Millions of homeowners have garnered huge savings in recent years from one simple move: refinancing their mortgages. Now, the refinancing craze has spread to an unexpected industry: car loans.
Plunging interest rates have been bad news for savers, but borrowers couldn't be happier. Mortgage rates have dropped around 3 percentage points from their levels just four years ago. That has translated into hundreds or even thousands of dollars in monthly savings on mortgages.
But the idea of refinancing a car loan never even occurs to many borrowers. After all, with many owners choosing to buy new vehicles even before their loans are paid off, it's often easier just to take advantage of financing deals from new-car dealers. Moreover, cars typically lose their value so quickly that the loans turn upside down -- meaning that the outstanding loan is more than the car is worth, making refinancing a tough proposition.
Still, the practice is growing in popularity. A recent SmartMoney article cited figures that showed auto refinancing applications have risen by about 30% from year-ago levels. Even a modest drop in interest rate can create real savings, and unlike mortgage refinancing, the costs of getting a car loan refinanced are low. That lets borrowers reach the breakeven point on a refinance easily.
Should You Do It?
If you have a car loan with a fairly high interest rate, you have nothing to lose by attempting take advantage of low rates by refinancing. Doing so could cut your monthly payment significantly.
But beware of catches and gimmicks. If you try to refinance through a dealer, don't fall for sales pitches trying to sell you unrelated products like warranty protection. Instead, emphasize your value to the dealer, not just with this transaction but with the promise of future business. That way, you'll hopefully get the best deal you possibly can.
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