You might have heard of borrowing against home equity to pay off student loans. But could you use car equity in a similar way?
Luis Valdez-Jimenez, who has a JD and an MBA and works as a contract specialist, did just that. He even wrote about it for The Penny Hoarder. Valdez-Jimenez used his 2015 Chrysler to secure a $20,000 loan with a 2.49% APR – less than half the 6.50% APR of his student loans.
“Using an auto equity loan the way I did is a relatively brand-new idea,” Valdez-Jimenez told Student Loan Hero in an interview. But he thinks it’s a strategy worth exploring.
“You might be surprised at how easy it is to do and at the rates you’re offered,” added Valdez-Jimenez.
What is an auto equity loan?
Like other car loans, an auto equity loan is secured by your car. Your vehicle acts as the collateral a lender can use to recoup its money should you be unable to repay the loan.
In the case of an auto equity loan, you borrow against the value of the car you own. Your car equity follows this formula:
- Current value of the car – (minus) the amount of any debt = your car equity
So, if you own a paid-off car worth $15,000, you have $15,000 in equity. If you owe $5,000 on the same car, you have $10,000 in equity.
Can an auto equity loan help you refinance student loans?
Refinancing your student loans with an auto equity loan may help you get lower interest rates.
“The main reason why student loans tend to be higher is there’s no collateral – it’s an unsecured loan rather than a secured loan,” Valdez-Jimenez explained.
While you might get value from your debt through your education, a degree isn’t something a lender can repossess.
“But with an auto equity loan, there is collateral,” said Valdez-Jimenez: your car. This collateral lowers a lender’s risk, so auto equity loans might offer lower interest rates than student loans do.
“That’s a double-edged sword,” Valdez-Jimenez said. “You could get lower interest rates. If you struggle with making your payments or fall behind, your car is at risk.”
The right way to use an auto equity loan
But is an auto equity loan worth borrowing?
Well, that depends on whether you can get a good enough deal that refinancing makes sense, according to Valdez-Jimenez.
“I would recommend an auto equity loan if you have some equity in your car, you have good credit, and you’re getting good rates from a reputable institution,” Valdez-Jimenez added.
If you meet those guidelines, it could be worthwhile to look into this option. Here’s what you should consider as you explore the possibility of using an auto equity loan to refinance debt.
1. Find out how much car equity you have
A prerequisite of using an auto equity loan is owning a car with enough value to act as collateral. That fact alone will keep many people from using this strategy, Valdez-Jimenez pointed out.
“I realize a lot of younger people might not be able to utilize it because they don’t have the equity,” Valdez-Jimenez said.
However, some young people have cars that were gifted to them or that they purchased before getting serious about paying down debt. These vehicles can be leveraged to get better rates.
Even if you still owe money on your car, however, don’t assume this option isn’t a possibility for you.
“Some people might not realize they are driving a vehicle with significant equity in it,” Valdez-Jimenez said. “Even $5,000 can make a difference.”
You’ll get the best deals for a car that’s less than five years old. And many lenders won’t approve an auto equity loan for a car that’s more than 10 years old. Look up your make and model on appraisal sites like these to see what your equity is:
2. Shop for a trustworthy lender
Finding a lender that offers an auto equity loan can be tricky, as many major banks don’t offer this option. A local credit union or community bank might be a better bet to find auto equity loans – and the best rates.
“Make sure you go to an institution that’s highly reputable, preferably one that you have experience with,” Valdez-Jimenez advised. “There are plenty of sketchy-looking financial providers out there, so you need to really do your homework and find an institution you trust.”
He added a few more tips:
- Avoid car title loans, which are easy to confuse with auto equity loans. “One of the key elements of a reputable financial institution is [it] won’t offer you ridiculous credit conditions – like having to pay it back in 30 days or [charging] high interest rates,” explained Valdez-Jimenez, all of which are common for car title loans. “Don’t go for a loan shark or quick cash shop.”
- “Trust your gut and trust your feelings,” Valdez-Jimenez said. “Practice good judgment and know where to look.” If something feels off or you’re uneasy about a lender or your terms, pass on the offer.
- “Be very clear and upfront about your goals,” Valdez-Jimenez added. If you know what you’re looking for and what you need in an auto equity loan, you’ll weed out options that aren’t a good fit more quickly.
3. Understand the trade-offs of an auto equity loan
There are, of course, potential drawbacks to refinancing student loans with an auto equity loan. Before you take this step, make sure you understand the potential risks to your finances; an uninformed decision can quickly turn to regret when something goes wrong.
You could lose your car
If you default on a car equity loan, the lender has the right to take your vehicle, which you likely need to commute to work and live your life.
Losing your car could put your job – and the income that comes with it – at risk. And if you lose your income, you could default on this debt. If you can’t live with that risk, have poor money management, or would have trouble keeping up with payments, an auto equity loan might not be right for you.
You’ll give up federal student loan protections
By refinancing federal student loans as a car equity loan, you’ll lose out on several protections and benefits federal student loans offer, including options to pause or adjust payments, such as:
- Deferment and forbearance.
- Income-driven repayment plans.
- Other repayment options like graduated repayment or extended repayment.
Without these options, it will be harder to keep up with your new loan payments should a financial crisis arise, such as job loss or emergency expenses. Refinancing in this way will also make you ineligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
You might not get that great of a deal
Lastly, you’ll need to see how good the deal is before you decide if the savings will outweigh the potential trade-offs.
“If the new rate won’t be much better, it might not be worth losing the protections of federal student loans,” Valdez-Jimenez said, or putting your car on the line.
“Find out, based on your credit score and the equity you developed, what kind of rates you’re likely to get on an auto equity loan,” Valdez-Jimenez said. “And then you can compare those to the student loan rates you’re already paying.”
You can calculate the savings you could expect using our refinancing calculator.
Consider alternatives to an auto equity loan
If you want to leverage your car to help repay student loans or are interested in getting lower student loan rates, an auto equity loan isn’t your only option.
Sell your car
“Consider other options like selling your vehicle to get a cheaper one,” Valdez-Jimenez said. You also could bike, use public transit, or become a one-car household and then use the proceeds from the sale to pay off student debt.
Get a cash-out auto refinance
Another option that’s similar to an auto equity loan is a cash-out refinance auto loan. Some lenders will allow you to refinance an existing loan at a new, higher balance, paying out the difference between your old loan and new loan in cash.
For instance, if you owe $5,000 on a $15,000 car, you might be able to refinance to a new auto loan of $10,000. You would pay off the previous $5,000 and have $5,000 in cash.
Use your car for a side hustle
Maybe you can’t cash out on your car’s value to repay student loans. But you can use it to build a side hustle and rack up some income. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Drive for a ridesharing service like Uber.
- Use the Turo app to rent out your car.
- Deliver through servicers like Saucey.
Any extra money you earn from your side gigs can be used to pay down your student debt.
Student loan refinancing
Refinancing student loans with a private lender might also be a better option than getting an auto equity loan to pay off student debt. The best student loan refinancing lenders offer rates that rival or beat auto equity loan rates.
Think carefully before pursuing auto equity loans
Auto equity loans are still relatively new and largely untested.
“If you have good, steady employment, high credit, you’re good with money – it’s a good thing to at least consider,” Valdez-Jimenez said. The strategy Valdez-Jimenez utilized is an example of a smart way to leverage a car equity loan to your advantage.
Just remember: Even though this option is intriguing, it’s risky and won’t be right for everyone.
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