Key takeaways

  • Renegotiating your loan terms, refinancing or making extra payments can help lower your car payment.
  • You can also sell your current car and buy one with a more budget-friendly payment but watch out for high interest rates.
  • Before you buy, shop around and save for a large down payment to keep your car payment low.

If your car payment is draining your budget, you are not alone. The average car payment for Americans is between $500 and $750 a month. And according to a recent Jerry survey, 58 percent of American drivers have cut spending to afford car expenses. But there are ways to lower your payment.

4 ways to lower your current car payment

When you finance a car purchase and the lender tells you your payment, it seems set in stone. If you speak with the lender or take these extra steps, you may be able to reduce your car payment to something more affordable.

1. Renegotiate your loan terms

Lenders often allow you to defer a payment when you’re facing financial hardship and can’t afford your car payment. This can take the pressure off for a month or two. But interest continues to accrue during deferment, so your loan balance may rise.

You can also request a car loan modification. The lender may be willing to extend your term — which means paying more interest — or reduce your interest rate. The latter is better for saving you money over the loan term. However, it may be difficult to qualify for a lower rate if you don’t have good credit.

2. Refinance your car loan

There are two ways refinancing your car loan can help lower your monthly payment. You can refinance to a lower interest rate with the same term as what remains on your current loan, which means you pay less each month. This depends on your ability to qualify for a lower rate, of course.

Or you can refinance your auto loan at a longer loan term. This will make your monthly payments lower, but you’ll pay more interest overall.

3. Sell or trade in your car

If your car is over your budget, you can sell it and buy a more affordable vehicle. The most convenient way is trading your car in at a dealership. You can use that extra cash as a down payment on your next car and won’t need to handle a private sale. But private sales may net you more money.

It is crucial to consider the current market if you’re deciding whether to sell. For example, current car interest rates are high. So, your new car loan may have a higher interest rate. But used car prices are still up, so you may get enough for it to offset the increased rate and still reduce your car payment.

If you decide to sell but haven’t fully paid off your car loan, the lender has a lien on it. Keep in mind that selling a car with a lien on it can be complicated. Talk to your lender to make sure you aren’t violating the terms of your contract.

4. Make extra payments when possible

Getting ahead on your car loan will help lower future monthly payments — or skip them entirely. While many lenders apply extra payments only to interest, you may be able to request yours go directly to the principal.

But, if you’re already having difficulty making the payment, you may think paying more isn’t possible. Here are some ways to get ahead:

  • Ask your lender about making biweekly payments. Making half your car payment biweekly instead of the total payment monthly can help you pay off your car loan quicker.
  • Use funds like gift money or your annual tax refund to pay more on your car loan.

Both of those suggestions will help reduce the total amount you owe.

How to get a lower car payment before buying

Shop smart to get a low payment on your next vehicle.

  • Buy a used vehicle. Not only is it significantly less expensive upfront, but buying a used car will also help you avoid the huge drop in value that new cars face.
  • Save for a large down payment. The more you pay upfront as a car loan down payment, the less you will need to finance — which means a lower car payment.
  • Trade in your current vehicle or sell it privately. Using your current ride to boost your down payment is a great way to keep your next monthly payment low.
  • Improve your credit score before you apply for a loan. Lenders and dealerships will give you better rates when you have good or excellent credit. If you can, wait to buy a car until your score has jumped a few points.
  • Shop around for the best financing. Don’t limit yourself to financing from the dealership.You increase your chance of getting a good interest rate and a flexible monthly payment by shopping around.
  • Opt for a longer car loan term, but keep in mind that this means you will pay more in interest. While you’ll be able to get your month-to-month costs down, you may pay thousands more than your car is worth with a loan term of over 60 months.
  • Pay sales tax upfront. Lenders will let you finance the sales tax on your vehicle, but we don’t recommend doing so. You’ll also end up paying interest on it — and it will just make your monthly payment bigger.
  • Lease instead of buying. Leasing gets a bad rap, but you can save money on your monthly payments with a lease. However, it can be costly if you don’t have a good credit score — and you won’t be able to sell your car at the end of the lease period.

The bottom line

A car payment should take up less than 15 percent of your take-home pay. Refinancing or renegotiating are two of the best solutions to get a lower car payment that fits your budget. But switching to a more modest vehicle is also an option that can put more money in your pocket.