Is Auto Loan Refinancing Right for You?

Refinancing your auto loan means replacing your existing loan with a new one from a different lender. Your current loan gets paid off by the new lender and you start making monthly payments, hopefully, smaller ones, on the new loan.

If you think your credit has improved since you bought your car, you should look into auto loan refinancing. There’s a good chance you can lower your interest rate and end up with a smaller monthly payment. You might also be able to shave some time off the loan, or go the other way and extend the term of the loan if you’re having trouble making your monthly payment.

What’s the catch? There isn’t much of one: It takes some time, and your credit profile might take a slight hit when you apply for the new loan. However, know two important things:

  1. Most auto loans don’t have a prepayment penalty so refinancing won’t cost you anything.
  2. Submitting an application for refinancing has no application fees, and the funds become available quickly, often within a day.

Why you might want to refinance

The prospect of paying less interest or lowering your monthly payments are the main reasons to consider refinancing. Let’s say your current auto loan has a 10% interest rate, and you’ve been making payments for a year or so. Chances are, your credit has improved and you could now qualify for a lower interest rate, which could lower your monthly payments. If you simply went to your current lender and asked it to lower your rate, it would probably say no. After all, you signed a contract at a certain interest rate and the lender wants its money.

Lucky for you, in today’s competitive market, plenty of other lenders are eager to get your business. When you refinance, you simply go to another bank, credit union or online lender and show it how much you still owe, called the balance of the loan. It pays off your existing balance and creates a new loan; and you start sending your monthly payments to the new lender.

If you meet the requirements, refinancing your car loan for a smaller payment could allow you to put more into savings, investing or a home improvement project. Or you may be able to pay off your car sooner. All of these options are better than pouring your money down the drain by paying more interest than you need to on a car loan.

When refinancing your car loan makes sense

Refinancing your auto loan could be the right move for reasons other than your improved credit. Even if you’re satisfied with your current loan, it doesn’t hurt to see if you can save money on interest. It makes sense if:

Interest rates have dropped. Interest rates fall for a variety of reasons: a changing economic climate, increased competition in the banking industry, even regulatory changes. If interest rates are lower now than when you first got your car loan, refinancing is likely to lower your rate and could help you pay the loan off sooner. Or, it could save you money on interest. It only takes a few minutes to apply for refinancing and see if a new lender — a bank, credit union or online lender — will offer you a lower interest rate.

A car dealer marked up your interest rate. When you got your existing loan, the car dealer might have charged you a higher interest rate than you could have qualified for somewhere else. This often happens to shoppers who don’t check their credit score before buying a car. They are persuaded to take the dealership’s loan because they didn’t shop around for the best interest rates. But you can undo the damage by refinancing and getting a new loan at a lower interest rate.

You can’t keep up with payments. Maybe you got overexcited at the dealership and bought a car that’s really too expensive for you. You might be struggling to keep up with payments. Or maybe you’re facing unexpected financial challenges because of a job change or other circumstances. By refinancing your car loan, you can take more time to pay it off, and this will lower your payments. You should think carefully before taking this course of action: If you extend the loan term, you’ll pay more in interest over the life of the loan. That’s not optimal — but it’s better than damaging your credit by missing payments.

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How does a car refinance loan work?

Whether your goal is to lower your monthly car payments or reduce the total interest you pay on your car loan, it’s important you understand how refinancing your car loan works.

Refinancing your car loan is replacing your current auto lender with another lender. This involves changing the name of the company that is listed on your car’s title, which is a document that details proof of official ownership. That means you will make payments to the new lender until your loan is paid off.

Before checking your rate for a car refinance loan check to make sure that when you obtain a quote it won’t be a hard inquiry on your credit report. This can impact your credit score. When you apply, a lender will look at your credit profile, as well as the make, model, trim and mileage of your car to determine your rate. You won’t need to have your car appraised the way you do when you refinance a home. Lenders will look at the value of your vehicle relative to how much you owe on the vehicle, called your Loan-to-Value ratio.

What else lenders will look for

Lenders will also look at how many payments you have left on your current auto loan to understand if refinancing is worthwhile for both parties. Typically, you need a minimum of a few months to show on-time payment history but after that, the more recent your current loan is the more potential refinancing will have to save you money. The way that many auto loans work is that the majority of the interest is paid during the beginning of the loan. Check the amortization schedule of your current loan to see what percentage of your payments are interest payments.
Once you get your rate, you should evaluate if the rate or terms offered to meet your financial goals. You should also make sure that you understand any additional fees or prepayment penalties so you can understand the total cost of the loans you’re comparing.

The process

Once you select your lender, there are certain documents you need to refinance your car loan. For example, your insurance and registration cards.

Once everything is verified and approved, you may be asked to complete a Power of Attorney (POA) form so your car title can be transferred from your previous lender to your new lender. A POA shows that you have authorized the title transfer to the new lender.

Your current lender will then pay off your previous lender. When you receive confirmation that your refinance is complete, your new lender will be responsible for your loan. You’ll make payments directly to them and contact them for any questions or concerns.

Depending on how fast you can submit your documents, many lenders will take between a few days to a few weeks to complete the refinance.

Want to check your rate to see how much you could save with a car refinance loan through Lending Club? Check your rate with no impact to your credit score.

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How to Finance an Auto Purchase

When you walk into a dealership, you won’t be there long before a salesperson asks how you intend to pay for your new car.

When the dealer starts in, just explain that you intend to pay in cash. Saying you’ll be paying in cash doesn’t mean you’re going to open up a briefcase with bricks of money inside, it just means that you’re not interested in dealer or manufacturer financing.

In some cases (if you have perfect credit if the car is about to be replaced by a newer model) dealer-sponsored financing might be a good deal, but most of the time it isn’t. You can usually find better deals on car loans at credit unions and banks.

Telling the dealer that you’re not interested in their financing takes away an opportunity for the dealer to pad the deal with an extra profit. Dealers make money on charging you, so they have ways of slipping various extra fees and charges into your financing arrangement. Forgoing dealer financing also allows you to focus on the features and purchase price of the car you want — a far more important and useful task than focusing on the monthly payment figure.

After declining financing, your next task is negotiating the purchase price of the car. Some survival tips:

Resist the temptation to lease. Leasing is basically an extended car rental. When you lease a car, you must return it at the end of the lease or buy it from the dealer at a predetermined price — usually higher than what you’d pay for a similar used car. When you take a loan out to buy a car, you pay down the loan and then the car is yours, free and clear. The only payments you’ll have to make after that are for gas, repairs, and insurance.

Lots of people lease. Smart, respectable people lease. It’s not a terrible thing to do, but it’s not the best way to keep a car because you’re always making payments. Lease a car for three years and, when the term expires, you need to look for a new lease or shell out thousands to purchase the car you’ve been driving.

Consider factory certified pre-owned cars. “Certified pre-owned” is another term for “used.” But these cars do come with extra assurances about the car’s condition. Going pre-owned can be a really smart move because most cars lose 18% of their value in their first year. A certified pre-owned car is one that has been inspected and fixed before it goes on the market, and comes with a manufacturer-backed warranty like new cars do.

Size up your future car loan. Once you decide you want a new car, the first thing you should do is figure out how many cars you can afford. Calculate this amount before you go shopping; don’t let a car dealer influence your decision.

Figure out how big a loan you should get. A good rule of thumb: Your monthly car payment should be no more than 20% of your disposable income. That means that after you’ve paid all your debts and living expenses, take one-fifth of what’s left. That’s your maximum monthly auto expense. Ideally, this number should cover not only your car payment but also your insurance and fuel costs.

Decide how long you’ll give yourself to repay your car loan. A monthly payment is, essentially, the amount of your loan, plus interest, divided by the number of months you have to pay back the loan. The more months you have to pay it back, the lower the monthly payment will be. But stretching out a car loan too long—or any loan, for that matter—will ultimately cost you a truckload more in interest payments.

For example, say you take out a $20,000 car loan at 5%. If you borrow the money over four years, your monthly payment will be $460.59. At the end of four years, you’ll have paid $2,108.12 in interest.

If you borrow the money over ten years, your monthly payment will only be $211.12, but at the end of 10 years, you’ll have paid $5,455.72 in interest.

Keep your loan term to five years or less (three is ideal) and you should be in good shape. If the monthly payments are too much even for five years, the car you’re looking to buy is probably too expensive.

Consider all pools of money. Should you sell investments to pay for the car instead of borrowing at 7%? That’s a tough call; usually, we’d say no. Do not spend any of your tax-sheltered retirement savings (IRAs, 401(k)s), as you’ll pay through the nose in penalties and taxes and rob from your future. As for taxable investments, consider whether cashing out would have tax implications (you’ll pay 15% on capital gains for investments held longer than one year; investments held less than a year are taxed at your ordinary income-tax rate) or whether you may need that money for something else over the next two to three years.

Should you take out a home equity loan to pay for a car, since the interest of those loans is tax-deductible?

Many people think home loans are the perfect way to finance the purchase of a new car. But the length of the term for a home loan — most require payments over at least 10 years, with penalties for early repayment — will send your total costs through the roof, even after the tax savings. Borrow for no more than five years, lease (if you must) for no more than three. If you’re considering a home-equity line of credit to pay for your car, remember that most HELOCs have a variable interest rate, so it’s possible your payments will rise over time.

How to Find the Best Auto Loan

You’re going to show up at the dealer with your own loan, but where should that loan come from?

Begin by getting a sense of the prevailing rate for a new-car loan. Focus on is the APR or annual percentage rate offered by each lender. The APR is the annual cost of the loan or interest rate. With this number, you can cross-compare loans from one lender to another, so long as the duration of the loans is the same.

You’ll probably get the best deal at a credit union— a members-only, nonprofit bank that can offer lower-cost loans than a traditional bank can. But check out rates at traditional banks and online-only car lenders such as YouAutoMotive Auto Loans.

Don’t be distracted by dealerships offering rebates or zero-percent financing if you obtain your loan through them. “Zero-percent financing” means you are not charged any interest on the loan. So if you were buying a car that cost $24,000 and you had a 48-month car loan, your monthly payment would be $500, without any added interest. A rebate is a money taken off the price of the car. Rebates are also called cash-back deals.

Here’s the thing about those offers: The money you save via interest and rebates is probably coming from somewhere. If you qualify for 0% interest (and most people don’t, as it’s given only to people with near-perfect credit), your dealer won’t budge on the sticker price. If you take the rebate, you won’t get a rock-bottom or 0% interest deal.

That’s why splitting up the financing and purchasing of your car is a good idea: First, you can shop around for the best credit-union car loan, and then you go to the dealer and focus on negotiating the purchase price of the car. Bundling the transactions can lead to lots of stress and added expense — you may be so focused on financing costs that you the punt on the purchase price — to keep them separate.

If you do choose dealer financing, be extra vigilant about what you agree to, and what you’re signing—it’s not uncommon for dealers to add in various unnecessary fees (rustproofing, extended warranty) that fatten their bottom line. Question everything that wasn’t explicitly discussed during negotiation, and don’t be afraid to walk away.

There are some easy ways to catch a break with your dealer when negotiating the price of your car. Timing can be everything:

Shop early in the week
. Weekends are prime time for dealers. But if you show up on a Monday, a salesman may be more motivated to cut a deal because business will be slow for the next few days.

Shop at the end of the month. Car dealers get monthly bonuses if they move enough metal. If you show up on the 30th and your salesperson is two cars short of a bonus, he or she may cut you a better deal so to make numbers.

Shop for a car that’s about to be replaced/discontinued. Pretty simple logic here: Things that are about to be considered “old” sell for less. If you’re looking at a 2008 Honda Accord and the 2009s are about to arrive at the dealer, you usually can get a bargain. If the 2009 model is completely new and different from 2008, you’ll save even more. (Who wants to be seen driving the old-looking model? Smart, frugal people, that’s who.) And if Honda decides the Accord isn’t selling much anymore and kills it after the current model year? (OK, fat chance, but this is just an example.) Untold riches await. As do potential maintenance headaches — remember, some cars are unpopular for good reason.

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