Refinancing and trading in your car are two different processes — so neither is better nor worse than the other. The benefits and drawbacks depend on what you want to get out of your car and your finances.

Is refinancing or trading in a car better?

Both refinancing and trading in your car can save you money, but the best option for you will depend on your goals.

Refinancing is the better choice if you want to stick with your current car and change the loan terms. This can be an especially beneficial move if your credit score has improved since taking the loan, as you may now qualify for a lower interest rate. A reduced interest rate would mean lower monthly payments and less money paid in interest overall.

On the other hand, using your car as a trade-in allows you to supplement your down payment on your next car. If you want to buy a different car, trading in — selling to a dealership — will give you more money to work with. It may also mean better loan terms since you can borrow less on your next vehicle.

Refinancing vs. trading in a car

You can refinance a car loan with your current or a new lender. In the best-case scenario, the refinancing process allows you to lower your interest rate or obtain a longer loan term. Both will lower your monthly payments and potentially make your car loan more affordable each month.

However, refinancing to a longer loan term will mean you pay more interest over the life of the loan. And while refinancing is a good option if you’re happy with your current vehicle, it’s also important to be prepared, as lenders often have strict qualification requirements.

Trading in a car can be a simpler process. Once you research the value of your vehicle, you can visit different dealerships to see what they will offer.

The end goal is to sell your car and then use the money to pay off your current loan. If you have money left over, consider using it as part of the down payment for your next car.

How refinancing your car works

Refinancing is essentially the same as getting an auto loan. This can be a better option than trading in your vehicle if you enjoy your car and want to lower the monthly payment. This can be an especially good choice in cases where your credit has improved, you have positive equity in the car or you want to add a co-borrower.

  1. Gather your documents. You should know how much you still owe on the vehicle and what your current credit score is. Lenders will also want to see your financial information and know more about your vehicle, including its model year and current mileage.
  2. Research lenders and rates. Check out current auto refinance rates and the common requirements of lenders. Besides good credit and solid finances, lenders typically require your car to be under 10 model years old and have less than 100,000 miles on it. Most lenders also have a minimum loan amount that you will need to meet to qualify.
  3. Apply with multiple lenders. Much like a new auto loan, it’s a good idea to apply for preapproval with banks, credit unions and online lenders. This lets you compare rates without affecting your credit score, allowing you to pick the best refinance option.
  4. Confirm how the loan will be paid off. Once you sign the loan documents, make sure the lender either sends you the funds to pay off your loan or pays it for you. Remember that you will need to keep making payments until your current loan is paid off.

How trading in your car works

Dealers like to make trading in your car part of buying a new car, but it is a separate process — and should be negotiated on its own. You can shop your trade-in at multiple dealers even if you choose not to buy a car with the one you decide on.

  1. Research your car’s value. Resources like Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds list average sale prices for a wide variety of vehicles. Check what your car is worth, as this information will help you confirm whether you’re getting a good deal for your trade-in.
  2. Check your loan. Every vehicle’s value depreciates over time. But if you owe more than your car is worth, it can make a trade-in difficult. While selling it will still be possible, you may have to cover the remainder of your loan if the sale price is too low.
  3. Come prepared to negotiate. Much like buying a car, you can negotiate your trade-in price. If your car is in good condition for its age and has relatively low mileage, you may get a better price from the dealer.
  4. Hand over the keys. Once you find a dealer, you want to trade in your vehicle with, sign any documents and get the title transferred. From here, you will either need to pay off your car loan or use the money as part of your down payment toward your next ride.

How to lower your monthly payment

There are a few additional routes you can take to lower your monthly payment, although some of them may end up costing more in the long run.

Defer your payments

Most lenders will allow you to defer your payments for up to three months if you are experiencing short-term financial hardship. But this doesn’t mean you will skip the payment entirely. Instead, the lender tacks it on to the end of your loan term, meaning you have to make up the payment later.

However, this is a common solution if you are experiencing financial challenges. It’s important to remember, however, that deferral is limited and will not reduce the overall cost of your loan. This approach means you will pay additional interest since the loan is being extended. You may also incur fees and penalties, which will be outlined in your forbearance agreement.

Initiating a deferral typically involves submitting a hardship letter to your lender. The letter should outline why you would like to defer payments and when you plan to resume them. The lender may request financial information that establishes the hardship you are experiencing.

Not everyone is granted a deferral. If your credit score needs work or your income has declined, you may not qualify.

Request a loan modification

Rather than refinancing with a new lender, you can try negotiating with your current lender. It may be willing to extend your loan term — which could lower your monthly payments — or adjust your interest rate.

That said, not all lenders will modify loans. It doesn’t hurt to try, but this approach may be less effective than refinancing.

Pay biweekly

If you struggle to make a large lump-sum monthly payment, try splitting it into two. You will make the same payment, but it could better align with your pay schedule. As an additional bonus, biweekly payments tend to result in less interest accruing on your loan.

The ideal would be to cut back on other expenses so that two smaller payments won’t put extra strain on your budget. But biweekly payments still add up to the same amount each month, so it won’t be a solution if your payments are already too high.

Next steps

Ultimately, the choice to refinance or trade in your car depends on what you want out of your car. Refinancing is better if you want to continue driving your car but hope to obtain different loan terms. But if you want to change things up and drive something new, consider trading in your current vehicle to supplement your down payment. In general, it’s a good idea to put between 10 and 20 percent down on a car, and having a trade-in can help ease that burden.

Either way, be sure to research your car’s value before searching for lenders or visiting a dealership.

Frequently asked questions

  • It can be a good idea to refinance before trading your car in. Ideally, when refinancing, you’re lowering the monthly payments on your car loan. This, in turn, may allow you to pay more money toward the principal, paying it down faster and generating more equity in the vehicle. The additional equity will be valuable when you’re ready to trade the car in.
  • You can trade in a car at any time after refinancing. The key is to make sure it makes financial sense to trade in your vehicle. You will still be responsible for paying off the loan. Be sure you know what the loan balance is and how that compares to the vehicle’s trade-in value so you don’t come up short.