Refinancing your car loan can make the monthly payment more affordable. However, you will likely have to agree to an extended loan term and pay more interest over the life of the loan.

The good news is refinancing isn’t your only option to lower your car payment. Other viable alternatives can alleviate the added stress of dealing with a high car payment and create wiggle room in your budget.

4 ways to lower your car payment without refinancing

When you sign on the dotted line to get an auto loan, you’re generally given a monthly payment that’s due each month for a set period. If the payment seemed doable when you took out the loan, but no longer works due to changes in your financial situation, there are options that don’t require taking out a new loan.

1. Request a loan modification

Contact the lender to explain that you are struggling to stay afloat financially and risk falling behind on your auto loan payments. Detail your request along with the reason why you are struggling financially in a hardship letter.

The first representative you speak to may not offer much assistance or options, but you can ask for the loss mitigation department to find someone who can help.

Repossessions are costly and time-consuming for the lender. So, they may be willing to modify your loan, which could include lowering the interest rate or loan term, to make the monthly payments more affordable. Alternatively, the lender could agree to a short-term payment plan that involves deferring your payments for a few months to give you some much-needed financial relief.

If you’ve already missed a payment on your auto loan, you may not be out of luck. However, you should communicate that you are experiencing financial hardship sooner rather than later. The lender could agree to divide the past due balance into smaller amounts that you’ll pay over an extended period.

2. Trade it in for a less expensive car

Assuming you’re not upside-down on your car loan — or owe more than what it’s worth — trading in your car for a less expensive one could be sensible. The difference between the trade-in value and what is owed on your current loan will lower the new loan amount. And you won’t have to go through the hassle of listing your car for sale and hoping to attract the right buyers.

Luckily current market conditions have made it much easier to get top dollar for your trade-in. According to early July data from Kelley Blue Book, the lack of used vehicles on the market continues to make trade-in a viable option.

Trading in your car is a relatively straightforward process that involves bringing it to the dealership for them to inspect it and present you with an offer. The trade-in value is based on your vehicle’s make, model, mileage and condition. By going to several dealerships before deciding, you can negotiate a good deal.

If you’re looking to trade in your car, though, it’s best to do it soon. Used car prices are starting to stabilize, which means trade-in offers will likely be lower soon.

3. Sell privately and buy a less expensive car

If you want to earn even more for your ride, consider selling it privately. You will need time and patience, but you could maximize your cost savings since private sales generally mean more money in the seller’s pocket. In turn, you will have more to put down on your new car purchase.

The car market has been a rollercoaster for drivers the past few years, but as new prices fall below sticker and used begin to stabilize, now could be a good time to buy. If you choose to shop, consider looking for dealer incentives to lower your all-in cost. In the month of June, incentives covered 4.2 percent of transaction prices, up from 2.4 percent in June of 2022, according to KBB.

4. Switch to leasing 

If your current lender won’t budge and you cannot find a used vehicle within your budget, leasing may be the solution to your problem. While leasing has drawbacks, it tends to cost less each month than buying. If you choose to lease, pay close attention to leasing restrictions to ensure you don’t get stuck with extra fees. 

When it’s better to refinance

Refinancing your auto loan could be a better option to lower your monthly payment if you have good or excellent credit and qualify for a lower interest rate. But here’s the catch: You should request a loan term that is close to or equivalent to the amount of time left on your current loan. Otherwise, you will get a lower payment but could spend several hundred or thousands of dollars more in interest over the loan term.

Refinancing can also help you avoid repossession by paying off the old loan before you can become delinquent. Furthermore, you will get the lower payment you need and preserve your credit score, even if that means paying the lender more in interest.

Next steps

A hefty car payment could strain your budget and make you contemplate refinancing your loan. However, you will likely pay more interest if you get a higher rate or a significantly longer term, so you should ask your lender about a loan modification.

Also, consider swapping your current ride for a less expensive one. Get your car appraised to determine its worth, and find a more affordable vehicle with a lower monthly payment to meet your needs. Work with a lender to get into a new car loan or lease that could help improve your financial situation.