Trapped in a personal loan with a high interest rate or a massive monthly payment? It is possible to refinance to a loan that better suits your financial needs. We’ll explain how to refinance a personal loan and pitfalls to avoid when refinancing unsecured debt.
Is it possible to refinance a personal loan?
Refinancing a personal loan involves taking out a new loan to pay off an existing personal loan. Some people will refinance by negotiating new loan terms with their existing lender. However, many people refinance by taking out a new loan from a different lender. They use the proceeds of the loan to payoff their current loan.
It’s important to note that many lenders don’t advertise personal loan refinancing. However, you shouldn’t necessarily exclude them from your loan refinance search.
For example, a company spokesperson from SoFi (one of our top-rated personal loan issuers) explains that it treats all personal loans like incremental debt. If the company believes you can handle the payments on both your existing loan and your new loan, you may qualify for the new personal loan. On the other hand, Lightstream, a division of SunTrust Bank, specifically offers personal loan refinancing. Lightstream prices loans differently based on their intended use. Either company could be a great option to refinance your personal loan.
Depending on your income, your credit score, and your credit usage you may find a great rate at any number of personal loan companies.
When does it make sense to refinance a personal loan?
Refinancing your personal loan generally makes sense when the new loan comes with better terms or you need to refinance in order to remove a cosigner.
For example, your credit may have improved or your income increased significantly enough that you may qualify for a loan with a better APR. On the other hand, you may be struggling to meet your monthly payments and want to take out a new personal loan with lower monthly payments and a longer loan term.
“It could make sense to refinance almost any time if you can get better terms,” says Todd Nelson, business development officer for Lightstream, a division of SunTrust Bank. “Less interest is always a good thing.”
How to refinance a personal loan
No matter your goal, you’ll want to take a few steps to make sure that you get the best possible deal on your new loan.
Understand your existing loan
Before you pay off an old loan, check whether your loan has prepayment penalties, so you can factor any penalties into your loan analysis. Most banks do not charge prepayment penalties for personal loans, but those that do will typically charge a set fee for paying off a loan early. The terms and conditions of your loan will outline whether or not you have to pay a prepayment penalty. If you don’t understand the terms, you can talk to your lender to clarify the rules.
In addition to understanding your prepayment penalties, you’ll want to know your interest rate, the time remaining on your loan, and the required monthly payment. Refinancing your loan may affect all three of these numbers.
Get your credit in order
Once you understand your existing loan, you’ll want to check your credit score. You may need to make some efforts to clean up your credit before applying for a loan refinance. In particular, removing errors from your credit report and paying down credit card debt may help to improve your odds of approval. If possible, avoid applying for additional loans for three to six months before you refinance your personal loan. Applying for multiple lines of credit in a short time period makes you look like a worse credit risk according to the Fair Isaac Corporation, which creates the FICO® scores that are widely used in lending decisions.
Although your credit score matters, it’s not the only factor lenders will consider when setting your loan rate. “A great credit score doesn’t mean you’ll get the best rate,” Nelson cautions. Lenders will also consider your existing debt load, your income and how you’ve used debt in the past.
Prepare a budget
Refinancing a debt means your monthly payment will change. You’ll want to be sure that you can handle the change by preparing a budget. You need to know how much you can realistically pay each month, so you can continue to make timely payments every month.
Start shopping around for a new loan
Once you have your finances in order, you’ll want to start shopping for new loans. A great place to start is with LendingTree, where you can fill out a short online form and potentially get quotes from several lenders at once. LendingTree is the parent company of MagnifyMoney.
If you don’t see banks offering better terms, you may want to stick with your current loan until you pay it off.
Apply for multiple loans
When you see the potential for savings, start applying for new personal loans. When you apply for a new personal loan, you will see a hard credit inquiry on your credit report. The more places you apply, the more credit inquiries you’ll see.
However, multiple credit inquiries won’t destroy your credit if you apply within a few weeks.
According to the credit reporting bureau Experian, “Generally, credit scoring models will count multiple hard inquiries for the same type of credit product as a single event as long as they occur in a short window of a few weeks.”
When you apply for a personal loan refinance, you’ll need all your personal identification documents, and you may need proof of income (such as a pay stub, W-2 form or a tax return).
Check out our list of the best personal loans for 2017.
Choose the best offer
Once you have a few offers in hand, you’ll want to compare them to see which is the best deal for you.
You can use this calculator to compare the interest you expect to pay on your existing loan (use your current balance, current interest rate, and current monthly payment at the top) with the interest and fees you’ll pay on a new personal loan.
When you find the best offer, you can accept the loan terms with your new lender.
Pay off your old loan
The process for paying off your old loan will vary by lender. According to Nelson from Lightstream, lenders who work with high-credit-score applicants will generally deposit the funds into your checking or savings account. Then it’s up to you to pay off your existing debt.
In general, you can close your old debt by making a payment through the Bill Pay portal on your lender’s website. After you make the payment, you should see a balance of $0. You can call your lender to be sure that the final payment is processed and the loan is closed.
Lenders that work with subprime borrowers may pay off the old debt directly. In those cases, you should still call the lender to confirm that your old debt is closed.
Shopping for lower interest rates
If you’re looking for a lower interest rate, you’ll probably find a better personal loan in one of two circumstances. First, you may find a better interest rate if your credit score improved since taking out the loan. The more your credit score improved, the more likely you are to see great refinancing options.
You may also find a better interest rate if you didn’t originally shop around. In this situation, it may pay off to compare personal offers from a few different lenders. You may be surprised by how low your rate can go.
Of course, a lower interest rate doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily save money when you refinance your personal loan. You will want to do the math the following to see if you will actually save money with a refinance. If the origination fees and the total cost of interest are lower than the remaining interest on your loan, it makes sense to refinance the loan.
Finding lower monthly payments
Anyone looking to lower their monthly payments will usually want to refinance to a longer loan. While credit score improvements may lower your monthly payment a little, spreading the payments over a longer period lowers the payments even more.
If you’re facing a pinched cash flow, refinancing to a longer loan may make sense (especially if you can combine it with a better interest rate). The problem with refinancing to a longer loan is that you’ll generally pay more interest in the long run. Use this personal loan calculator to see how much more you’ll pay over time.
Taking out a larger loan
Some people consider refinancing a personal loan when they want to take on a bigger loan for an upcoming expense, or to consolidate additional debt. Refinancing makes sense if the new loan has a lower interest rate. In general, you want to keep your loan at the lowest interest rate possible, even if that means having two payments. If you want to take on more debt, be sure your budget can handle the added expense. Create a debt payoff plan before you take on any new debts.
When to avoid refinancing a personal loan
Even with lenders offering tantalizingly low interest rates, refinancing a personal loan doesn’t always make sense.
Refinancing isn’t cost-effective
For example, you don’t want to choose a new loan if it won’t save you money. This calculator can help you compare your current costs to the interest and fees you’ll pay if you choose to refinance. High origination fees may keep an otherwise attractive offer from being cost-effective.
Aggressive debt payoff
Refinancing a personal loan may backfire if you’re on an aggressive debt payoff plan. A loan with an origination fee may require several months of standard payments to reach a break-even point. This refinance calculator can help you determine how long it takes to reach the break-even point. (Use a tax rate of 0 percent.)
When you don’t have a debt payoff plan
Some people feel tempted to refinance a personal loan when their budget gets tight, and the monthly payments feel high. A personal loan refinance could be a smart financial move, but the refinance needs to be part of your comprehensive money management strategy. Before refinancing, create a realistic debt payoff plan.
Things to watch out for
In general, personal loans are straightforward, but you should beware of these personal loan traps (especially if you’re trying to refinance a subprime personal loan).
Prepayment penalties: Most major banks don’t charge prepayment penalties, but before you refinance, you’ll want to check your existing loan, too, to make sure one isn’t lurking in the fine print. A prepayment penalty may negate some of the savings you get from lowering your interest rate.
Credit insurance: Some lenders will try to get you to buy life insurance to cover the cost of the loan if you die. In general, this is not a good value. In fact, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has adopted measures that restrict the sale of credit insurance. However, you may still hear a pitch for the product.
It makes a lot of sense to have some level of insurance in place to cover your debts if you’re married, lose a job, etc. However, an inexpensive term life policy is a far better value than a loan specific policy. Job loss credit insurance may be a more compelling product, but it can be very expensive. Be sure to weigh the cost of the insurance before purchasing it.
Origination fees: Many personal loans come with origination fees, which can be as high as 8 percent of the loan’s value. That makes taking out a new loan an expensive proposition. Compare the remaining interest on your loan to the cost of the origination fee plus the interest cost of the new loan before deciding to refinance.
Late payment fees: Some lenders will charge you a late fee if you miss your payment date. Late fees can drive up your loan costs in a hurry. Anyone who has struggled with payments in the past will want to check this fee before refinancing.
Alternatives to refinancing a personal loan
Refinancing a personal loan to another personal loan isn’t always the cheapest option. If you’ve got great credit, or you own a home you might find cheap options to eliminate your debt.
Balance transfer credit cards
Some credit card companies will allow you to transfer a personal loan balance to a promotional 0 percent intro APR balance transfer credit card. This can be a quick way to drop your interest rate in a hurry.
Before you apply for a balance transfer credit card, you’ll want to check on a few things. First, you won’t want to apply for a credit card from a bank that holds your debt. For example, you won’t want to opt for the Citi Simplicity® credit card if a Citi Affiliate owns your debt.
It’s also important to clarify that the credit card company will allow you to transfer a personal loan balance to your credit card. For example, the Chase Slate® card does not allow you to transfer personal loan balances to your credit card.
You can generally learn more about a lender’s balance transfer policy by reading their terms and conditions page in a section entitled Balance Transfers. However, if the terms aren’t clear, you should take the time to call a bank representative before applying.
A balance transfer credit card is an appropriate solution for people who can pay down their personal loan debt before the introductory rate expires.
Homeowners who have equity in their house may also find that a HELOC, or home equity line of credit, offers better terms than their existing personal loan. A HELOC has tax-deductible interest, and it operates like a line of credit. You can use a HELOC to pay off higher interest debts, or to pay for other important expenses. However, you need to be careful not to treat a HELOC as free money. You still need to pay off your HELOC in time.