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How Often Can You Refinance Your Car Loan?

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Refinancing your auto loan can be a wise decision, especially if you do the math and realize you have something to gain. You may find more attractive interest rates, have improved credit, or be struggling to afford your payments and want a way to ease your monthly auto bill. The real issue is whether a new loan and its attendant fees will result in savings during the time it takes to own the car outright.

But what happens if you’ve refinanced before and you’re looking to refinance your auto loan yet again?

How long to wait before refinancing your auto loan

Good news: Consumers can refinance their car as many times as they want and as often as they can find a lender willing to approve them for a new loan.

You can even refinance your car loan the moment you get it home from the dealership if you realize you can land a better loan. There are no legal restrictions on financing a car later on, although it may be harder to find a willing lender as the years and miles accrue on the vehicle. Each lender has its own set of requirements. At Bank of America, for example, the car must be less than 10 years old and have fewer than 125,000 miles on it to qualify for refinancing.

Just because you can refinance doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be easy.

Look at your original loan contract to see if you have to jump through any hoops first. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns that finance companies and banks can impose “prepayment penalties” on their contracts, which are fees they charge if you decide to pay off your loan earlier than planned. And, of course, by refinancing with a new lender, you are doing exactly that.

According to online auto retailer Cars Direct, prepayment penalties are allowed by the government in the District of Columbia and 36 states.

7 Reasons It Makes Sense to Refinance an Auto Loan

There are many cases in which it might be a good idea to refinance your auto loan.

Perhaps you need a lower monthly payment to offset a tight budget, or you need to save the total amount the car financing will ultimately cost. We’ll break down a few factors that can make it profitable to refinance now.

1. You qualify for a loan with a lower interest rate

Many car shoppers never shop around or compare auto loan offers, and that can be a costly mistake. If you’re in that group, then you may walk off the lot with a terrible rate and realize late that you could have gotten a much better deal. That’s a good reason to refinance.

In another scenario, if interest rates have dropped a few percentage points since the car was originally financed, there’s a chance auto rates might be lower as well. You may save money on refinancing the vehicle. Consumers can search for auto refinancing rates at competitive lending sites like LendingTree, the parent company of MagnifyMoney, which may offer interest rates as low as 1.99% APR on terms of two, three, four and five years. Lenders may offer the best rates to consumers with good-to-excellent credit scores (700-800).

2. You want a lower monthly payment

Even consumers with clear credit histories and top scores may not like the cost of their current monthly payments. You might find that you can get a longer term loan (and, thus, a lower payment) by getting pre-approved financing from a bank, credit union or private lender. You should compare a new loan with the terms and rates of your existing financing. LendingTree’s Auto Refinance Calculator crunches monthly payment figures, allowing buyers to type in different interest rates and loan terms to find the sweet spot.

Just beware of choosing a loan with a longer term. It may save you money on your monthly payment, but you will ultimately pay more interest over time.

Here’s an example to show you how much more you’ll pay with a longer-term loan.

For those who can increase their monthly payment without too much stress, shortening the term may be a good strategy. Monthly payments will be higher, but the car will be paid off sooner, lowering the total amount of paid interest. The bottom line: If you’re considering changing the term in refinancing, be sure the interest rate and refinancing charges are low enough to make it worthwhile.

3. You want to remove or add a co-signer

There may be business or personal reasons to add or remove a co-signer from the original auto financing. In a divorce, the primary owner may want to remove the ex-spouse co-signer from the loan and title. Or someone may want to add a co-borrower with better credit to qualify for a lower refinancing rate. Either way, those modifications are going to require refinancing.

Unfortunately, it’s going to be difficult to remove yourself as a co-signer if the person who financed the car stops making payments. So if that’s your case, check out our guide on how to get out of a bad car loan.

4. Your credit score has improved and you can qualify for a lower rate

Congrats on improving your score! According to our parent company, LendingTree, if you raise your credit into the next tier in the FICO Score range you may see appreciable savings. Auto lenders rank consumer credit into Tiers A, B, C, D and F. Financing to applicants with D- and F-tier scores may only be offered as subprime or bad credit loans:

  • Tier A: 781 – 850
  • Tier B: 661 – 780
  • Tier C: 601 – 660
  • Tier D: 501 – 600
  • Tier F: 300 – 500

Borrowers falling into the D and F tiers should review MagnifyMoney’s guide on bad credit loans.

5. You earn a lot less or a lot more than you used to

There may be two key financial reasons supporting car refinancing:

  • You earn more than you did when you bought the vehicle and want to pay it off sooner
  • You earn less than you did and cannot meet the monthly payments

Those who have improved finances may choose to refinance to shorten the loan term, increasing their monthly payments but slashing the amount of total required payments to pay off the car. Owners who have experienced a financial setback (change or loss of income) can refinance their vehicles to a longer term, lowering the amount of their monthly payments. Refinancing your loan to a lower rate with the same or more favorable interest rate will lower the total cost of the car.

6. Your car is worth less than what you owe

If a consumer owes more money on their car than it’s worth, they have an “upside-down” loan. This can happen if you buy a car with a very low down payment and finance the rest. Your car simply loses value over time and you wind up paying on a loan that was determined based on its value months or even years earlier. If your car loan is underwater, you don’t have a good chance of getting refinanced since the lender will take a hit on the collateral if you default. A way to stave off disaster is to make extra payments on the original loan or take out a home equity or personal loan to pay off the vehicle.

7. Your car is getting older

If you want to refinance before your car gets too old to qualify, you should.

Lenders set their own limits on how many miles and years on the road qualify cars for refinancing. For example, Nationwide Bank will not refinance vehicles that are 20 years or older, or 150,000 miles on the odometer. Bank of America will not refinance cars 10 years or older and won’t touch vehicles with 125,000 miles or more.

Risks To Consider Before You Refinance

Impact on credit

When you apply for refinancing, a “hard inquiry” is reported to the credit agencies. Multiple hard inquiries on refinancing (and other loan requests) can drop credit scores by a few points, but the impact can be offset if you make consistent payments on time, which will help boost your score.

Also, you won’t get dinged if you shop for an auto loan over a short period of time — say two weeks or so. In that case, credit bureaus should treat all those hard inquiries as just one inquiry.

Long-term loans can cost more in the long run

Today, you can get auto loans for as long as 84 months. Extending terms through a refinance may look good when the monthly payment comes due. But the added interest over the term can cost you more in the end. Term and APR sit on opposite sides of the seesaw.

Doing the math, compare these costs when the terms are extended:

  • A $30,000 car financed at 6% for five years: $34,799
  • Financing the same car and rate for seven years: $36,813

If you drag out your loan term, you could wind up upside down on the loan

During the first years of ownership, financing on a new car is already upside down. That’s because the monthly payments are largely paid on interest rather than on the principal. Meanwhile, the new car is losing value. If the consumer has a downward turn in finances, the loan can go off the deep end. With an older vehicle, there’s still a risk with a long extension. By the time the refinancing is paid off, the car will have amassed high mileage that can diminish its use as a trade-in.

Fees

Each state charges a titling fee when a new loan is made on the vehicle. Check your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to find out the fees. In New York, for example, the titling fee is $50. It’s unlawful for the dealership to make a profit on the titling. Remember, frequent refinancing customers pay for titling each time.

There are no requirements or charges for an appraisal when refinancing, but the borrower may be assessed lender fees for loan originations and processing. Get all charges — in writing — in your contract. Some lenders may be open to negotiations on some fees. Be wary of upfront fees that may be charged with any loan application at the bank, credit union or finance company.

How To Compare Auto Refi Offers

Always shop around for the best auto loan deal before you head to the dealership. If you walk in the dealership with an offer in hand, they will have to negotiate with you if they want your business — and they will, because they do.

Here’s what to compare when you’re looking at different loans:

  • Price
  • Down payment requirement
  • Amount financed
  • Annual percentage rate
  • Finance charges
  • Term length in months
  • Number of payments
  • Monthly payment amount

Try comparing loans with the same term to find the best APR. Or view the same APR across multiple terms to see the financial impact on monthly payments. Take your comparative checklist when visiting lenders or bank and credit union websites. Our parent company LendingTree serves up free offers on auto refinancing in a comparative format.

Pre-approvals on a car loan are good from 30 to 90 days, depending on the lender.

What if I can’t get approved for an auto refi?

The first step in responding to a loan denial is to learn why you were turned down. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act requires lenders to notify borrowers in writing the reasons the application was denied. Reasons for denial may involve the credit score or red flags in your credit history. Too many hard credit inquiries might indicate that you’re desperate for a loan. Turn-down letters provide an opportunity to view the credit report that the loan underwriters evaluated.

You may have to wait awhile before applying for refinancing again, since it will result in another ding on your credit. Or, if you’re in the subprime and bad credit tiers, look at options of getting financing from banks, credit unions or financing companies that specialize in loans for Tier D and F categories. Learn more about the subprime options at MagnifyMoney.

Finally, you could take time out from refinancing while you report errors on your credit report and set about improving your credit score. MagnifyMoney has sound advice on building the highest credit scores. Steps include:

  1. Get a line of credit
  2. Keep a low credit utilization rate
  3. Pay your creditors in full and on time with each monthly statement
  4. Avoid or reduce credit card debt
  5. Protect your score

Helpful resources

The following links offer a wealth of financing information that can keep you out of trouble:

Auto Loans

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers answers to frequently asked questions on car financing, including a section on how to avert repossessions.

Auto Loans Modification Scams

The FTC warns about companies that claim to change the loan to avoid repossessions and fines. They may charge significant upfront fees and do nothing on your behalf.

Auto Loans Advice, LendingTree

This collection of LendingTree articles on car loans covers a range of issues, including financing options, bad credit, financing a classic car, bankruptcy, car ownership, certified pre-owned cars, and more.

Credit Repair: How to Help Yourself

The FTC’s Consumer Information division has published an extensive guide to repairing credit, including information on credit report disputes, finding legitimate credit counselors, and consumer rights.

How to Get a Car Loan with Bad Credit in 2017

View MagnifyMoney’s comprehensive guide to refinancing bad-credit loans, getting a co-signer, and tips for avoiding financing scams.

National Auto Lending Study

Last year, a study by MagnifyMoney and Google Consumer Surveys found that seven-year terms can be a ticket to the horror upside-down loans, especially for subprime borrowers. Read the rest of the findings.

Understanding Vehicle Financing

The American Financial Services Association Education Foundation (AFSAEF), the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have prepared this 16-page brochure to help consumers understand financing terms, laws regulating dealership financing, and strategies for visiting dealerships.

Gabby Hyman
Gabby Hyman |

Gabby Hyman is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Gabby here

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