Refinancing an auto loan is far easier than refinancing a mortgage. It can save you thousands of dollars in interest, and you may be able to pay off your car sooner.
Before you get started, it's important to know what is involved in the refinance process and whether this is a good option for you.
When to Refinance Your Auto Loan
Every situation is different, and the first step to determine whether refinancing is right for you is to take a quick look at the current market and your financial position.
Consider refinancing your auto loan if:
- Interest rates have dropped since you bought your car.
- Your credit score has improved, which could mean you qualify for a better rate.
- You financed your car through a dealership. The rates are often higher through dealer financing, so it's good to look at other sources when you can.
How to Prepare for Refinancing
Unlike a mortgage, auto refinancing should only require a few documents. Gather the following information before you begin, so you'll have all the facts when asked about them:
- A copy of your current loan papers
- Information about your vehicle, like the VIN and current mileage
Next, before you start shopping for a new loan, you need to know where you stand with your current loan. Consider the following questions:
- What are you paying in interest?
- How many months do you have left on the loan?
- What is your current payoff amount? (This is the amount you would pay the lender if you were to pay the entire bill today.)
- Is there a pre-payment penalty in place? Some lenders only allow borrowers to pay off a certain amount of their loan each year without a penalty. It is more common with a home mortgage, though it may apply to some car loans.
Determine Whether Your Car Qualifies
While each bank has its own qualification requirements, most banks will not refinance a vehicle if it, or the loan, meets certain conditions, such as the following:
- Your current loan has less than $7,500 remaining.
- Your car is over seven years old.
- Your car has 100,000 miles or more—some banks set the cap at 70,000.
- You use the car commercially.
- Your car has a salvage title.
You also won't have much luck refinancing a motorcycle or RV. Some banks may even rule out certain vehicle makes.
Call a few banks in your area to get a feel for what the current interest rates are. You can also use a site like bankrate.com to look up the national averages.
Be sure to go by used car interest rates. When you refinance, that's the rate you're likely to pay, even if you have a new car loan now.
You can use an online auto refinance calculator to estimate how much a refinance will save you.
Applying for an Auto Refinance Loan
If refinancing still seems to make sense after you run your calculations, it's time to dig into all of the details.
Question the banks that you're considering about any fees that you'd be expected to pay. A small fee to transfer the title and re-register the vehicle is to be expected, but some banks may also tack on a processing fee.
Ask whether there is a pre-payment penalty built into the loan. If so, avoid it.
Once you've compared all of your options, submit your loan application to the bank with the best deal.
Final Tips for Auto Loan Refinancing
Compare the rate that your current bank might offer with rates from other lenders. Don't be surprised if your current bank turns you down.
Avoid cash-out refinance offers (i.e., refinancing for more than the amount owed so you get the difference in cash). They may be a good option for home mortgages, but they're not the best when it comes to cars, as they add to the length and cost of your loan. Cars lose value quickly, so a cash-out refinance is not likely to save you any money.