2023 Step-by-Step Guide:
How to Refinance Your Car Loan

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Updated: Jun 01, 2023
author photo Written by Louis BakerUpdated: Jun 01, 2023
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Refinancing a car loan can be an effective strategy to save money, reduce interest rates, or ease financial burdens. However, the process may seem daunting if you're not sure where to start.

This guide aims to demystify car loan refinancing, providing you with a comprehensive, step-by-step walkthrough. From understanding your current loan terms to applying for a new, more beneficial loan, we've got you covered.

We also delve into essential considerations before you take the leap. Let's hit the road to better car loan terms together!

How to Refinance a Car Loan

Step 1: Review Your Current Auto Loan

To initiate the process of refinancing your auto loan, it's vital to first assess your current loan details. This allows you to understand what you're presently dealing with and evaluate any refinancing offers you might receive.

Find your loan agreement and identify the following information:

  • Current monthly payment: Check your current monthly expenditure for your auto loan. Determine if the amount is affordable for you or if you're aiming to decrease this expense.
  • APR for your existing loan: This will give you a clearer understanding of the annual cost of your loan, encompassing both interest and fees. To maximize cost-effectiveness, focus on obtaining a lower APR when considering new offers.
  • Remaining loan term: This indicates how much time you have left to repay your current loan. Refinancing usually benefits those who still have a substantial period remaining on their loan term.
  • Loan payoff amount: This may differ from your remaining loan balance, as it includes any additional fees or charges. Knowing this value is essential for understanding the exact amount your new loan should cover.
  • Vehicle Age: The age of your vehicle can affect eligibility for refinancing, as some lenders may not refinance older cars.

Step 2: Determine the Value of Your Car

Estimating the current value of your car is essential when considering refinancing because it impacts the loan-to-value (LTV) ratio that lenders look at when deciding whether to approve your application. 

Here's how to determine your car's value:

  1. Online Resources: If you need to determine your vehicle’s market value, there are several free online resources available, including Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds, and NADA Guides. Simply enter details such as the make, model, year, mileage, and condition of your car, and these websites will provide you with an estimate.
  2. These websites can offer a variety of values:

    • The trade-in worth (the value you would receive when exchanging the car at a dealership)
    • Private-party valuation (the anticipated amount you could obtain by selling the car yourself).

  3. Dealer Appraisal: If you want a more hands-on approach, consider taking your car to a few dealerships for an appraisal. Dealers will take into account similar factors as online resources, as well as current market conditions.
  4. Comparison Shopping: Look for similar cars being sold in your local area, either through dealers or private sales. This can give you a real-world sense of what people are willing to pay for a car like yours.

Remember that the goal here is to get an accurate estimate of your car's value. If the value is lower than the balance of your current loan, you may find it more difficult to refinance.

Step 3: Evaluate Your Credit

Your credit score is a vital aspect of any loan process. In car loan refinancing, lenders will review your credit score to assess the risk involved in lending to you. Higher credit scores often lead to better interest rates.

Here's how you can evaluate your credit:

  1. Obtain Your Credit Report: You're entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) every 12 months through AnnualCreditReport.com. Review your credit report for any errors that might be lowering your credit score.
  2. Check Your Credit Score: Many financial institutions, credit card issuers, and personal finance services offer customers free access to their credit scores. This number can differ slightly between services depending on the specific credit model they use, but it should give you a general idea of your credit health.
  3. Understand Credit Score Factors: A range of factors are taken into consideration when calculating your credit score:
    • Payment record
    • Credit Utilization Ratio (The proportion of your current credit utilization compared to your total available credit.)
    • Length of your credit history (Your credit history age)
    • Credit Mix (credit cards, mortgage, auto loans, etc.)
    • The number of credit inquiries in the recent past.

Knowing your credit score and understanding the factors that influence it can help you take steps to improve your credit health before applying for refinancing. This, in turn, can increase the likelihood of securing a lower interest rate and more favorable terms.

Step 4: Get Your Paperwork in Order

Before applying for refinancing, it's a good idea to keep these necessary documents organized and readily available to speed up the application process. These could include:

  • Personal Information: This typically includes your full legal name, social security number, date of birth, and address.
  • Proof of Income: Lenders need to know that you're capable of repaying the loan. Pay stubs, bank statements, or even tax returns can be used to verify your income. If you're self-employed, you may be asked for two years' worth of tax returns to demonstrate consistent income.
  • Proof of Auto Insurance: Lenders need to ensure that their investment (your car) is protected. You will likely need to provide proof of both comprehensive and collision coverage.
  • Original Loan Contract: This is required by the new lender to verify the remaining balance on your current loan. It will also allow them to see the terms of your original loan and to prepare a more competitive offer.
  • Vehicle Details: This includes your vehicle identification number (VIN), make, model, year, and mileage. Some lenders might also request a vehicle title, though this isn't always necessary.

Step 5: Shop Around and Compare Lenders and Rates

Don't rush into the first offer you get. 

  • Consider Multiple Lenders: Look at different types of lenders, including big banks, local banks, credit unions, and online lenders. Each may offer different rates and terms, and one may be a better fit for your needs than another.
  • Understand All Terms: Don't just compare interest rates. Look at all terms of the loan, including the length of the loan, monthly payment, total interest paid over the life of the loan, and any fees or penalties.
  • Look for Prequalification Options: Certain lenders offer prequalification, a process that allows you to view possible interest rates without any impact on your credit score.

Step 6: Determine Your Savings

Once you have several offers, it's time to evaluate your potential savings.

# Use an Auto Loan Refinance Calculator

This online tool allows you to input the details of your current loan and compare them with the new loan terms. They can calculate your new monthly payment and the total interest you'll pay over the life of the loan.

# Calculate Both Short and Long-Term Savings

It's crucial to look at both short-term and long-term savings when considering refinancing. Reducing your monthly payment can ease the immediate financial burden, but you also want to make sure you're not paying more in the long run.

  • Short-Term Savings:

Short-term savings are often seen in a decrease in your monthly payment. If you're refinancing to lower your interest rate or extend the term of your loan, you will likely see a reduction in what you pay monthly.

To calculate short-term savings, you'd subtract your potential new monthly payment from your current one. For example, if your current payment is $400 a month, and the refinanced loan offers a payment of $350, your short-term savings would be $50 a month or $600 a year.

  • Long-Term Savings:

Long-term savings are a bit more complex to calculate as they involve the total interest you'll pay over the life of your loan. Here's how you can determine your potential long-term savings:

  1. Calculate the total amount you'll pay on your current loan. This includes your remaining balance and the total of all future interest payments.
  2. Next, calculate the total amount you'll pay with your potential new loan. This also includes the loan amount (which should be the same as your current remaining balance if you're refinancing the full amount) and all future interest payments.
  3. Now, subtract the total amount you'll pay with your new loan from the total amount you'll pay on your current loan.

For instance, if you will pay $12,000 in total on your current loan (principal and interest), and you'll pay $11,000 on your new loan, you would potentially save $1,000 over the life of the loan.

However, it's important to note that extending the term of your loan can decrease your monthly payment but may lead to paying more interest over the life of the loan, even if your interest rate is lowered.

Step 7: Apply to Refinance Your Car Loan

After you identify a suitable car lender, it’s time to fill out the application officially. You should expect to undergo a hard credit inquiry at this stage, which can cause a temporary decrease in your credit score. 

To prevent any unforeseen circumstances, it's vital to thoroughly scrutinize the loan agreement's terms prior to appending your signature to it.

Step 8: Pay Off Your Old Loan and Start Making New Monthly Payments

After your refinance application is approved, the new lender will usually pay off your old loan directly, effectively transferring the debt. After this, your financial obligation will be to your new lender.

  • Verify Payoff: After closing, it's important to confirm with your original lender that your previous loan has been fully paid off. Wait a few weeks and reach out to them to ensure they have received the payoff amount.
  • Start Making Payments: You'll then begin making monthly payments to your new lender based on the terms of your new loan.

Remember to always stay informed and proactive throughout the refinancing process. Being prepared and understanding what to expect can help make the process smoother and more beneficial for you.

Factors to Consider Before Refinancing a Car

Refinancing a car loan can be a beneficial decision for many borrowers. However, there are various aspects to consider before diving into this process. It's important to thoroughly evaluate your situation to ensure that refinancing is the best choice for you.

Requirements for Car Refinancing

Different lenders have different requirements for auto loan refinancing. Common requirements often include:

  • Age and mileage of the car: Some lenders have restrictions on the age and mileage of the vehicle. A car that's too old or has too many miles may not be eligible for refinancing.
  • Loan-to-Value Ratio: If you owe more than what the car is worth (commonly known as being "upside-down" on your loan), it might be more difficult to find a lender willing to refinance.
  • Minimum and maximum loan amounts: Lenders often have rules about how small or large the loan amount can be. Make sure your current loan fits within these parameters.
  • Credit score: Your credit score plays a crucial role in refinancing. It can impact the interest rate you're offered, and some lenders may have a minimum credit score requirement.

Prepayment Penalties

Prior to refinancing, it's important to verify if your existing loan comes with any penalties for prepaying. Some lenders impose this fee when borrowers choose to repay their loans ahead of schedule.

When computing the probable savings resulting from refinancing, it's imperative to take into account any charges that may be applied. Assess whether the cost of a prepayment penalty will still be offset by the savings obtained through refinancing.

What Fees Will You Be Responsible For?

Refinancing can come with fees. Some lenders may charge an application fee, lien holder fees, transaction fees, and there may be title transfer fees or state re-registration fees. Be sure to understand all the costs associated with refinancing to accurately compare it with your current loan.

Time Remaining on the Loan

When considering refinancing or not, it is important to take into account the remaining term of your loan. If you are nearing the end of your loan term, the benefits of refinancing may not outweigh the costs, particularly with respect to closing costs. 

Conversely, if you still have a considerable duration remaining on your loan agreement, refinancing could result in significant financial benefits.

Your Financial Health

Lastly, consider your overall financial situation. If you're struggling with high monthly payments, refinancing for a longer term can reduce those payments and free up some room in your budget. However, keep in mind that you'll likely end up paying more in interest over the life of the loan.

On the other hand, if your financial situation has improved since you took out your original loan (for instance, if your credit score has gone up or you've gotten a higher-paying job), you might be able to refinance for a shorter term with the same or even lower monthly payments. This could save you a significant amount in interest over the life of the loan.

FAQs about Refinancing Your Car

Can I Refinance My Car Loan Through The Same Lender?

It is possible to refinance your car loan with the same lender. Nevertheless, it’s preferable to research and review loan options from more other lenders to guarantee that you secure the most advantageous interest rates and loan conditions.

Does Refinancing Your Car Impact Your Credit Score?

Refinancing can temporarily impact your credit score. When you apply for refinancing, lenders conduct a hard inquiry on your credit report, which might lower your score slightly. However, if refinancing leads to more manageable monthly payments, it may help you maintain or improve your credit score over time by ensuring timely payments.

How Does The Title Process Work When Refinancing A Car?

When you refinance a car loan, the new lender will typically handle the transfer of title from the old lender. They will pay off your existing loan, and the title will be transferred to them. The borrower is then responsible for making payments to the new lender under the agreed-upon terms.

How Long Do You Have To Wait To Refinance A Car Loan?

There is no strict rule regarding the waiting period for refinancing a car loan. However, several factors may influence your ability to effectively refinance:

  1. Fluctuations in interest rate
  2. Your creditworthiness
  3. The amount of your vehicle equity

It’s recommended that you refrain from taking any action until you can obtain a more favorable interest rate or until you have boosted your credit score to secure a better offer.

author photo

Written by

Louis Baker


Louis Baker started his career in 2017 by contracting with Experian. He also became a part-time content creator in various fields such as insurance, personal finance & investment, etc.

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