Rateworks auto loan refinance
February 15, 2024

What Do I Need to Refinance My Car? A Comprehensive Guide

Whether you're new to refinancing or need a quick refresher, this guide has all the necessary information. Let's explore the essentials together.

Woman refinancing their car on their phone
Written by

Sarah T.

When you decide to refinance your car, there are several steps you need to take. Being prepared is a non-negotiable for success. This article is here to help you understand everything you need to know about car refinancing. Think of it as your trusted guide, providing you with the knowledge and confidence to navigate the process smoothly. 

Man with keys to his refinanced car

Understanding car loan refinancing

Car loan refinancing is the process of replacing your current auto loan with a new one, typically with better terms or a lower interest rate. Understanding this concept is crucial for anyone looking to manage their car payments more effectively. 

According to the Consumer credit reporting company Experian, the average auto loan interest rates in the third quarter of 2023 were 7.03% for new cars and 11.35% for used cars.

Benefits of refinancing include:

  • Lowering monthly payments: Securing a lower interest rate can reduce your monthly payments, freeing up cash flow for other expenses.
  • Improving credit score: Refinancing can help improve your credit score by demonstrating responsible payment behavior and reducing your overall debt burden.
  • Paying off loan faster: With a lower interest rate, more of your payment goes towards the principal balance, allowing you to pay off the loan faster.
  • Getting a better interest rate: If interest rates have dropped since you initially financed your car, refinancing can help you secure a better rate.
  • Obtaining better loan terms: Refinancing allows you to renegotiate the terms of your loan, potentially extending the loan term for more manageable payments or shortening it to pay off the loan quicker.

These benefits and motivations make car loan refinancing a valuable option for many borrowers looking to save money and manage their finances more efficiently.

Documentation required for car loan refinancing

Gathering the necessary documentation is a crucial step in the car loan refinancing process. These documents provide lenders with essential information to evaluate your financial situation and determine whether you qualify for a new loan with better terms. Lenders may hesitate to approve your refinancing application without the proper documentation.

Here's a list of essential documents needed for the refinancing process and why each one is necessary:

  • Proof of income: This typically includes paystubs and W2s from the last two years. Lenders use this information to verify your income and ensure that you have the means to repay the loan.
  • Proof of residence: Documents such as a utility bill, mortgage, or rent statement establish where you live. Lenders require this information to verify your address and identity.
  • Proof of insurance: Most states require car insurance, and lenders will want to ensure that your vehicle is adequately insured. This protects their investment in case of an accident or other damage to the vehicle. However, it's worth noting that New Hampshire and Virginia are the only two states that don't require car insurance.
  • Vehicle information: Details such as make, model, mileage, and VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) are necessary to assess the car's value. This information helps lenders determine the loan-to-value ratio and ensure that the vehicle meets their lending criteria. You may also be requested to provide proof of title and registration.
  • Current loan information: Providing details about your existing loan, including the balance due, interest rate, and remaining term, helps lenders understand your current financial obligations and assess the feasibility of refinancing.

By gathering these documents upfront and having them readily available, you can streamline the refinancing process and increase your chances of securing a new loan with favorable terms.

Credit score considerations

Your credit score is a numerical representation of your creditworthiness and is used by lenders to assess your lending risk. It's determined based on various factors such as your payment history, amount of debt, length of credit history, new credit accounts, and types of credit used. 

The most frequently used credit scoring system is the FICO score, ranging from 300 to 850. A higher score indicates lower credit risk, while a lower score suggests higher risk.

Several factors contribute to achieving a higher credit score, including making on-time payments, keeping credit card balances low, maintaining a diverse mix of credit accounts, and avoiding opening too many new accounts within a short period.

When it comes to refinancing your car loan, your credit score plays a significant role. Lenders use your credit score to determine the interest rate and terms of the new loan. A higher credit score typically results in lower interest rates and more favorable loan terms, saving you money over the life of the loan.

To improve your credit score before refinancing, consider the following tips:

  • Pay all bills on time to maintain a positive payment history.
  • Pay down existing debt to lower your credit utilization ratio.
  • Avoid opening new credit accounts shortly before applying for refinancing.
  • Check your credit report for errors and dispute any inaccuracies.
  • Consider becoming an authorized user on someone else's credit card to benefit from their positive credit history.

Taking proactive steps to improve your credit score can increase your chances of qualifying for a lower interest rate and better loan terms when refinancing your car.

A woman refinancing her car online

Assessing your current car loan

Before diving into the refinancing process, thoroughly assessing your current car loan is a must. Start by gathering all relevant information about your existing loan. Take the time to understand the terms and conditions of your current loan, as this knowledge will help you make informed decisions when exploring refinancing options.

Here's a list of what you should know about your current loan:

  • Interest rate: Understand the interest rate you're currently paying on your loan.
  • Loan term: Know the length of your loan term, or how long you have left to repay the loan.
  • Monthly payment: Be aware of your monthly payment amount and how much of it goes towards principal and interest.
  • Remaining balance: Determine the remaining balance on your loan, including any prepayment penalties if applicable.
  • Prepayment penalties: Check if there are any penalties for paying off your loan early.
  • Loan type: Identify whether your loan is a fixed-rate or variable-rate loan.
  • Fees: Be aware of any fees associated with your current loan, such as origination fees or late payment fees.
  • Repayment history: Review your repayment history to ensure there are no missed or late payments.

By understanding these key aspects of your current car loan, you'll be better equipped to evaluate refinancing offers and determine if refinancing is the right choice for you. Assessing your current loan puts you in a stronger position to negotiate terms that align with your financial goals.

Researching lenders and loan offers

When considering refinancing options, it's important to research various lenders and loan offers to find the best fit for your needs. While it may be possible to refinance your loan with your existing lender, exploring offers from other lenders can help you secure the most favorable terms.

Here are some tips for finding the right lender for your refinancing needs:

  • Compare interest rates: Look for lenders offering competitive interest rates that could potentially save you money over the life of the loan.
  • Consider fees: Pay attention to any fees associated with refinancing, such as origination fees or application fees, and factor them into your decision.
  • Check reviews: Read reviews from other borrowers to gauge the lender's reputation for customer service and reliability.
  • Explore different loan terms: Consider lenders that offer a variety of loan terms to find one that aligns with your financial goals and budget.
  • Evaluate customer support: Choose a lender that provides excellent customer support and is responsive to your inquiries and concerns.

When comparing loan offers and interest rates, it's essential to consider the following:

  • APR vs. interest rate: Compare the Annual Percentage Rate (APR), which includes both the interest rate and any applicable fees, to accurately assess the total cost of the loan.
  • Loan terms: Evaluate the length of the loan term and monthly payment amounts to ensure they fit within your budget.
  • Loan features: Consider any additional features or benefits offered by the lender, such as flexible repayment options or the ability to defer payments in case of financial hardship.

By carefully researching lenders and comparing loan offers, you can find the right refinancing option that meets your needs and helps you achieve your financial goals.

Steps to initiate the refinancing process

Initiating the refinancing process for your car loan involves several steps, starting with the application process. Most lenders offer online applications that require you to provide personal information, details about your current loan, income verification, and information about the vehicle you're refinancing. Be prepared to gather all necessary documentation beforehand to expedite the process.

Once you've submitted your application, the timeline for approval and completion will vary based on the lender's processes and your individual circumstances. Generally, if you refinance your auto loan, it can take anywhere from several hours to as long as a few weeks to complete the process.

If your new lender approves your loan on the same day you apply, it's possible to receive the funds, pay off the old loan, and sign the new loan agreement in a matter of hours. However, it's more common for refinancing agreements to take between 10 and 15 days to complete. During this time, the lender will verify the information provided in your application, assess your creditworthiness, and finalize the new loan terms.

It's important to communicate with your lender throughout the process and respond promptly to any requests for additional information or documentation to ensure a smooth and timely refinancing experience.

A couple refinancing their car

Refinance your car loan with RateWorks

Assessing current car loan terms and understanding the financial benefits of car loan refinancing are key steps in your financial journey. Preparation is a must, and by grasping the necessary documentation, considering your credit score, and following the outlined steps, you can confidently work your way through the refinancing process. 

Whether your goal is to lower monthly payments, secure a better interest rate, or improve your overall financial health, refinancing with RateWorks offers a promising solution. Take charge of your car loan today and explore the potential savings and benefits waiting for you with RateWorks.