If investing 15 minutes would save you $50 a month for the next three years, would you do it? That seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people are passing up a similar deal. That would be a total savings of $1,800 or, put another way, that 15 minutes would be an opportunity to make $7,200 an hour. But some of us think we’re too busy. (Even $20 a month for two years is $480, for a time investment of 15 minutes or so.)
The lost opportunity involves a car refinance, a topic that may make your eyes glaze over.
The kind of refi people most often talk about involves a mortgage. A lot of people haven’t even heard of a car refinance, and car loan rates have been generally low in the past few years so they haven’t gotten much attention. But if your credit has improved since you got your car loan or you just didn’t get the best deal, you may be able to save big.
Refinancing a car requires a whole lot less thought and calculation than a home refinance, because whatever you save is actual money in your pocket — there are no closing costs. It might come down to whether you’re willing to spend 15 minutes or so to see whether you can save money for the rest of your loan term, says Philip Reed, senior consumer advice editor for Edmunds.com. The one thing you’ll need to do before checking into a loan is to check your loan paperwork to be sure there’s no prepayment penalty. It’s unlikely there is, but that could stop your pursuit of a better deal in its tracks.
You may not even need to leave your house. First, you’ll need to have an idea of where your credit stands. That can be a big barrier, Reed said. “People make assumptions rather than verifying.” If you’re uncertain of your credit standing, you can get a free credit report snapshot from Credit.com, and that will allow you to see how lenders will perceive your creditworthiness — and it includes two credit scores and a personalized guide to improving your credit.
You can check online for car refinance rates and also for information on what sort of scores are required to get the best rates. Keep in mind that an application for credit will cause a small, temporary drop in your credit scores, so be cautious about applying to multiple lenders. “You don’t want to go all over the Web applying,” Reed said.
If you see a rate you want from a reputable financial institution and you qualify, your search may end there. Or, if you prefer to deal with a local bank or credit union, call and ask if they can match the rate you found online. You can also do this in reverse, putting out feelers to see whether your financial institution would be likely to offer you a rate lower than you are now paying.
The worst things that can happen are 1) you realize that your credit isn’t good enough to qualify for a better rate or 2) you will be turned down for a loan. And if those happen, you’ll be in no worse shape than now, you’ll know where you stand and what you need to do to improve your credit.
If you do qualify, you’ll start saving money right away. If you have debt, you could use the savings to pay it off more quickly, Reed said. He also cautioned against stretching out the term to minimize the payment. “You want to pay off a car as quickly as you comfortably can” and to minimize the amount of interest required to finance it, he said. (And if you need some convincing about the value of lower interest rates, take a look at our lifetime cost of debt calculator.)
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- What to Do If You Can’t Make Your Car Payments
- The Auto Loan Jargon You Need to Know
This article originally appeared on Credit.com.