, payment amount, fees and penalties (be sure to read the fine print) from each lender to find the best offer. Once you make a choice, the lender will guide you through the exact process and what comes next.