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Do You Need a Down Payment to Refinance a Car?

Last updated 05/21/2024 by

SuperMoney Team

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When refinancing a car loan, a down payment is typically not required, but there are situations where it might be necessary. This article explores the scenarios in which a down payment may be needed, such as lacking equity in the vehicle or having a poor credit history, and provides insights into how to navigate these situations.
When you purchase a vehicle, making a down payment is often part of the financing process. Sometimes it’s required by the lender, but it’s also a smart move if you want to get a better interest rate or have lower monthly payments. However, when it comes to refinancing a car loan, the need for a down payment varies depending on certain factors.

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When you might need a down payment to refinance a car loan

In most instances, a down payment is not required when refinancing a car loan. However, there are two main situations where it might be necessary:
  • You don’t have equity in the vehicle.
  • You have bad credit.

You need equity to refinance

Equity is usually essential if you want to refinance a car loan. It refers to the difference between the value of your car and the amount you owe on your car loan. If you owe less than the vehicle is worth, you have equity; if not, you have negative equity.
Lenders typically require equity in the vehicle for two reasons:
  1. Refinancing replaces your existing loan with a new one, and lenders don’t want to pay off a loan that exceeds the car’s value.
  2. Your vehicle serves as collateral for the new loan. If it’s worth less than what you owe, it poses a risk to the lender.
However, if you don’t have equity, you might still qualify for refinancing by putting down enough money to reach a positive equity position.

A down payment might offset bad credit

Your credit history plays a significant role in refinancing or qualifying for any type of loan. If you have bad credit, you may still qualify for refinancing by providing a down payment, which reduces the lender’s risk. However, keep in mind that a less-than-stellar credit score usually means you’ll have to pay a higher interest rate.
While this scenario is less common, it’s possible, especially if your credit has improved since you obtained the initial loan. However, if your credit score has gone down since you first financed the car, you might be turned down for a refinance even if you have a decent down payment. In that case, you may need to take steps to boost your credit score before applying.

Alternatives to refinancing

If refinancing your car through another auto lender isn’t feasible, you do have other options.
Personal loans: You can typically use a personal loan for almost any reason, and that includes buying a car. This means you could take out a personal loan and use the money to pay off your initial car loan. This bypasses the problem of not having equity in the car, but your credit score will still be a deciding factor if you apply for a personal loan to pay off your car note.
Home equity loans: Another option is to leverage the equity in your home by taking out a home equity loan or home equity line of credit (HELOC). Because you’re using your home as collateral for the loan, you could qualify for better rates and terms than you would get with an auto refinance loan.


Is it a good idea to refinance a car loan?

Refinancing can be a smart move if it helps you secure a lower interest rate or better loan terms. However, it’s essential to consider factors such as fees, loan terms, and your financial situation before refinancing.

Can I refinance my car loan with bad credit?

It’s possible to refinance a car loan with bad credit, but it may be more challenging to qualify for favorable terms. Providing a down payment or finding a co-signer could improve your chances of approval.

Key Takeaways

  • While a down payment is typically not required when refinancing a car loan, it may be necessary if you lack equity in the vehicle or have bad credit.
  • Equity is crucial for refinancing, as it reduces the lender’s risk and ensures the vehicle’s value aligns with the loan amount.
  • Providing a down payment can offset a poor credit history, potentially improving your chances of approval for refinancing.
  • Alternatives to refinancing a car loan include personal loans and leveraging your home’s equity.

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