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What to Do if You’re Trapped in a Bad Auto Loan

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Sometimes, you don’t realize you sign a bad deal until you start having to pay for it.

Imagine this scenario: When you walked away from the auto dealer’s lot, you were excited. You had a brand spanking new — or new to you — vehicle. After the hassle of saving for, finding, and finally purchasing your dream car, your financing terms were likely the last thing on your mind. When the dealer sat you down and told you what your monthly payment would be, you did some mental math, figured you could afford the bill, and signed the dotted line. A few months later, you notice your loan could have been less expensive and feel cheated.

What do you do?

“If it’s in the contract and you signed the contract that’s it. You’re stuck with that,” said Anthony Giorgianni, associate editor at Consumer Reports.

If you’re not sure about your financing deal, a good way to evaluate it is by taking a look at the amortization table in the contract you signed, said Jerry Buchko, a Minneapolis-based debt counselor. If you can’t locate the original contract, you can ask for one via email or look for one online and estimate, but it’s most ideal to get it from the lender, and they should have a copy, said Buchko.

The amortization table is a set of tables that shows the total cost of your financing deal assuming all of your payments are made on time.

With the table in front of you, it becomes much easier to see if you’re currently paying more than what your vehicle is worth and if you’ll be in danger of being upside down on the loan (paying more than the vehicle is worth) in the future.

“With that information you should have all you need,” said Buchko. When analyzing and comparing the amortization tables for each loan offer, look for the one offering you the greatest overall savings, he recommended. Take a look at the interest rate you’re currently paying and the length of your loan, and see if you can make any adjustments to your lifestyle in order to save money.

For example, if the interest rate you’re paying isn’t very high, but your financing term is long and you see you’ll hit the ‘underwater’ point before your auto loan is completely paid off, you may want to consider increasing your monthly payments to pay off the loan faster (and get a chance to make money on a trade-in or sale before you can’t anymore).

While you’re looking at the contract, look at everything else it says, like the line items that were financed and any caveats in the terms, like a prepayment penalty that would penalize you for paying off the loan faster, as suggested above. You may also find there are elements of the loan agreement you didn’t really agree to.

“Sometimes the loans are packed with unnecessary things that are really expensive,” said Giorgianni. “If you feel you were misled, then go to the dealer and complain, and to a state agency if they don’t help.”

If you think you were duped into taking on more financing or given an unfair interest rate at the dealership, file a complaint with agencies like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Federal Trade Commision or the Better Business Bureau. The CFPB and FTC are also two good resources for consumer information on auto financing.

4 options to explore if your auto loan is too expensive

If you realize your auto loan  payments are too costly, the interest rate is too high, or the loan term is too long, you can try taking these steps to get out of a bad financing deal as well as better afford your auto debt.

Option #1: Try to refinance for a better deal

When you’re noticing your monthly auto payment may be too large to fit your household budget, you could try to lower your monthly payment somehow, by reducing your interest rate or lengthening your loan term. You can accomplish either by refinancing your auto loan at more favorable terms to get your payment under control.

If your credit score was lower at the time you financed your vehicle, then you may have been given less favorable loan terms. Understandably, you can’t always perfectly time a car purchase. If you desperately needed a vehicle to get around and didn’t have time to build your credit, your circumstances may have forced you into taking a bad deal. Now, if your credit score has improved or interest rates have gone down, you may have a better shot at reducing your interest rate.

“If it turns out that the main problem with the contract is that your rate is higher than it should have been, then a refinance is a good option but for a shorter or the same period,” said Giorgianni.

When you’re looking to refinance, compare loan offers with several different lenders, like your bank, a local credit union, and online loan search sites. Make sure to compare the final cost to you using the amortization table.

“Take a look at who is out there” said Buchko. “If you see another institution offering a lot better terms, contact them.” He recommends asking for the best loan arrangement you can get to pay off the loan when you contact a lender.

Extending a loan term to save money in the short run isn’t always the best savings strategy. But, if you need your vehicle and you are strapped for cash affording it, refinancing at a longer loan term may prove extremely beneficial. Giorgianni suggests borrowers avoid extending their loan terms unless it’s absolutely necessary — for example, if “you can’t afford the car and it will be repossessed.”

Whatever you do, be careful to make sure that the offer you ultimately decide to go with is as good or better than your current loan offer. If there are any fees associated, take care to factor those in as well as they could drive your monthly payment higher. Pay attention to the total cost you’ll pay and consider passing on the deal if it’s higher than what you’d pay in your current arrangement.

Buchko recommends asking yourself: “Am I meeting a goal of a smaller payment?” and, “Is the overall final cost of the loan going to be worth the smaller payment?”

Option #2 : Negotiate your terms with your current lender

Buchko said he often recommends trying to negotiate your current terms with the lender holding your loan. “Go to the lender you have been working with and see if there is anything they are willing to do to help you,” he said. “It’s much better to work out some sort of arrangement before you fall behind.”

You may be able to negotiate a lower interest rate or work out a deferment arrangement where you can skip making payments for a period of time, but they will be added to the end of your loan term and you’ll ultimately have a longer loan and pay more interest over time.

Buchko said speaking with your current lender works because the lender that you’re working with already has a vested interest in keeping you as a customer. However, he added, “a lot of it is up to the lender and how flexible they are willing to be to the customer.”

If your loan is still with the dealership, you may be out of luck if you want to negotiate better terms.

“Generally speaking, the dealer is probably not going to be interested in dealing with you,” said Jack Gillis, director of public affairs at the Consumer Federation of America and author of “The Car Book.”

If some time has passed since you made the purchase, the dealer probably doesn’t hold the loan anymore, Gillis pointed out. Your loan has probably been transferred to another company, anyway. You could call that company and ask for a refinance, and they may or may not respond with another offer.

Option #3: Cut back on other spending in your budget

An oldie but goodie. It’s always a good idea to refine your budget if you’re having a tough time covering your bills. If your car payment is difficult to manage, and you aren’t able to refinance your loan for a lower monthly payment, you should take a look at your budget to see if there you can find a way to get the car loan under control.

First, calculate your monthly income. That’s what you’re working with each month. Next, subtract your fixed expenses. Those are fairly non-negotiable items in your budget that aren’t likely to shift much like your rent or mortgage payment, auto loan payment, food, and any insurance you’re responsible for paying.

According to the 50/20/30 budgeting rule of thumb, your fixed expenses should comprise no more than 50 percent of your total income. If they are higher, see where you can save money. You could dial back spending on food, for example, by cooking more of your meals at home or switching grocery stores.

Next, your savings. Subtract what you intend to save for the month. Under the 50/20/30 rule, about 20 percent of your income that goes toward saving for things like retirement and vacations, or funding an emergency fund.

What you’re left with is money you can use on flexible expenses like dining out and entertainment. It should be about 30 percent of your income if you’re able to follow the 50/20/30 rule. Your flexible expenses should be where you should look to make the most adjustments because you may have more room to cut back. You may find extra money by cutting back on how much money you spend on coffee each week, or reducing the number of shopping trips you take each month.

Option #4: Sell your vehicle

Selling your car can be a tough decision to make for a myriad of reasons. Your vehicle may hold sentimental value to you, for instance, or it may be the only method of transportation for you and your family.

“Unfortunately, most people don’t want [sell the vehicle] but it’s better than getting the car repossessed,” said Giorgianni.

If your current financing deal is too much for you to handle, or if you realize keeping the car will eventually lead you to holding an upside-down loan, selling it may be your best option.

“If you are in trouble, then your only option really is to sell the vehicle and keep your fingers crossed that you are not upside-down so that you can use the proceeds from the sale to pay off the vehicle,” said Gillis.

If you plan to sell, sell as soon as you can. The longer you own your vehicle, the longer it has to depreciate (lose monetary value).

“If the car is fairly new, there is still value in the car,” said Buchko. If the vehicle still holds some value, and it’s more than what you owe, you can try to trade it in and use whatever value it still holds to purchase a new car, under more favorable financing terms for your

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Brittney Laryea
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Brittney Laryea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brittney at brittney@magnifymoney.com

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2019 Fed Meeting Predictions — No More Rate Hikes Until 2020

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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The March Fed meeting put the kibosh on more rate hikes in 2019. With FOMC policy on pause, market interest rates should hold steady (or even decline in some cases) for financial products you use every day. Read on for our predictions for each upcoming Fed meeting and updates on what went down at the most recent conclaves.

What happened at the March Fed meeting

The Federal Reserve signaled no rate hikes this year, and the possibility of only one increase in 2020. The Fed has pivoted pretty rapidly from its hawkish stance in 2018 to a more dovish outlook as it puts policy on ice. This change in tone grows directly from the FOMC’s observation of slowing growth in economic activity, namely household spending and business investment. The Fed also noted that employment gains have plateaued along with the unemployment rate, which nevertheless remains at very low levels.

So the federal funds rate looks to remain at 2.25% to 2.50% for a year or more, and the FOMC highlighted that this is the not-too-hot, not-too-cold level that for now best serves its dual mandate to “foster maximum employment and price stability.”

The Fed also released its Summary of Economic Projections (SEP). The March SEP indicated a median projected federal funds rate of 2.6% for 2020, which is why everybody is discussing the possibility of at least one, small increase next year.

For those who were really hoping for at least one more rate hike, all is not lost — Tendayi Kapfidze, LendingTree chief economist, believes we shouldn’t take March’s decision too gravely. “There are special factors that suggest the economy could reaccelerate,” he says. “The government shutdown threw a wrench into things, slowing some activity and distorting how we measure the economy.” He also remarks that since the financial crisis, data in the first quarter has continued to come in weak, still leaving room for everything to reaccelerate in the second and third quarters. He points to the already strong labor market as a plus.

Fed economic forecasts hint at a possible rate cut by the end of 2019. Just as the Fed projects a slightly higher federal funds rate in 2020, it also posted a projected 2.4% for 2019. Note that this projected rate falls below the upper end of the current rate corridor of 2.5%. This means the doves may want to see a possible rate cut if improvements in the economic outlook don’t materialize by mid-year.

When asked about this potential rate cut, Fed Chair Jerome Powell emphasized the Committee’s current positive outlook, while also emphasizing that it remains mindful of potential risks. Still, he maintained that “the data are not currently sending a signal that we need to move in one direction or another.” He also remarked that since it’s still early in the year, they have limited and mixed data to consult.

Kapfidze offers a more concretely positive outlook, noting that the chances of a rate cut are pretty slim. “To get a rate cut, you’d have to have sustained growth below 2%. There would have to be further weakness in the economy, like if trade deals get messier, to warrant a rate cut.”

The Fed downgraded its economic outlook for 2019 for the second time in recent months. In line with Kapfidze’s predictions, we did see a weaker economic outlook coming out of this month’s Fed meeting. The median GDP forecast for 2019 and 2020 decreased from December projections, while it remained the same for 2021 and beyond. This comes hand in hand with the decreased fed funds rate projections.

The FOMC increased their unemployment projections, which Kapfidze found surprising because the labor market has been so strong. “Maybe they believe that those numbers indicate a deceleration,” he said, “but really, it has to be consistent considering the other changes that they made.”

Why the Fed March meeting is important for you

It’s easy to let all of this monetary policy talk go in one ear and out the other. But what the Fed does or doesn’t change has an impact on your daily life. Without a rate hike since December, we’re already starting to see mortgage rates fall. This is helpful not only for those who want to buy a home, but also for those who bought homes at last year’s highs to refinance.

As for personal loans and credit cards, we may still see these rates continue to increase, just at a slower rate. These rates have little chance of decreasing because lenders may take the current weaker economic data as a sign that the economy is going to be more risky.

Deposit accounts will feel the opposite effects as banks may start to cut savings account rates. At best, banks will keep their rates where they are for now, until more evidence for a rate cut arises.

Our March Fed meeting predictions

There’s little chance of a rate hike this time around. In a policy speech on March 8, Fed Chair Jerome Powell reinforced the FOMC’s patient approach when considering any changes to the current policy, indicating he saw “nothing in the outlook demanding an immediate policy response and particularly given muted inflation pressures.”

This is no different from what we heard back in January, when the Fed took a breather after its December rate hike. There was no change to the federal funds rate at that meeting, and Powell had stressed that the FOMC would be exercising patience throughout 2019, waiting for signs of risk from economic data before making any further policy changes.

Further strengthening the case for rates on hold, the reliably hawkish Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren cited several reasons that “justify a pause in the recent monetary tightening cycle,” in a policy speech on March 5. His big tell was citing the lack of immediate signs of strengthening inflation, which remains around the Fed’s target rate of 2%.

Even though there had been some speculation of a first quarter hike at the March Fed meeting, LendingTree chief economist Tendayi Kapfidze reminds us that the Fed remains, as ever, data-dependent. “The latest data has been on the weaker side, with the exception of wage inflation,” he says.

The economic forecast may be weaker than December’s. The Fed will release their longer-range economic predictions after the March meeting. These projections should include adjustments in the outlook for GDP, unemployment and inflation. The Fed will also provide its forecast for future federal funds rates.

Kapfidze expects we’ll see a weaker forecast this time around than what we saw in December. “I except the GDP forecast to go down, and the federal funds rate expectations to go down.” This follows a December report that posted lower numbers than the September projections.

Despite flagging economic projections, Rosengren offered a steady outlook in his speech. “My view is that the most likely outcome for 2019 is relatively healthy U.S. economic growth,” he said, again attributing this to “inflation very close to Fed policymakers’ 2 percent target and a U.S. labor market that continues to tighten somewhat.”

The Fed’s economic predictions offer clues to its future policy decisions. In September, the Fed projected a 2019 federal funds rate of 3.1%. That number dropped to 2.9% in the December report. With the current rate at 2.25% to 2.5%, there’s still room for more hikes this year. Keep in mind, however, that, the March meeting may narrow projections for the rest of 2019.

As for Kapfidze, he thinks we’ll see a rate hike in the second half of the year. “If wage inflation continues to increase and it trickles more into the economy, the Fed could choose to raise rates due to that risk.”

However, as of March 12, markets see the odds of a rate hike this year at zero, while the odds of a federal funds cut has risen to around 20%, based the Fed Fund futures.

Upcoming Fed meeting dates:

Here is the FOMC’s calendar of scheduled meetings for 2019. Each entry is tentative until confirmed at the meeting proceeding it. For past meetings, click on the dates below to catch up on our pre-game forecast and after-action report.

Our January Fed meeting predictions

Don’t expect a rate hike. The FOMC ended the year with yet another rate hike, raising the federal funds rate from 2.25 to 2.5%. It was the committee’s fourth increase of 2018, which began with a rate of just 1.5%.

But the January Fed meeting will likely be an increase-free one. Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at LendingTree, the parent company of MagnifyMoney, said the probability of a rate hike is “basically zero.”

Kapfidze’s assessment is twofold. First, he noted that the Fed typically announces rate increases during the third month of each quarter, not the first. This means a hike announcement would be much more likely during the FOMC’s March 19-20 meeting, rather than in January.

Perhaps more importantly, Kapfidze said there’s been too much market flux for the FOMC to make a new decision on the federal funds rate. He predicts the Fed will likely wait for more evidence before it considers another rate hike.

“I think a lot of it is a reaction to market volatility, and therefore that’s lowered the expectations for federal fund hikes,” Kapfidze said.

But if a rate hike is so unlikely, what should consumers expect from the January Fed meeting? Here are three things to keep an eye on.

#1 The frequency of rate hikes moving forward

It’s unclear when the next increase will occur, but the FOMC’s post-meeting statement could give a clearer picture of how often rate hikes might occur in the future.

The Fed released its latest economic projections last month, which predicted the federal funds rate would likely reach 2.9% by the end of 2019. This figure was a decline from its September 2018 projections, which placed that figure at 3.1%.

As a result, many analysts — Kapfidze included — are forecasting a slower year for rate hikes than in 2018. Kapfdize said some analysts are predicting zero increases, or even a rate decrease, but he believes that may be too conservative.

“I still think the underlying economic data supports at least two rate hikes, maybe even three,” Kapfidze said.

Kapfidze’s outlook falls more in line with the Fed’s current projections, as it would mean two rate hikes of 0.25% at some point this year. There could be more clarity after the January meeting, as the FOMC’s accompanying statement will help indicate whether the Fed’s monetary policy has changed since December.

#2 An economic forecast for 2019

The FOMC’s post-meeting statement always includes a brief assessment of the economy, and this month’s comments will provide a helpful first look at the outlook for 2019.

Consumers will have to wait until March for the Fed’s full projections — those are only updated after every other meeting — but the FOMC will follow its January gathering with its usual press release. This statement normally provides insight into the state of household spending, inflation, the unemployment rate and GDP growth, as well as a prediction of how quickly the economy will grow in the coming months.

At last month’s Fed meeting, the committee found that household spending was continuing to increase, unemployment was remaining low and overall inflation remained near 2%. Kapfidze expects January’s forecast to be fairly similar, as recent market fluctuations might make it difficult for the FOMC to predict any major changes.

Read more: What the Fed Rate Hike Means for Your Investments

“I wouldn’t expect any significant change in the tone compared to December,” Kapfidze said. “I think they’ll want to see a little more data come in, and a little more time pass.”

At the very least, the statement will let consumers know if the Fed is taking a patient approach to its analysis, a decision that may help indicate just how volatile the FOMC considers the economy to be.

#3 A response to the government shutdown

The big mystery entering January’s Fed meeting is the partial government shutdown. While Kapfidze said the FOMC’s outlook should be similar to December, he also warned that things could change quickly if Congress and President Trump can’t agree on a spending bill soon.

“The longer it goes on, and the more contentious it gets, the less confidence consumers have — the less confidence business have. And a lot of that could translate to increased financial market volatility,” Kapfidze said.

Kapfidze added that the longer the government stays closed, the more likely the FOMC is to react with a change in monetary policy. During the October 2013 shutdown, for example, the Fed’s Board of Governors released a statement encouraging banks and credit unions to allow consumers a chance at renegotiating debt payments, such as mortgages, student loans and credit cards.

“The agencies encourage financial institutions to consider prudent workout arrangements that increase the potential for creditworthy borrowers to meet their obligations,” the 2013 statement said.

What happened at the January Fed meeting:

No rate hike for now

In its first meeting of 2019, the Federal Open Market Committee announced it was keeping the federal fund rate at 2.25% to 2.5%, therefore not raising the rates, as widely predicted. This decision follows much speculation surrounding the economy after the Fed rate hike in December 2018, which was the fourth rate hike last year. In its press release, the FOMC cited the near-ideal inflation rate of 2%, strong job growth and low unemployment as reasons for leaving the rate unchanged.

In the post-meeting press conference, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell confirmed that the committee feels that its current policy is appropriate and will adopt a “wait-and-see approach” in regards to future policy changes.

Read more: How Fed Rate Hikes Change Borrowing and Savings Rates

Impact of government shutdown is yet to be seen

The FOMC’s official statement did not address the government shutdown in detail, although it was discussed briefly in the press conference that followed. Powell said he believes that any GDP lost due to the shutdown will be regained in the second quarter, providing there isn’t another shutdown. Any permanent effect would come from another shutdown, but he did not answer how a shutdown might change future policy.

What the January meeting bodes for the rest of the year

Don’t expect more rate hikes. As for what this decision might signal for the future, Powell maintains that the committee is “data dependent”. This data includes labor market conditions, inflation pressures and expectations and price stability. He stressed that they will remain patient while continuing to look at financial developments both abroad and at home. These factors will help determine when a rate adjustment would be appropriate, if at all. When asked whether a rate change would mean an increase or a decrease, he emphasized again the use of this data for clarification on any changes. Still, the Fed did predict in December that the federal funds rate could reach 2.9% by the end of this year, indicating a positive change rather than a negative one.

CD’s might start looking better. For conservative savers wondering whether or not it’s worth it to tie up funds in CDs and risk missing out on future rate hikes – long-term CDs are looking like a safer and safer bet, according to Ken Tumin, founder of DepositAccounts.com, another LendingTree-owned site. Post-Fed meeting, Tumin wrote in his outlook, “I can’t say for sure, but it’s beginning to look more likely that we have already passed the rate peak of this cycle. It may be time to start moving money into long-term CDs.”

Look out for March. Depending on who you ask, the FOMC’s inaction was to be expected. As Tendayi Kapfidze, LendingTree’s chief economist, noted [below], if there is going to be a rate increase this quarter, it will be announced in the FOMC’s March meeting. We will also have to wait for the March meeting to get the Fed’s full economic projections. For now, its statement confirms that household spending is still on an incline, inflation remains under control and unemployment is low. It also notes that growth of business fixed investment has slowed down from last year. As for inflation, market-based measures have decreased in recent months, but survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations haven’t changed much.

 

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Learn more: What is the Federal Open Market Committee?

The FOMC is one of two monetary policy-controlling bodies within the Federal Reserve. While the Fed’s Board of Governors oversees the discount rate and reserve requirements, the FOMC is responsible for open market operations, which are defined as the purchase and sale of securities by a central bank.

Most importantly, the committee controls the federal funds rate, which is the interest rate at which banks and credit unions can lend reserve balances to other banks and credit unions.

The committee has eight scheduled meetings each year, during which its members assess the current economic environment and make decisions about national monetary policy — including whether it will institute new rate hikes.

A look back at 2018

Before the FOMC gathers this January, it’s worth understanding what the Fed did in 2018, and how those decisions might affect future policy.

The year 2018 was the Fed’s most aggressive rate-raising year in a decade. The FOMC’s four rate hikes were the most since the 2008 Financial Crisis, after the funds rate stayed at nearly zero for seven years. This approach was largely based on the the FOMC’s economic projections, which found that from 2017 to 2018 GDP grew, unemployment declined and inflation its Fed-preferred rate of 2%.

In addition to the rate hikes, the FOMC also continued to implement its balance sheet normalization program, through which the Fed is aiming to reduce its securities holdings.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Dillon Thompson
Dillon Thompson |

Dillon Thompson is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Dillon here

Lauren Perez
Lauren Perez |

Lauren Perez is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Lauren here

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