Shopping for a better auto loan — and refinancing your current car loan — will probably save you money and can be relatively painless.
Refinancing your auto loan can make sense under several scenarios. For instance, if your credit has recently improved, there’s a good chance you can lower your interest rate and monthly payment. You might also be able to shave some time off of repaying the loan, or go the other way and extend the term if you’re having trouble making your monthly payment.
Applying to refinance often takes less than an hour, and many lenders promise to make a loan decision in minutes. Here are the steps to take to successfully refinance your auto loan.
Collect your documents
Find a recent payment stub from your current auto loan and make sure you know the following:
Your current monthly payment and the remaining balance.
The amount of time left to repay the loan in months, often called the loan term.
The interest rate you’re paying.
The customer service number of the lender in case you have questions.
Evaluate your credit history
If you’ve made all your car loan payments on time for a year or more, your credit has probably improved and there’s a good chance you can benefit from a refinance.
Of course, that’s only true if you’ve also kept all your other financial commitments up to date. The proof is in the numbers, so you’ll have to find out where you stand, and you have two options for doing so.
You can pull your own credit report — that’s a history of your credit activity — or check your credit score for free to see if you’ve had any problems, such as late payments. Because you are checking your own credit, this kind of research will not lower your score. However, because each of us has many credit scores, the score you get won’t necessarily tell you exactly what interest rate to expect on your new loan.
Your alternative is to simply apply for a new loan and find out how good your credit is as a result of the application. Which brings us to …
Apply to several car loan refinance companies so you can compare interest rates and find the best offer. The application process doesn’t cost you anything, and you will quickly learn if you qualify for a lower interest rate.
Run the numbers
Using an auto loan refinance calculator, first enter information about your current loan. Input the original loan amount, your interest rate and the length of the loan in months. Then enter the balance that is remaining to be paid and how many months are left until you pay off the loan.
Decide if refinancing makes sense
By now, you should be able to tell if you’ll save money by refinancing your car loan. In some cases, interest rates might also have fallen since you took out your current loan. If that happened, you’re in luck: There might be even greater savings, and it’ll be very clear that refinancing is for you.
In some cases you may see only a small difference, or none at all. And if you are close to the end of your loan, an auto loan refinance may not be worth the hassle.
Evaluate the terms of your loan
If you decide to refinance, you can leave the length of your loan unchanged or consider these options:
Pay off the loan more quickly. If you’re used to making loan payments of a certain amount, you may be able to keep the payment about the same but shorten the length of the loan. This saves you money because you’ll pay less interest over the life of the loan.
Take longer to pay the loan. If your budget is
stretched and you want a little financial breathing room, you could
extend the loan term by a few months or even a year to lower your
payments. This isn’t ideal because you’ll pay more interest in the long
run. However, it’s better than missing payments and damaging your credit
Complete the process
If you decide to refinance, complete the application with the lender you choose. You’ll be sent the loan paperwork, and you simply respond to the lender’s requests.