Key takeaways

  • To successfully manage an auto loan, budget accordingly, pay on time and aim for an early loan payoff.
  • Making biweekly payments can help you repay your auto loan faster and save money on interest, as long as early repayment fees don't outweigh your savings.
  • If you're having trouble paying, communicate with your lender and consider refinancing for potentially lowered rates.

Your work isn’t over after you exit the dealership lot in your new vehicle. You must take important steps to manage your auto loan and ensure the vehicle remains yours. Consider the following steps after getting an auto loan.

1. Be mindful of your budget

While you have already crunched the numbers to secure the right auto loan, you must keep your budget in mind. Now that payments have begun, you can gauge how they fit into other finances.

Edmunds advises that a new car payment should be no more than 15 percent of your take-home pay — 10 percent for a used car. If this number does not fit your spending, consider cutting back in other categories.

2. Set up autopay

Arranging automatic payments each month on your auto loan is an excellent way to protect against accidentally missing payments and falling behind.

Most lenders offer this option. Some even boast additional discounts of 0.25 percent to 0.5 percent for using autopay.

Simply reach out to your lender to add your bank account information. Remember that some bank-funded auto loans require a checking account with the same financial institution if you want to use autopay.

3. Work toward early repayment

Early repayment means that the vehicle can become yours sooner. Plus, you will pay less interest over the loan’s lifetime. Try making extra or larger payments or applying tax refunds to the principal.

Also, if you experience an unexpected financial windfall, consider using the money to repay your auto loan early. Or use the sudden influx of funds to pay off your highest-interest debt, which can free up money to aggressively pay down your auto loan.

But before making this choice, use an early payoff calculator to determine if it’s the right move. Also, confirm that your lender does not enforce any fees for early repayment. If there’s a prepayment penalty, ensure your savings would outweigh it.

Bankrate tip
By making biweekly payments of half the monthly payment, you can make an extra full payment each year. This reduces the principal balance and minimizes the amount of interest accumulated.

4. Consider refinancing

If you struggle to make your auto payments — or if making regular payments has helped your credit score improve — refinancing your auto loan can help you get better rates and terms. Refinancing involves getting a new loan, potentially with an improved refinance rate or term length, and using it to repay your old loan.

Before moving ahead, calculate potential savings. If refinancing your auto loan is unlikely to save you money, but you have other outstanding debts, consider refinancing a different loan instead. You could free up extra cash to pay down the auto loan.

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In the news
Auto loan rates are currently high but Bankrate’s experts forecast rates will drop for good-credit borrowers in 2024. However, subprime borrowers can expect steeper rates and tighter credit requirements.

5. Communicate with your lender

Throughout your loan, it is best to keep an open line of communication with your lender. Regular contact ensures your loan is in good shape and protects you in the future. Building a strong relationship now will help manage potential issues.

If you, for example, think you might miss a payment, the door has already been opened for support. Remember, if trouble arises, the key is to reach out sooner rather than later.

The bottom line

Before signing for your loan, make sure the monthly payments work for your budget. Consider enrolling in autopay to avoid late payments. And, if possible, go the extra mile to pay the loan off early. You can also refinance your auto loan later down the line if it makes financial sense.

Most importantly, let the lender know if you run into difficulties affording payments. Good communication may make the lender more willing to be flexible.

FAQs about managing your auto loan payment

  • It is best to pay more towards your car loan principal. Because most car loans use simple interest, paying the principal reduces the amount you would have to pay in interest.
  • There is no perfect lender for every borrower. Compare different auto loan options and look for available APR, fees and customer support.
  • This approach breaks down one approach to setting your car budget. You make a 20 percent down payment on the loan balance and choose a four-year term. The resulting monthly payment should be under 10 percent of your income.