Auto Insurance Terms, Explained

Auto Insurance Terms, Explained

Shopping for auto insurance or dealing with an insurance claim? It’s common to hit a few potholes on the way to understanding car insurance.

Auto insurance terminology can be difficult to navigate, so this glossary may help you find your way.

Car Insurance Terminology

Here are basic auto insurance terms explained:

Accident Forgiveness

Accident forgiveness is a benefit that can be added to a car insurance policy to prevent a driver’s premium from increasing after their first at-fault accident.

Each insurer’s definition of accident forgiveness may vary, and it isn’t available in every state. Some insurers include it at no charge, or it may be an add-on, which means it could be earned or purchased.

Actual Cash Value

Actual cash value is the term used to describe what a vehicle was worth before it was damaged or stolen, taking depreciation into consideration. The amount is calculated by the insurer.

Adjuster

An adjuster is an employee who evaluates claims for an insurance company. The adjuster investigates the claim and is expected to make a fair and informed decision regarding how much the insurance company should pay.

Agent or Broker

Both agents and brokers help consumers obtain auto insurance, but there are differences in their roles. An agent represents an insurance company (or companies) and sells insurance to and performs services for policyholders.

A broker represents the consumer and may evaluate several companies to find a policy that best suits that individual, family, or organization’s needs.

Both agents and brokers are licensed and regulated by state laws, and both may be paid commissions from insurance companies.

At Fault

Drivers are considered “at fault” in an accident when it’s determined something they did or didn’t do caused the collision to occur. A driver may still be considered at fault even if no ticket was issued or if the insurance company divides the blame between the parties involved in the accident.

In some states, drivers can’t receive an insurance payout if they are found to be more than 50% at fault.

Casualty Insurance

Casualty insurance protects a driver who is legally responsible for another person’s injuries or property damage in a car accident.

Claim

When an insured person asks their insurance company to cover a loss, it’s called a claim.

Claimant

A person who submits an insurance claim.

Collision Coverage

Collision coverage helps pay for damage to an insured driver’s car if the driver causes a crash with another car, hits an object (a mailbox or fence, for example), or causes a rollover.

It also may help if another driver is responsible for the accident but doesn’t have any insurance or enough insurance to cover the costs.

Collision coverage is usually required with an auto loan. Learn more about smarter ways to get a car loan.

Comprehensive Coverage

Comprehensive coverage pays for damage that’s caused by hitting an animal on the road, as well as specified noncollision events, such as car theft, a fire, or a falling object. It is usually required with an auto loan.

Recommended: How Much Auto Insurance Do I Really Need?

Damage Appraisal

When a car is in an accident, an insurance company’s claims adjuster may appraise the damage, and/or the car owner may get repair estimates from one or two body shops that can do the repairs.

Policyholders can appeal an appraisal if it seems low and they have some backup to prove it.

Declarations Page

This page in an insurance policy includes its most significant details, including who is insured, information about the vehicle that’s covered, types of coverage, and coverage limits.

Deductible

This is the predetermined amount the policyholder will pay for repairs before insurance coverage kicks in. Generally, the higher the deductible, the lower the monthly premium.

Depreciation

Depreciation is the value lost from a vehicle’s original price due to age, mileage, overall condition, and other factors. Depreciation is used to determine the actual cash value of a car when the insurer decides it’s a total loss.

Effective Date

This is the exact date that an auto insurance policy starts to cover a vehicle.

Endorsement

An endorsement, or rider, is a written agreement that adds or modifies the coverage provided by an insurance policy.

Exclusion

Exclusions are things that aren’t covered by an auto insurance policy. (Some common exclusions are wear and tear, mechanical breakdowns, and having an accident while racing.)

Full Coverage

Full coverage usually refers to a car insurance policy that includes liability, collision, and comprehensive coverage.

GAP Coverage

Guaranteed asset protection insurance is optional coverage that helps pay off an auto loan if a car is destroyed or stolen and the insured person owes more than the car’s depreciated value. It covers the difference, or gap, between what is owed and what the insurance company would pay on the claim.

Indemnity

Indemnity is the insurance company’s promise to help return policyholders to the position they were in before a covered incident caused a loss. The insurer “indemnifies” the policyholder from losses by taking on some of the financial responsibility.

Liability Insurance

If you’re at fault in an accident, your liability coverage pays for the other driver’s (or drivers’) car repairs and medical bills.

Coverage limits are often expressed in three numbers. For example, if a policy is written as 25/50/15, it means coverage of up to $25,000 for each person injured in an accident and $50,000 for the entire accident and $15,000 worth of property damage.

The cost of liability-only car insurance varies by state, as does the required minimum level of liability insurance.

Recommended: What Does Liability Auto Insurance Typically Cover?

Limit

This is the maximum amount a car insurance policy will pay for a particular incident. Coverage limits can vary greatly from one policy to the next.

Medical Payments Coverage

Medical payments coverage (or medical expense coverage, or MedPay) is optional coverage that can help pay medical expenses related to a vehicle accident.

It covers the insured driver, their passengers, and any pedestrians who are injured when there’s an accident, regardless of who caused it.

It also may cover the policyholder when that person is a passenger in another vehicle or is injured by a vehicle when walking, riding a bike, or riding public transportation. This coverage is not available in all states.

No-Fault Insurance

Several states have no-fault laws, which generally means that when there’s a car accident, everyone involved files a claim with their own insurance company, regardless of fault.

Also known as personal injury protection, no-fault insurance covers medical expenses regardless of who’s at fault. It doesn’t mean, however, that fault won’t be determined. No-fault insurance refers to injuries and medical bills. If a person’s car is damaged in an accident and they were not at fault, the at-fault driver’s insurance company will be responsible for the repairs.

Optional Coverage

Optional coverage refers to any car insurance coverage that is not required by law.

Personal Injury Protection

Several states require personal injury protection (PIP) coverage to help pay for medical expenses that an insured driver and any passengers suffer in an accident, regardless of who’s at fault.

PIP also may cover loss of income, funeral expenses, and other costs. PIP is the basic coverage required by no-fault insurance states.

Primary (and Secondary) Driver

The person who drives an insured car the most often is considered its primary driver. Typically, the primary driver is the person who owns or leases the vehicle. If spouses share an insurance policy, they may both be listed as primary drivers on a car or cars.

A car may have multiple secondary, or occasional, drivers. These are generally licensed drivers who live in the same household (children, grandparents, roommates, nannies, etc.) and may use the insured car occasionally but are not the car’s primary driver.

Recommended: Cost of Car Insurance for Young Drivers

Primary Use

This term refers to how a vehicle will most often be used — for commuting to work, for business, for farming, or for pleasure.

Premium

A premium is the amount a person pays for auto insurance. Premiums may be paid monthly, quarterly, twice a year, or annually, depending on personal choice and what the provider allows.

Replacement Cost

Some insurance companies offer replacement cost coverage for newer vehicles. This means that if a car is damaged or stolen, the insurer will pay to replace it with the same vehicle.

Coverage varies by company, and not every insurance company offers replacement coverage.

State-Required Minimum

Every state has different legal minimum requirements for the types and amounts of insurance coverage drivers must have. The limits are usually low. Lenders may require more coverage for those who are buying or leasing a car.

Total Loss or ‘Totaled’

If a car is severely damaged, the insurer may determine that it is a total loss. That usually means the car is so badly damaged that it either can’t be safely repaired or its market value is less than the price of putting it back together.

If a state has a total-loss threshold, an insurer considers the car a total loss when the cost of the damage exceeds the limit set by the state.

Underwriting

The underwriting process involves evaluating the risks (and determining appropriate rates) in insuring a particular driver.

Insurance underwriting these days is often done with a computer program. But if a case is unusual, a professional may step in to further assess the situation.

Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage

Uninsured motorist and underinsured motorist coverage protects drivers and their passengers who are involved in an accident with a motorist who has little or no insurance. Some states require this coverage, but the limits vary.

Some states require this coverage, but the limits vary.

Uninsured/underinsured motorist bodily injury insurance covers medical costs. Uninsured/underinsured motorist property damage pays to repair a vehicle.

The Takeaway

Understanding car insurance basics is important for drivers. Knowing auto insurance terms, coverage your state or lender may require, and what other types of coverage could further safeguard your finances can make you a more informed consumer.

When you’re ready to shop for auto insurance, SoFi can help. Our online auto insurance comparison tool lets you see quotes from a network of top insurance providers within minutes, saving you time and hassle.

Compare quotes from top car insurance carriers.


Insurance not available in all states.
Gabi is a registered service mark of Gabi Personal Insurance Agency, Inc.
SoFi is compensated by Gabi for each customer who completes an application through the SoFi-Gabi partnership.


Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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Different Types of Savings Accounts You Can Have

If you’re looking to put money aside for future needs and watch it grow, a savings account can be a great option.

Not all savings accounts are created equal, however. There are actually several different types to choose from, and the best choice for you will depend on your goals, how you want to access your money, and how soon you’ll need it.

If you’re looking for easy, in-person access to your savings, for example, you might like a traditional savings account. If getting a high return is your priority, a high-yield savings, CD, or online bank account may be a better option. There are also speciality accounts for longer-term savings goals, like retirement.

Here’s the lowdown on the different types of savings accounts to have and how to choose the best one (or ones) for your needs.

Common Types of Savings Accounts

Traditional Savings Account

“What types of savings accounts should I have?” is a common question. And a typical place to start is with a regular savings account that you can open at a bank or credit union.

If your bank is insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), then your deposits are insured for up to $250,000 per depositor, per account category, per insured institution. Worth noting? Some banks participate in programs that extend the FDIC insurance to cover millions.1 The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) provides similar insurance for credit unions.

You can typically open a basic savings account with a small minimum deposit. And, while the interest rates on these accounts tend to be low compared to other savings options, they offer fairly easy access to your funds.

All savings accounts, however, may come with some limits on how many transactions you can make each month. While federal law used to cap withdrawal limits and transfers from savings accounts to six per month, the rule was lifted in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, many banks still limit electronic and online transactions to six per month.

There are no restrictions on the number of In-person withdrawals and transfers (at the teller or ATM) you can make on a basic savings account.

Online Savings Account

Brick–and–mortar financial institutions aren’t the only place where you can shop for a savings account. If you’re comfortable doing your banking online or from your mobile device, you might consider an online bank vs. traditional bank for your savings account.

Because online-only financial institutions tend to have lower overhead costs than traditional banks, they often pass that savings on to customers in the form of higher interest rates and lower, or no, fees.

While you can’t meet with a bank representative face-to-face, these accounts often come with well-designed and user-friendly websites and mobile apps, along with customer service representatives available by phone.

Like other basic savings accounts, online savings accounts typically have restrictions on the number of transactions you can make per month (typically six) without incurring a penalty fee. ATM withdrawals are unlimited, however.

If you choose an online savings account from an institution with FDIC insurance, then your funds will be protected, even if the online bank were to go out of business.

Recommended: Understanding the Different Types of Bank Accounts

High-Yield Savings Account

Also known as high-interest savings accounts, this type of savings vehicle tends to come with higher interest rates than traditional savings accounts and often lower fees.

You may be able to open a high-yield savings account where you already bank, but the highest rates are often available from online banks (as noted above).

Depending on the financial institution, a high-yield savings account will likely be insured by the FDIC or NCUA up to $250,000 per depositor, per account category, per insured institution, or possibly more.

Like other savings accounts, withdrawals from high-yield savings accounts may be limited to six per month, and going over the withdrawal limit may trigger a fee.

Get up to $300 when you bank with SoFi.

Open a SoFi Checking and Savings Account with direct deposit and get up to a $300 cash bonus. Plus, get up to 4.60% APY on your cash!


Money Market Account

Money market accounts can be found at both traditional and online-only banks and are similar to traditional savings accounts in terms of liquidity, safety, and transaction limits.

Money market accounts, however, tend to come with higher interest than a traditional savings account. And, unlike most basic savings accounts, money market accounts often come with a debit card and checkbook, which can make it a little easier to access your money. In other words, you get some of the benefits of checking accounts plus the perks of a savings account in one place.

On the downside, money market funds generally require a much larger initial deposit than a basic savings account. And, you could be charged fees if the balance goes below a minimum amount.

Due to the potentially higher interest rates and check-writing/debit access, money market accounts can be a good choice for emergency funds if you’ve already saved enough to meet the initial deposit.

It can be important to know the distinction between money market accounts vs. money market funds, too. The latter is a type of investment account and not guaranteed by the FDIC or NCUA.

Certificate of Deposit (CD)

Certificates of deposit, or CDs, are available at both brick-and-mortar and online institutions, and can be a good savings tool if you don’t need quick access to your money.

CDs come with a specific term — often between three months and five years — during which you need to keep your money in the account.

In return for leaving your money untouched for that time period, CDs generally offer higher returns than standard savings accounts. Generally, the longer term, the higher the yield.

While savings and money market accounts pay variable interest rates (meaning your rate can change after you’ve opened the account) CDs typically pay fixed rates, so your rate is likely to be locked in once you’ve deposited the cash. You’ll know these funds are safe if they’re FDIC-insured. However, if you pull your cash before the maturity date, you will usually pay a penalty, which might mean losing any interest earned. (There are some no-penalty CDs, but the interest rate is probably lower than you’d otherwise earn.)

Cash Management Account

A cash management account is an interest-bearing account that is usually offered not by a bank or credit union but by a brokerage firm, an investment firm, or a robo-advisor.

They are often well-suited for people who want accessibility plus safety. Though they are not held by banks, they may be insured by the FDIC via a partner bank. Not all are, so be sure to check if you are thinking of opening one.

Cash management accounts, sometimes referred to as CMAs, may provide many of the conveniences of traditional spending accounts. For instance, you may have access to a debit card, paper checks, and auto bill pay. Plus, they often have low or no fees.

Recommended: Checking vs Savings Accounts: All About the Differences

Speciality Savings Accounts

The types of savings accounts listed above can be great places to grow your emergency fund or save money for a downpayment on a house. But if you’re looking to save for a more specific or longer-term goal, such as retirement or a child’s future education, you may want to open a more specialized account.

Specialty savings types can be helped along by accounts that are designed to serve a specific financial goal. There are a variety of these accounts, and they can earn interest to help you grow your money, just like other savings accounts. Some of these accounts, however, are investment vehicles, which means they can yield higher returns over the long term, but may also involve some risk.

Among the most common specialty accounts are 529 college savings plans, 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts (IRAs), health savings accounts (HSAs), and custodial accounts for a child (so they can have money for education or other expenses when they turn 18).

Opening a specialty savings account can make sense if you have a singular purpose for saving money. You may want to keep in mind, however, that there may be restrictions on when and how you can withdraw those funds later. Some specialty accounts, such as IRAs, 529s and HSAs, have strict tax rules for making withdrawals.

The Takeaway

There are many different types of savings accounts, and the best option for you will likely depend on how and when you want to access your money.

You might like a traditional savings account if you want to bank in person. For better interest rates and lower fees, you might prefer an online high-yield savings account or, if you won’t need the money for a while, a CD.

For more specific savings goals, such as preparing for retirement, covering health expenses, or saving for your child’s education, you may want to open a specialty savings account in addition to a more liquid savings vehicle.

As you make your decision, see what SoFi offers. When you open a new bank account with direct deposit, you’ll earn an ultra competitive APY and you’ll pay no fees, both of which can help your money grow faster. Plus, you’ll spend and save in one place and have access to tools that help you organize your money, set savings goals, and save your change with Vaults and Roundups.

Better banking is here with up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.

FAQ

What type of account is best for savings?

There are different kinds of savings accounts that suit different goals and money styles. If you like banking in-person, a traditional bank might work fine. If you prefer the convenience of an online bank, you are likely to be rewarded with higher interest rates and lower fees. If you are saving for a specific goal, a specialty account might work best. For instance, a 529 account if you are stockpiling funds for a child’s future college tuition.

How do I choose a savings account?

Choosing a savings account depends on your needs and goals. If you are looking for an in-person banking relationship, a traditional savings account at a bricks-and-mortar bank could be best. If you want a high-yield account, low fees, and convenience, an online bank’s offerings might better suit your needs. If you’re able to keep your money in an account for a specific time period to earn a set interest rate, consider a certificate of deposit.

Is it better to have a savings account or invest?

This depends on your goals. Savings accounts offer a changing rate of interest, currently from a fraction of a percentage to, say, 2%, but the funds are insured. Investing your funds might earn you a higher return, but the market can be volatile, and your funds are not insured so there is the risk of loss.


1SoFi Bank is a member FDIC and does not provide more than $250,000 of FDIC insurance per legal category of account ownership, as described in the FDIC’s regulations. Any additional FDIC insurance is provided by banks in the SoFi Insured Deposit Program. Deposits may be insured up to $2M through participation in the program. See full terms at SoFi.com/banking/fdic/terms. See list of participating banks at SoFi.com/banking/fdic/receivingbanks.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2023 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
The SoFi Bank Debit Mastercard® is issued by SoFi Bank, N.A., pursuant to license by Mastercard International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.


SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a deposit to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.

SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.

SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.

Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 10/24/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at https://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.


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Building a Line Item Budget

A budget can be a terrific tool to help you understand how much money you have flowing in and out every month. It provides the guidelines and guardrails you may need to avoid overspending and hit your savings goals.

No one likes to feel broke or in debt, and setting up a simple line item budget is a time-tested way to take control of your money. If you’re sick of running out of money before the end of the month or watching your credit card debt climb, this guide to line item budgeting can help.

Read on to learn:

•   What is a line item budget?

•   What are the pros and cons of a line item budget?

•   What are examples of a line item budget?

•   How do you set up a line item budget?

What Is a Line Item Budget?

Depending on where you look, you’ll find a variety of budgeting insight and advice. Some tout the benefits of the 50/30/20 rule and others swear by the envelope method. These different budgets can offer flexibility and provide a solid structure for your budget.

However, if you’re looking for specific insights, it could be worth starting with a different approach that offers more granular detail into your expenses and spending habits — a line item budget.

Essentially, line item budgets function by grouping related costs together and creating a clearly organized flow of funds. They also track both income and expenses, giving a more complete and accurate financial picture.

What Is Considered a Line Item?

A line item budget at its core is a list of expected income streams and pre-planned expenses expected over a specific period of time. A line item is simply one of the items on that list.

For example, a line item budget that calculates income from a salaried job and a rental property, plus expenses for a cell phone, car insurance, and a music subscription, would have a total of five line items. A line item budget can have as few or as many line items as needed, and they’re often categorized by type to help keep the budget organized.

It may be helpful to know a bit about how these budgets can work in business, as background for creating your own line item budget. Say a business is creating a new advertising campaign. They might consider:

•   Projected expenses: How much they think the cost of creating and executing their advertising materials will cost in the future.

•   Previous actual expenses: This will show how much in the past their costs actually were for such endeavors.

•   Present-year expenses: This would track the actual expenses being incurred as they create their ads. This could be done week by week or month by month.

In this way, one can track expenses over time and see how spending is trending.

In personal line item budgeting, you will be able to use this technique in a similar way. In addition to focusing on day-to-day spending, saving, and keeping expenses in line, you can also use this sort of household budget to plan for the future and to save.

What Are the Advantages of Using a Line Item Budget?

If you are considering implementing a line item budget, consider these upsides.

Allocating Expenses Is Simple

One of the biggest pros of using this kind of budget is the ease with which they can be created. With just a few clicks on a spreadsheet, you can establish a basic structure and begin to fill in the data that needs to be recorded. And as priorities change, the budget can be changed just as easily to meet those new needs.

Interpreting the Budget Is Easy

Another major advantage of the line item approach: Making a budget this way isn’t only easy to do, it’s also easy to understand. Creating a basic list of categorized income and expenses doesn’t require any specialized accounting degree to decipher. With your phone’s calculator function, you’re good to go.

Planning Your Future Finances

It provides an easy to read, at-a-glance view of what to expect from your expenses in a week’s, month’s or year’s time. And specific amounts are clearly displayed on each individual line. Those looking for budgeting for beginners tips may want to consider a line item budget for these two benefits.

What Are Some Downsides to Line Item Budgets?

Next, it’s worthwhile to recognize the possible drawbacks of line item budgets.

Best for Steady Earners

Line item budgeting usually relies on fixed and steady income and expenses for accuracy. It can work well for managing predictable finances, but if a budget contains line items that fluctuate significantly, it may not balance properly. This can lead to inaccurate calculations.

For instance, a business budget with a line item for income from a candle company may be accurate if the same number of candles is sold each month. However, if the candles are sold during the holiday at a discount, the income would not match the preset number on the line budget, and the final calculations would be incorrect.

Typically Rigid

Another disadvantage of line item budgets is that they are rigid. It’s not uncommon to change spending habits throughout the year to fit changing needs, but those changes aren’t automatically reflected in a line item budget.

Spending adjustments may require extensive budget rewrites in order to accurately capture a new spending plan. With a line budget, any time financial goals change, it requires reviewing and adjusting everything line-by-line in order to stay current.

Requiring Detail

Unlike a budget such as the 50/30/20 rule, in which a person wrangles three big financial buckets (or spending categories), a line item budget does require rigorous accounting of specific expenses. This can be challenging for some people.

Now, in chart form, here are the pros and cons of line item budgets:

Pros of Line Item Budgets

Cons of Line Item Budgets

Simple to manageRequires detailed record-keeping
Easy to createRigid
Good for future planningBest for steady earners

Budgeting: Is It Worth It?

Budgeting can seem tedious. After a long day (or week) at work, the last thing you may want to do is spend time in front of a screen, plugging in data and recording how much you’ve spent.

But tracking your money can be a powerful exercise. Here are some reasons why budgeting can be worthwhile:

•   Tracking your spending can give you direct visibility into your habits and when you understand where your money is going, you can feel empowered to make adjustments.

•   Budgeting can be part of a good money mindset. Instead of thinking of budgeting as a series of spending restrictions, you could think of it as a tool you can use. It’s a technique that can give you the freedom to spend money on what is most important to you.

•   Setting money goals can provide a structure to help you build out your budget and plan for the future. So, whether you’re saving for retirement, planning a wedding, or jetting off on a trip overseas, having and sticking to a well-crafted budget can help you get there.

•   It’s also worth noting that your budget is a living document. It’s okay to make changes. As you adjust your goals or experience or experience changes in your income or lifestyle, you can (and should) make adjustments and changes to fit your new needs. Your life isn’t stagnant, and your budget shouldn’t be either.

Recommended: The 10 Most Common Budgeting Mistakes

Using a Line Item Budget for Personal Finance

Typically, line item budgets are used by small businesses to track their earnings and expenses and compare them from year to year. They lend well to financial analysis, allowing business owners to easily target areas of their business where they may potentially reduce costs — and where there might be room to grow the company.

While businesses typically have different needs than households, creating a line item budget can be helpful in personal finances, too.

Just as they give small businesses insight into opportunities to grow the business or reduce expenses, line item budgets can help manage your personal expenses. Outlining each source of income and expense can reveal personal spending habits and opportunities to reduce one’s cash outflow.

The specific insights you gather from a line item budget, as well as the changes you make, will ultimately depend on your personal goals and overall financial situation.

Deciding What to Include in a Line Item Budget

Deciding to create a line item budget is just the first step. Next, consider which categories are most important for you to include. A personal budget is just that — personal.

Everyone’s financial situation is different, so this list is not the end-all-be-all solution, but here are a few high-level categories you may want to consider.

Bills and Utilities

This category is fairly self explanatory — after all, everyone’s got bills to pay, right? Things worth listing in this category might include water and electricity bills; cable, internet, or phone bills; or any other monthly bill you have on your expense list.

Debt

If you have student loan payments, credit card bills, or other recurring debt payments, include them in your budget. That’s an important area to track.

Education

If you are currently attending school or have kids, you’ll likely want to consider including things like tuition and fees, the cost of books and other supplies, and any other expenses directly related to education costs.

Entertainment

This one is a little broader and can be highly customized depending on personal spending habits. Do you have subscriptions to streaming services? Do you buy lots of books?

Tickets to the movies, museums, or a concert could also be included in this category. Depending on your hobbies and interests, you may find you can expand this with additional detail.

Fees

Think of all the fees charged to your accounts. Late fee on a delayed credit card payment? ATM fees? Add ՚em here. You could add HOA fees and others to this category as well. If you pay an annual fee to your credit card issuer, that goes here as well.

Food

Depending on your eating habits, you could split this up even further in a line item budget into categories like groceries, snacks, and dining out.

Home

Think of things like your rent or mortgage as well as expenses for maintenance and upkeep of your home.

Income

You’ll probably want to include all sources of income, not just your regular 9 to 5. If you’re budgeting as a couple, you can include income for both partners.

Add income earned from having a side hustle or from passive income opportunities, too.

Investments

Add your contributions to all investment accounts including a 401(k), IRA, 529 accounts, or other brokerage accounts.

Medical

Expenses for medications, health, dental, or vision insurance, and co-pays can all be included under this category.

Personal Care

Things like toiletries, vitamins, and beauty supplies would fit into this category. Hair cuts, trips to the nail salon, and massages could be included as well. If desired, you could also include the cost of other self-care practices, like a subscription to a meditation app, gym membership, or exercise classes.

Savings

Money that you put into an emergency fund, vacation fund, or other form of savings should be accounted for in your line item budget, too.

Services

Do you pay for any regular services? You could include things like dry cleaning services, the cost of having a housekeeper, or the fee you pay your babysitter for a night out.

Shopping

Heading to the mall? Shopping expenses like clothing, toys, and even gifts for others, could be added here.

Taxes

If you’re a full-time employee, be sure to note the taxes being taken out of your paycheck. If you are a freelancer or independent contractor, note quarterly taxes in your line item budget.

Transportation and Auto

This is a catch-all category for things like your monthly metro pass, gas, car insurance, auto loan payment, and general maintenance of your vehicle (if you own one).

Travel

Add all costs associated with trips you take here. Things like hotels or lodging, air travel, taxis, travel insurance, and tickets and admission for excursions and seeing the sights.

If you’re road-tripping, you could include the cost of gas, tolls, and other car-related expenses for the trip here too. Also worth including is the cost of food while on the road.

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Putting Your Line-Item Budget Together

A list this long can seem overwhelming. Take it one step at a time, and, if needed, break the work up over a few days. For instance:

•   On day one, gather all of the relevant documents (tax returns, paychecks, credit card statements, etc) and create the skeleton of your line item budget.

•   On day two you could aim to make it through recording your income and investments, and maybe half of your expenses.

•   On day three you could finish adding data and add any finishing touches or edits.

After creating this line-item budget, you should have a bird’s-eye view of your spending habits. Take a close look at the information, and decide if you are happy with what you see. Now is the time to be honest with yourself and make the changes you feel are necessary. Do you want more money to put towards savings or paying down debt? See how you might alter the numbers as they currently exist for the months ahead.

Want to make cuts to your monthly expenses? Now you know exactly how much money is being spent in each category and where you could stand to hold back. Some ideas to mull over:

•   Can you negotiate a less expensive car insurance fee? Experiment with meal planning to see if you can be intentional about your food spending and potentially cut your grocery bill.

•   Try adjusting the thermostat setting while you’re asleep or away from your home to cut your energy bill.

•   Getting hit with fees on late payments? You might want to add an alert to your calendar or a monthly notification to your phone to remind you when payments are due. Another possible option is to enroll in autopay so you never miss a payment.

Payment history accounts for 35% of your credit score. So making payments on-time consistently could not only eliminate those pesky late fees from your budget but it could also potentially help improve your credit score in the long-term.

Recommended: 15 Causes of Overspending

Line Item Budget Example

A line item budget example can be as simple as using an Excel or Google Sheets spreadsheet. You could even make your own basic line item budget template, if you prefer.

At the top rows, income can be added, say, for a given month. Then, moving down the page, you can list out the various expenses you have.

That will allow you to see your income and cash that is flowing out. To the right of that column of numbers, you can have last month’s expenses, if you like. Some people find it helpful to put their projected income and spending vs. actual income and spending in the other vertical columns. Then they can assess if they are in debt or have excess funds.

You can customize the organization to best suit your needs.

Alternatives to a Line Item Budget

Though simple and intuitive in nature, line item budgets aren’t a perfect fit for everyone. However, there are many different budgeting methods to choose from to fit unique lifestyle needs. A few popular methods are:

50/30/20 Budget

Also known as a proportional budget, the 50/30/20 budget rule focuses on splitting income into three buckets — “needs,” “wants,” and savings. Instead of creating lists of expenditures, you instead commit to spending 50% of your income on things you need to spend on (housing, food, debt, and similar “musts”), 30% on things you want (dining out, travel, and so forth), and the remaining 20% is set aside for savings.

Because spending isn’t tracked on a granular level, spend tracking apps and services can be used to help avoid overspending in any one category.

Envelope Budgeting Method

The envelope method focuses on using physical envelopes and labeling each with a spending category such as food, bills, or entertainment. The envelopes are then filled with the maximum amount of money desired to be spent in each category, and spending throughout the month happens directly from those envelopes.

Once an envelope is empty, no more spending can be done in that category, unless taken from another. This method can be adapted to use a debit card vs. cash.

Zero-Based Budget

Similar to the line item budget, this approach takes account of all income and expenses. The difference is that with this budget, the goal is to make sure that every incoming dollar is allocated to either a saving or a spending purpose, and to leave nothing left over. Automating finances with services like automatic bill-pay and pre-scheduled bank transfers can help with managing this style of budgeting.

The Takeaway

Creating a line item budget can be useful when determining your spending habits. It’s a fairly simple, detailed, and well-organized way to track your earnings and spending, but it’s not always flexible. Also, if you don’t have your budget spreadsheet on hand, it could be more difficult to make changes or check-in while you’re busy living.

Enter SoFi’s Checking and Savings, an account that allows you to review your weekly spending in your dashboard within the SoFi app. With it, you can save, spend, and earn all in one convenient place, which can make staying on budget easier. What’s more, this online account pays a competitive annual percentage yield (APY) while charging no account fees, which can help your money grow faster.

Better banking is here with up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.

FAQ

What is an example of a line item budget?

A line item budget is a simple, organized way of listing income and spending in detail so you can keep things in balance and see how you are tracking over time. It can be easily made with a basic spreadsheet template.

What is the difference between a line item budget and a program budget?

Line item budgets and program budgets are frequently used in business. Typically, a line item budget will list out individual budget expenses, item by item. In a program budget, however, the spending tends to be grouped into smaller budgets for specific activities or programs. For instance, in a program budget, all the costs related to advertising a new service could be kept together, to show the expenses required to meet that goal.

How do I create a line item budget in Excel?

One simple way to make a line item budget in Excel is to create vertical columns for each month. Starting at the top of each month, you could list various sources of income. Then below that, you could break out, line by line, all of your expenses, such as food, housing, utilities, entertainment, clothing, dining out, travel, transportation, and so on, going down the page.

This can allow you to tally your earning, spending, and saving. As time passes, each vertical column can represent a month of the year. Some people like to enter and compare projected earning, spending, and saving vs. actual; it’s up to you if that suits your needs.


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SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a deposit to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.

SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.

SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.

Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 10/24/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at https://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.


Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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Can You Buy a Car with a Credit Card?

You can buy a car with a credit card in certain circumstances, or at least cover a portion of the purchase, such as the down payment. However, it’s likely not a good idea. That’s because you’ll face high credit card interest charges and potentially fees, and you’ll drive up your credit utilization (that is, if your credit limit is even high enough to cover a car purchase).

Before swiping your card for a new set of wheels, pause to ask yourself whether this is really the best way for you to purchase your vehicle. There are alternative options to help you purchase a car that may not cost you to the same extent.

Recommended: What is the Average Credit Card Limit?

What to Know About Buying a Car With a Credit Card

In short, the benefits of using a credit card to buy a car will likely outweigh the perks. That being said, it is possible to do — assuming you can find a dealership that will accept credit card payments for car purchases. Not all dealerships do, and many that do will tack on a fee for credit card payments.

Perhaps the biggest draw to buying a car with a credit card is the potential to earn rewards. You might also be able to take advantage of a promotional offer that features 0% interest for a limited period of time. But be sure to consider those perks against the risks. If you don’t pay off your full balance before interest kicks in, you’ll be paying at a high rate — much steeper than car loans, for instance. You also could do damage to your credit if you’re late on payments or if your automobile purchase eats up too much of your credit limit.

Recommended: How to Avoid Interest On a Credit Card

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Apply and get approved for the SoFi Credit Card. Then open a bank account with qualifying direct deposits. Some things are just better together.


Recommended: Apply for an Unlimited Cash Back Credit Card

Buying a Car With a Credit Card

If, after considering the drawbacks, you decide you want to use a credit card to buy a card, here’s a step-by-step look at how to do so.

1. See if the Dealership Takes Credit Card Purchases

You’ve decided how much you want to spend on a new car, and you’ve negotiated a fair price with a dealer. But before slapping down your plastic to purchase a new or used car, you’ll first need to check with your car dealership to verify that they accept credit card purchases. Additionally, you’ll need to find out which cards they accept and how much of the total purchase price they will allow you to charge.

If you go to a dealer that won’t accept credit card purchases, or that limits the amount, you’ll have to decide whether to pay another way or to go to another place that sells the car you want and allows credit card purchases.

2. Check Your Credit Limit To Determine if It’s High Enough

If you’ve selected a car at a dealership that takes credit card payments, your next step is to check your credit limit to determine whether it’s high enough to use one card. You may need to spread out the purchase across multiple cards.

If your combined limits aren’t enough, you could pay the difference with a cashier’s check and still reap some of the rewards available through credit card use. Or, you could ask your credit card companies to increase your credit limits.

3. Notify Your Credit Company

It makes sense to notify your credit card companies that you intend to use your credit cards to make a large purchase. If you don’t regularly make large purchases on your credit cards, the transaction might get flagged as potentially fraudulent and could get declined.

4. Get Strategic With Credit Card Rewards and Promos

At a car dealership that does let you pay for a car with a credit card — or at least a portion of it — you might consider using a card that offers credit card rewards. If you have cash to pay the charge before it starts accruing interest, you’re basically getting a no-interest, short-term loan while taking advantage of credit card perks.

Recommended: Apply for a Rewards Credit Card

5. Determine How You’ll Pay Off Your Balance in Time

Before handing over your credit card to buy a car, make sure you know how you’ll pay off your balance. Ideally, you’ll pay it off in full by the statement due date, so as to avoid accruing interest on what’s likely already a hefty charge. Or, if your credit card has a 0% introductory APR offer that you’re taking advantage of, determine how you’ll pay off the full balance before the standard interest rate kicks in and interest charges start accruing.

If you’re not sure you can pay off your car before interest kicks in, you might reconsider whether you realistically can use a credit card to buy a car. Instead, you might consider ways to save money on your car purchase, such as buying a high-mileage car or weighing the cost of leasing vs. buying a car.

Recommended: What is a Charge Card?

Why Some Car Dealers Don’t Accept Credit Cards

On the surface, it might seem odd that auto dealers wouldn’t accept credit cards. Afterall, they want to make a sale, right? Of course they do, but, like other merchants, auto dealers must pay credit card processing fees for each credit card transaction they make. These fees tend to be around 2%, and they can add up pretty quickly when you consider that cars can cost in the tens of thousands of dollars. By rejecting credit cards, dealers can save themselves the expense and hassle of paying these fees.

If a dealer that normally doesn’t allow credit card purchases makes an exception, expect them to tack on convenience fees of 2% to 4% to help them cover the cost of the transaction. Pay close attention to these fees because they may offset any benefit you might gain from using a rewards card.

How Much Will Buying a Car With a Credit Card Cost You?

The cost to buy a car with a credit card can exceed the vehicle’s sticker price. For one, it’s likely that you’ll see a convenience fee added to your bill. Some dealerships may have this already baked into their prices, but for others that don’t commonly accept credit cards, they’ll add it on themselves to cover their processing costs. Typically, convenience fees run anywhere from 2% to 4% of the purchase amount, which may be enough to offset any credit card rewards you’d earn.

Second, your costs could increase thanks to interest charges. If you buy a car with a credit card and then don’t immediately pay off the full statement balance, interest can start to accrue. Average credit card interest annual percentage rates (APRs) are around 16.44%. That can start adding up fast on a car purchase that’s likely in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Pros of Car Buying With a Credit Card

Under certain circumstances, using a credit card to buy a vehicle may be a strategy you’d consider, especially if you have enough money to pay off the balance in full when your statement comes. Here’s a look at the upsides to buying a car with a credit card.

Fast and Easy Way to Buy a Car

With a credit card, you’ll have a fast and easy way to purchase your car of choice. You can skip the hassle of filling out loan paperwork and waiting to find out if you’re approved.

Potential to Earn Rewards

By purchasing a car with a credit card, you may earn rewards — something you wouldn’t get if you simply used a cashier’s check to buy the car. But before you get too swept up in your purchase’s rewards potential, see if the amount you’ll earn in rewards will offset how much you may end up paying in fees or interest.

Take Advantage of a Zero-Interest Promo

You may have slightly longer to pay off your purchase if you use a no-interest credit card. Often, these 0% interest offers last for a certain period of time, usually anywhere from six to 21 months. In order to avoid interest payments, you must finish paying off your vehicle in that time period. Still, it offers a little leeway.

Keep in mind that this strategy may be riskier than paying off your full balance immediately though. If, for some reason, you can’t pay off the balance within the introductory no-interest period due to unforeseen circumstances, the card will revert to its regular rate, which may be quite high. Should that happen, the situation can go downhill from there. Some credit card companies will then charge the full interest rate on the entire purchase, not just on the remaining balance.

Recommended: When Are Credit Card Payments Due?

Cons of Car Buying With a Credit Card

In contrast to the few upsides, there are a number of major drawbacks to turning to your credit card to make a car purchase.

High Credit Card Interest Rates

The biggest reason not to buy a car with your credit card is that credit card interest rates are typically much higher than other available options. The average credit card APR is 16.44%. In contrast, the average interest rate for an auto loan to purchase a new car is close to 4%, while for used cars it’s over 8%.

Credit Card Fees

You also might get stuck with some costly fees by buying a car with a credit card. For starters, there’s the previously mentioned fee that the dealership will likely charge you for the convenience of using your credit card. Convenience fees typically run 2% to 4% of the purchase amount.

That’s not the only fee you might run into either. For example, let’s say that your strategy is to purchase a car on your current credit cards, then transfer the balance to a zero-interest credit card. Besides the challenges listed above, you may add balance transfer fees to the mix. These fees can be as high as 5%, which, on a $20,000 car, is $1,000.

Potential to Harm Your Credit Score

Another major downside of purchasing a car with a credit card is that it can majorly increase your credit utilization, which accounts for 30% of your FICO score. With the price of a car, it can be easy to push your credit utilization ratio way past the recommended 30%, which could translate to negative effects to your credit.

Further, if you miss payments or are late making them, that could lead to further damage to your credit score.

Recommended: Does Applying For a Credit Card Hurt Your Credit Score

No Addition to Your Credit Mix

Here’s something else to consider: Having different kinds of debt can actually help with your credit score. So using an installment loan, such as a traditional auto loan, to buy your car instead of a credit card may be helpful to your overall long-term financial situation. And if you have a good enough credit score to get approved for an auto loan with lower interest rates than the average credit card interest rate, you’ll come out ahead.

Other Options for Buying a Car

While technically you can pay for a car with a credit card, it might not be your best option. Here are a couple of alternatives to consider.

Auto Loan

If you decide to finance some or all or all of your auto purchase, you can apply for a car loan through the dealership or other lenders. Auto loans are typically secured loans that use the vehicle as collateral. So, if you fail to make payments, your lender has the option to repossess the vehicle to cover some of your debt.

Dealers are often able to get same-day financing approved, but there may be some pressure to buy while the salesperson takes advantage of your excitement. Banks and private lenders may take longer to approve an application, but sometimes offer better deals on terms or interest rates. Taking emotion out of the equation when buying a car will allow you to compare rates and terms to get the best deal for your financial situation.

Personal Loan

You may also want to consider buying a car with a personal loan, which is an unsecured loan that’s not backed by collateral. Personal loans can be used to cover many expenses, including the cost of buying a car. Because they are unsecured, interest rates on personal loans may be higher than other auto financing options, depending on the applicant’s creditworthiness.

The Takeaway

While you can buy a car with a credit card, you may not necessarily want to now that you’re aware of all of the potential pitfalls. But if you find a dealership that accepts credit card payments and you decide it’s the best path for you, make sure to take the necessary steps of checking in on your credit limit, alerting your credit card company, and making a plan for prompt repayment.

It might be better to select another option to cover your car purchase, and reserve your credit card for other spending. With the SoFi credit card, for example, you can earn generous cash-back rewards that you can then use to invest, save, or pay down eligible SoFi debt.

FAQ

Do car dealers accept credit cards?

It depends. Many dealers won’t accept credit cards due to the processing fees they’d incur, but some do. In those cases, dealers may pass the cost along to the consumer in the form of a convenience fee.

Can you use a credit card for a car down payment?

It’s more common for dealers to allow you to use a credit card to use a credit card to pay for a portion of your purchase, such as your down payment, as opposed to the entire car purchase. Still, some dealers won’t accept credit cards at all.

Is it better to pay for a car with a credit card or loan?

It’s likely better to use a loan to pay for a credit card. That’s because loans tend to have significantly lower interest rates than credit cards.


Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

SoFi cardholders earn 2% unlimited cash back rewards when redeemed to save, invest, a statement credit, or pay down eligible SoFi debt.

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Members earn 2 rewards points for every dollar spent on purchases. No rewards points will be earned with respect to reversed transactions, returned purchases, or other similar transactions. When you elect to redeem rewards points into your SoFi Checking or Savings account, SoFi Money® account, SoFi Active Invest account, SoFi Credit Card account, or SoFi Personal, Private Student, or Student Loan Refinance, your rewards points will redeem at a rate of 1 cent per every point. For more details, please visit the Rewards page. Brokerage and Active investing products offered through SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA/SIPC. SoFi Securities LLC is an affiliate of SoFi Bank, N.A.

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Pros and Cons of Car Refinancing

The average price of a new non-luxury vehicle topped $44,000 in July 2022, according to Kelley Blue Book. That number is dwarfed by the average for a luxury full-size SUV, at over $100,000.

With these prices, buying a new or used car usually involves getting an auto loan. And it’s no surprise that a big car payment can have a major impact on your monthly budget. If money is tight and your credit is excellent, you might be considering refinancing your auto loan.

We’ll discuss the pros and cons of refinancing an auto loan, as well as some alternative financing options you might not be aware of.

What Is a Car Refinance?

Refinancing a car loan essentially means applying for a new loan to pay off the balance on your existing auto loan. The goal is usually a lower interest rate or lower monthly payments. Some people who are unable to lower their rate can attempt to extend their repayment term in order to secure lower monthly payments.

Refinancing a car doesn’t automatically mean a lower interest rate or lower monthly payments. The rate you’re offered depends on your credit score and the lender. But if your credit history and debt-to-income ratio have improved since you took out your car loan, refinancing can potentially save you money. (If you need a refresher on auto loan lingo, this guide to auto loan basics can help.)

Discover real-time vehicle values with Auto Tracker.¹

Now you can instantly monitor vehicle prices in this unprecedented market—to help you make smart money moves.


Pros of Refinancing a Car Loan

There are a number of situations when it might make sense to refinance a car loan.

1.   Your credit score has improved since you took out your current loan, making it possible to qualify for a lower interest rate on a new loan. If your financial history hasn’t improved since you first got your car loan, or if your credit score has gone down, refinancing might not be for you.

2.   You’re looking to lower your monthly payments, either with an interest-rate reduction or a longer loan term. How much can you save? If your current loan has a term of four years, or 48 months, and a monthly payment of $500, refinancing with a six-year term (60 months) can lower your payments to about $375 — enough to make refinancing worth it for many people.

3.   You want to work with a new lender. Some lenders don’t have the best customer service. That can become a big issue if you have to make a claim. And if you financed your car through the dealership, or if your original lender sold your loan to a third party, you may be better off choosing your own lender and refinancing.

4.   You want to become debt-free faster. If your income has increased or you’ve freed up more money in your budget, you might consider putting more toward your car loan. In that case, you can refinance with a shorter loan term. Your monthly payment will be higher, but you’ll get out of debt faster and own your car outright.

Recommended: Common Uses for Personal Loans

Cons of Refinancing a Car Loan

If you’re deciding whether refinancing is right for you, here are some important caveats:

1.   Extending your loan term on its own doesn’t save you money. Extending the length of a car loan at the same rate will result in lower monthly payments but more interest paid over the life of the loan. For example, a $15,000 auto loan with an APR of 7.5% and five years (60 months) remaining will cost $18,034 in total. Extending that loan to a seven-year period (84 months) will cost $19,326 — a difference of $1,292.

2.   You don’t qualify for a lower interest rate. Refinancing a car loan doesn’t always mean a lower interest rate. If your credit score went down since you took out the loan, you may only be eligible for a higher rate than your current car loan.

3.   You have a balance under $5,000. Most lenders won’t refinance a car loan that has less than $5,000 remaining. For some lenders, the cutoff for refinancing is $7,500.

4.   You have less than two years on your loan. Given the fees and hassle involved in refinancing, it will be very difficult to save money if you have less than 24 months left on your loan.

5.   Your loan has prepayment penalties. Check your existing loan agreement for a “prepayment penalty” clause. If you find one, your current lender can charge you a fee for paying off your loan early — which might cancel out much of your savings.

Recommended: Types of Personal Loans

Alternatives to Car Refinancing

Balance-Transfer Credit Card

Many balance transfer credit cards don’t require interest payments for several months. This move is only worthwhile if the auto loan balance can be paid off during the interest-free time, which can range from six to 21 months.

Be aware that some major credit card issuers don’t allow balance transfers on a loan. And some balance transfers come with a fee of 3% to 5%, which can wipe out much or all of your interest savings.

Personal Loan

A personal loan can be used for almost anything: unexpected medical expenses, home repairs, and yes, paying off an auto loan. Many personal loans are unsecured, meaning they’re not backed by collateral. That makes personal loan interest rates generally lower than credit cards but higher than auto loans.

Personal loan requirements vary by lender. Lenders look at your credit score to help determine your interest rate. The lower your score, the higher your rate. Borrowers also need to show proof of income and employment.

Lenders also look at your debt-to-income ratio (DTI). That’s the ratio of your gross monthly income compared to your monthly debt payments. Lenders prefer a DTI of 36% or lower.

If your car loan balance is over $5,000 and you’re able to get a lower interest rate or change the payback term, a personal loan can be worthwhile. A personal loan calculator can help you decide.

The Takeaway

Although a car loan refinance isn’t for everyone, it may be a good choice for drivers looking to lower their interest rate or change the length of the loan. Some drivers extend their loan term to secure lower monthly payments, but this means they’ll pay more in interest over the life of the loan. Other drivers who want to get out of debt fast may want to shorten their loan term. This will save them money in interest but raise their monthly payments. In some circumstances, it might be worthwhile to pay off your auto loan with a balance-transfer credit card or a personal loan.

If a personal loan of $5,000 to $100,000 sounds like it could be a good fit, check out SoFi fixed-rate personal loans. They come with no fees required and with terms of up to seven years.

Check your rate in just 1 minute.

FAQ

What are the advantages of refinancing your car?

There are a few advantages to refinancing a car loan, though they won’t all apply to every person’s situation. First, if your credit score has improved since you took out the loan, you may qualify for a lower interest rate — and that can save you significant money. Second, even if you don’t get a lower interest rate, refinancing can extend the payback period, lowering your monthly payments. (Just know that you’ll pay more in interest over the life of the loan.) Third, if your income has increased, you might actually want to refinance with a shorter payback term, which may save you money on interest and make you debt-free sooner.

When should you refinance a car loan?

We’re sorry to put it this way, but it depends. Technically, you can refinance a car loan at any time. But typically, you’ll want to wait until your credit score improves to take full advantage of the benefits of refinancing. That can take between six and 12 months. (Also, some lenders won’t consider your application until they’ve seen six to 12 months of your payment history.) On the flip side, you won’t save much money if you have less than two years left on the loan. That’s because lenders charge most of their interest up front.

How soon can you refinance your car loan after purchase?

Although some lenders won’t consider a refinance application until at least six months have passed, you can probably find someone to approve a refinancing as soon as your car rolls off the lot. On the other hand, it’s in the driver’s best interest to wait six to 12 months before refinancing. That way, your credit score has time to improve, qualifying you for a better interest rate — or at least not a lower rate.

Photo credit: Stocksy/Peter Meciar


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¹SoFi Relay offers users the ability to connect both SoFi accounts and external accounts using Plaid, Inc’s service. Vehicle Identification Number is confirmed by LexisNexis and car values are provided by J.D. Power. Auto Tracker is provided on an “as-is, as-available” basis with all faults and defects, with no warranty, express or implied. The values shown on this page are a rough estimate based on your car’s year, make, and model, but don’t take into account things such as your mileage, accident history, or car condition.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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