UPDATED MAY 19, 2022
Learn about common refinancing industry terms
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Welcome to Caribou's auto refinance glossary. Here we define some of the most common words and phrases used throughout the auto loan refinancing processes.
When it comes to refinancing there are a lot of finance-related terms, acronyms, and calculations, so remembering what everything means can sometimes be tricky. Acronyms like VIN, LTV, APR, and GAP can leave you wondering what word fits with each letter. And a basic understanding of other terms like credit report, hard and soft credit pulls, prequalification, and equity are critical.
So, if you are new to vehicle refinancing, this is a great place to start! If you consider yourself an auto expert, on the other hand, simply use this as a quick review or as a resource to share with others.
Auto loans are loans taken out by customers to purchase a vehicle. A customer may also take out an auto loan to refinance an existing loan secured by their vehicle. Since a car, truck, or SUV can have such a high price point, you may not have enough cash on hand to purchase the vehicle in full. Instead, you can take out an auto loan on your new or used car, drive it home from the dealer, and then pay off your vehicle over a set period of time using monthly payments.
A loan’s term, interest rate, and other details factor into the total cost of the loan. The auto is secured by the vehicle. If the customer defaults on the loan, the lender can repossess the vehicle to satisfy the loan. If the lender does not sell the vehicle at a high enough price to pay off the loan, the customer is generally required to pay the difference.
An auto loan lender is the financial institution that lends a customer the funds to purchase or refinance their car, SUV, or truck. There are different types of loan providers including credit unions, banks, and finance companies. The majority of car dealerships offer in-house lending, work with a variety of lenders, and will resell the loan contract to a third-party lending institution.
The annual percentage rate (APR) is the total yearly cost of borrowing money. APR is expressed as a percentage and includes the fees charged for the extension of credit. When comparing your APR to your interest rate, the lender's cost of credit, your APR will typically be a higher percentage rate. This is because the fees charged for the extension of credit are factored in. Learn about APR versus interest rates.
Amortization refers to the amount of principal and interest you will pay each month over the life of your loan. The simple interest format is generally used for car loans where the borrower pays a finance charge on the unpaid balance. As the balance goes down, the finance charge each month also goes down. As the interest decreases over the life of the loan, more of the monthly payment will then go towards paying off the principal amount.
Thinking about refinancing your car? Caribou provides a fast and easy way for you to see refinance quotes. Pre-quality in minutes with rates as low as 5.99% APR**. Check to see if you can save on your car payments.
A bank is a financial institution that offers a variety of financial products, loans, and services. As a client or patron of a bank, you can cash checks, exchange large bills, open a checking account, or set up a savings account. Banks are for-profit institutions, meaning revenues are sent to the investors. Banks offer auto financing services and are often compared to credit unions.
Blue book value refers to the Kelley Blue Book® (KBB) valuation of a new or used vehicle. For newer vehicles or dealer-purchased used vehicles, KBB provides an expected price point you may see at a car dealership. Private party or privately sold vehicles are usually valued at a lower price point. KBB values can show valuations based on certain factors like who is selling the car (such as private party versus a dealership), mileage, vehicle trim, and location.
When checking used vehicle KBB values, keep in mind KBB bases their valuation on how the vehicle’s mileage compares to average miles driven per year for all vehicles of that vehicle type. If a vehicle has more mileage than average, it will likely have a lower value since KBB bases the value on the total mileage. Some banks and lenders use KBB data for finance-related vehicle values. Alternatively, other banks and lenders may use National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) valuation data.
A borrower is a person who borrows money from an auto loan lender to purchase a new or used vehicle or to refinance their car loan. A borrower must go through the loan underwriting process meaning they must apply for an auto loan, undergo a credit check, and meet the underwriting guidelines set forth by the lender, which considers things like the borrower's income and total debts.
Brokers, or more specifically “auto loan brokers,” help borrowers find the most competitive auto loan deals by comparing different lenders and their lending rates. Using a brokerage service is an optional choice if you do not want to shop for and compare loan options on your own or use a marketplace. If you use a broker to find an auto loan, they can act on your behalf in a variety of roles such as an agent, middleman, or intermediary, and they usually take a commission after the auto loan is finalized.
A captive lender is a finance company within an auto manufacturer’s financial services branch. These lenders facilitate the sale of the manufacturer's vehicles by providing rebates, promotions, and incentives for buying the automaker’s vehicle brand lines.
A co-borrower is a secondary party who is also liable for the repayment under the terms of the loan agreement with the primary borrower. Typically, this is a relative, husband or wife, partner, or friend.
A counteroffer is one of the three responses from the underwriting decision. During the underwriting process, the lender will assess your creditworthiness and verify your income. If the lender determines that you don't qualify for the loan for which you originally applied, the lender may make a counteroffer letting you know that you are approved for a loan with different rates and/or terms. For instance, you may be offered a loan with a longer term with lower monthly payments which, combined with your other monthly debt payment obligations, now places you within underwriting guidelines for monthly debt to income.
A credit pull is an inquiry into your credit report and history. Credit pulls can only be performed by authorized parties. Authorized parties include lenders who are evaluating an applicant's credit application or an employer that requires employees to demonstrate fiscal responsibility. When a “pull” is completed, information about credit and loan balances, and payment history is provided to the requester. There are two different types of credit pulls including hard and soft.
Hard credit pulls check a borrower’s suitability for a loan. This type of pull occurs prior to issuing a new line of credit during the refinancing pre-approval process. At this point, the borrower has already selected a rate with a lender and is applying for approval. Hard pulls can affect borrowers’ credit scores since they are actively applying for a new line of credit.
Soft credit pulls check a borrower’s credit history along with other factors like how many times they have borrowed money. Unlike a hard credit pull, a soft credit pull does not affect credit scores. Soft pulls are used in both financing and refinancing processes during pre-qualification and when determining finance suitability.
A credit report is a record of your credit history which normally spans 7 to 10 years. This report shows information related to bank accounts, loans, bankruptcies, and personal liabilities. The information in a credit report is used to calculate a borrower’s credit score, which helps determine whether or not someone will be able to meet financial obligations.
A FICO score, for example, is a factor in determining credit worthiness but doesn't solely make the determination around issuing a loan. Lenders ultimately make the determination to extend a new line of credit. In the United States, the three main credit reporting entities are Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.
A credit union is a type of financial institution that offers auto loan services similar to a bank. Typically, you need to be a member of the credit union to utilize its services. Members can join a credit union by opening a savings or checking account. Members can also take out auto loans and mortgages. Credit unions are not for-profit, meaning members share in ownership by opening accounts and depositing funds with the institution.
A creditor extends lines of credit which enable the borrowing of funds. Individuals, businesses, or other entities can apply to borrow money. These borrowers are subject to the associated terms and have to repay the borrowed amount to the creditor over a set term along with interest and other fees.
Manufacturers offer rebates through dealers as common incentives for buying a specific vehicle type or model. Qualifying for a rebate may have conditions such as financing through a manufacturer's captive lender. Captive lenders are the manufacturer's financial service affiliates. Examples include GM Financial, Ford Motor Credit, and Toyota Financial Services. Taking advantage of rebate incentives usually require that car buyers make a predetermined number of payments, like 3 to 6, in order to qualify to receive the benefit.
The declaration is the front section or page(s) of your car insurance policy that includes your personal information like name and address, as well as details about your insured property like its description, storage location (if any), policy term, and coverage inclusions.
Depreciation is the allocation of an asset's value over its useful life, i.e. splitting up how much something is worth over how long it would be used for. For example, a car’s value will normally depreciate the older it gets and as the mileage increases.
Equity is a person's ownership interest in a vehicle and is calculated by finding the difference between the amount you still owe on your auto loan and the amount your vehicle is worth if you were to sell it. As you pay off your auto loan, you decrease the amount of the loan, thus building equity.
Positive equity means your vehicle is worth more than the loan’s remaining value. Whereas negative equity means you owe more on the vehicle loan that your car is worth. Having negative equity in a vehicle is also referred to as being “underwater.” A vehicle’s value can be affected by factors like inflation since inflation can drive vehicle prices up while the loan value remains the same. In this case, inflation can lead to an increase in value since the dollar is worth less.
Equifax is a credit reporting agency. Equifax collects and maintains credit data and records on people who have borrowed money and maintains a record of a person’s outstanding debts. In the United States, the other two main credit reporting entities are Experian and TransUnion.
Experian is a credit reporting agency. They provide credit analysis data, records, and profiles related to how much money someone has borrowed, as well as outstanding debts. Lenders can use this credit reporting information to help measure lending risk. In the United States, the other two main credit reporting entities are TransUnion and Equifax.
A vehicle financing contract is an agreement between a car buyer and dealership to pay back the financed amount over a period of time. The contract includes the base amount, or principal, plus any interest. The term of a financing contract is the lender-specified duration of the repayment time frame in months like 36, 48, or 72.
Finance managers at car dealerships handle the processes, forms, and contracts necessary when purchasing a vehicle. The finance manager’s duties include checking buyers’ credit scores, performing title work, and completing lending applications. They also provide information about add-on products and options like warranties.
Sales representatives, who you first interact with when viewing cars at the car dealership, normally introduce you to the finance manager towards the end of the car buying journey. The finance manager works with you to finalize the vehicle purchasing process. They verify and provide titling information as well as go over financing options.
FICO® scores are used to calculate the risk of lending a borrower money. These scores are used by lenders when evaluating new lending opportunities against potential borrowers. Like credit scores, FICO® scores are based on credit risk modeling. This means the higher the score’s number, the lower the risk and less the chance of payment issues, default, or other negligent and late payments. Having a higher score can lead to lower interest rate offers during the refinance process.
These scores are measured in brackets provided by the Fair Isaac Corporation like poor (under 580), fair (580 to 669), good (670 to 739), very good (740 to 799), and exceptional (over 800). Available credit limits, funds in bank accounts, and debts all factor into the score.
Guaranteed Asset Protection, or GAP, is an additional product you can purchase when you finance or refinance an auto loan. When you take out a car loan, you are required to repay the loan in full. This obligation remains if your car is damaged, “totaled”, or stolen. You may therefore have to pay out of pocket if the insurance claim proceeds do not cover the remaining balance of the loan. With GAP, the lender will waive any balance on the loan remaining after the insurance proceeds are applied to the loan. Learn more about GAP.
A lender’s headline interest rate is their most competitive interest rate, and is typically seen listed in a lender's promotions, advertisements, and pre-application submission listings. This rate is often accompanied by a disclaimer. To qualify for the rate, the borrower must have a high FICO® score and otherwise demonstrate creditworthiness. The lowest rate may also be available only for loans with the shortest term on new model vehicles. Thus, not everyone will qualify to receive it.
The interest rate of a loan is calculated based on the principal balance and is the amount a lender charges for borrowing money. It is a percentage and is based on factors like loan term, borrower credit score, and lending risk. Valuation ratios like loan-to-value (LTV) and debt-to-income (DTI) can affect interest rates. See how interest rate compares to APR.
If you do not pay your monthly car payment by the due date, your payment is considered late. Luckily, some lenders offer a grace period where you can submit late payments within a week or two of their due date. The payment is still considered past due until the customer makes the payment. During the grace period, the lender will not assess late charges or fees, but the account is still delinquent.
You are in default when the payment is missed. After 30 days, you will likely be reported as 30 days late on your credit bureau report and depending on the terms of the loan, may incur late fees. Arranging for automatic payments through your lender, your bank or a payment app can help you avoid late payments by completing them on time.
Leasing a car is an alternative to purchasing a vehicle if you do not want to build up vehicle equity. In a lease transaction, typically the manufacturer or its finance arm owns the vehicle. You make monthly lease payments rather than loan payments to the manufacturer's finance company subsidiary.
Allowed mileage is specified by the lease contract and set to a number like 2,000 miles a year. The dealership normally takes care of the vehicle's preventive maintenance and you return the car when the lease is up. Generally, only manufacturers lease vehicles. Banks, credit unions, and finance companies do not lease vehicles.
A lender is a financial institution that extends credit to someone who is in need of funds to purchase something, for example to purchase a car. Banks and credit unions are examples of lenders. Since banks take deposits, they are also usually insured member Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). During dealer financing, dealers act as the originator by making loans to customers and either keeping the loan or reselling it.
A vehicle lien is a security interest in a vehicle. Typically in a vehicle loan agreement the borrower agrees to repay the loan according to the terms of the loan agreement and also grants the lender a security interest in the vehicle. If the borrower defaults on the loan, the security interest or lien gives the lender the right to repossess the vehicle and sell it to pay the loan. The lien remains on the vehicle until the borrower repays the loan in full. After the borrower repays the loan, the lender releases the lien. The borrower then owns the vehicle "free and clear" of the lien.
The loan agreement outlines the terms, rates, and costs associated with the loan. The borrower and lender sign the agreement. E-signatures are usually acceptable.
In the auto finance industry loan-to-value ratio, or LTV, is a ratio found by dividing the amount of the loan by the value of the vehicle. The more equity you have in your vehicle, or lower LTV, the lower your credit risk to a potential lender. LTV is used to determine your equity in your vehicle. For example, if you purchased a Honda Civic sedan for $20,000 USD with a down payment of $3,000 and financed $17,000, your LTV is calculated by dividing the $17,000 loan by $20,000 value, so the LTV is around 85%.
Loan officers, sometimes called loan representatives, assist prospective borrowers to navigate the entirety of the auto refinance process, from the loan application process to submission. Loan officers typically communicate with potential borrowers through phone calls and can finish compiling any additional details needed to process an application, answer any further questions, and will ultimately walk you through next steps in the process.
Work with experienced loan officers at Caribou! Our team is dedicated to helping you find the most competitive auto refinance rates while meeting your specific needs. Our customers save an average of $115/month* on their car payments with rates as low as 5.99% APR**.
A loan application package is a set of informational documents that contain all forms a borrower needs to apply for a line of credit. These forms include details about the loan, terms, interest rates, and other pertinent information. To complete the package for auto refinancing, borrowers often need personal documents like a driver’s license or passport, proof of income like a W2 or pay stubs, and vehicle information like the current registration and license plate.
The retail price of a vehicle is most commonly referred to as MSRP, or the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. This is a baseline price set to help establish a vehicle’s value while also helping car dealerships determine how much they should sell the new car for. The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) also takes into account MSRP when setting new vehicle list prices.
A lending marketplace helps connect you with multiple lenders. It enables you to compare many different lenders and car loan interest rates. This helps you find the option that is right for you and accept the offered loan from the lender you choose. See how marketplaces compare to auto loan brokers.
A car loan payment is considered a missed payment when the monthly car payment is not made on time. Missed payments can be reported to credit bureaus after 30 days and can impact your credit score negatively.
The mileage of a vehicle is represented by a numerical amount and recorded by a vehicle's odometer. It accounts for all miles driven since the vehicle was made. This mileage of a vehicle is necessary to have when financing and refinancing since lenders typically only issue loans for vehicles under a specific number of miles, like 120,000 miles.
When refinancing older cars or cars with higher mileage through Caribou, you may be able to refinance even with mileage as high as 200,000 miles. We work to find you the right lender when the miles are flying by.
Motor Vehicle Reports, or MVR, are maintained by the state’s department of motor vehicles (DMV). The report contains the driver’s history including accidents and violations. Insurance companies can use this report to verify information during the auto insurance application process.
NADA value is another way to value a vehicle during the finance process. NADA stands for the National Automobile Dealers Association. Like KBB values, NADA values represent the expected retail MSRP, trade-in, and private party prices for new and used vehicles. Lenders can use this information to help determine financing or refinancing ratios of car value versus a borrower's income and associated risk.
A payment is the set price a borrower must pay to a lender in monthly increments in order to pay off their auto loan. This payment contains a portion of the loan’s interest and principal amount. Interest is calculated each month using the outstanding principal amount. At the beginning of the loan term, interest is a higher percentage of the payment than at the end of the loan term. Because of this, interest is typically considered to be "front-loaded."
A power of attorney, or POA, is a legal document that allows others, including financial institutions, to act on your behalf. In an auto financing transaction, the lender or their agent may ask you to sign a limited power attorney. This power of attorney is generally limited to the processing transactions with the Department of Motor Vehicles or Secretary of State to perfect the lender's lien on the vehicle.
Pre-qualification during the lending process happens when lenders assess your basic personal information, like your credit score and stated income, in order to determine whether or not you meet preliminary criteria that allows you to move forward in the process. This pre-qualification process involves a soft credit pull, which does not hurt your credit.
At the pre-qualification stage, lending institutions are likely to offer loan rates at or near a particular rate. Being pre-qualified for a loan does not mean that your loan is approved. The lender will require additional information and documentation in order to make an underwriting decision. The underwriting decision can be approval, denial, or counteroffer.
An auto loan’s principal is the base dollar amount for the loan. It represents the total amount of money borrowed from a lender, thus the amount you owe back. The total principal owed is lowered over time as you make monthly car payments. Amortization plays a role here as the amount paid toward interest decreases over the life of the loan whereas the amount paid toward the principal increases over the life of the loan. Your interest rate is determined using the principal amount.
A private party is an individual vehicle owner who chooses to sell their car, truck, or SUV directly to another individual without involving a dealership. The private party must have the vehicle’s title in hand physically at the time of sale in order to sign the vehicle over to the buyer. If there is a lien on the vehicle, the private party must arrange to pay off any remaining balance of the lien and transfer the title.
Refinancing a car is similar to refinancing a house or mortgage. The process of refinancing, also called “refi” for short, is when you apply for a new auto loan to replace your current auto loan. The refinance process allows borrowers to negotiate more favorable terms and select a new interest rate when the proceeds from the new loan are used to pay off the existing loan.
A vehicle’s registration is an official document issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles, or DMV, that proves a vehicle is registered in a specific state. In order to legally drive on the roads in the United States, all cars, trucks, and SUVs vehicles must be registered. As part of the annual registration process, applicable taxes and fees based on the type of vehicle must be paid.
When a vehicle is first registered, a set of license plates that show a series of numbers and letters are issued. These plates are attached to the vehicle's DMV record with an expiration sticker that displays the registration term. When the registration is updated each year, a new expiration sticker is mailed to the associated address. You need to replace the old, expired sticker on the rear license plate with the new one.
The remaining loan value, also referred to as the remaining loan balance, is the total amount a borrower has left in order to fully pay off their loan. It is calculated by taking the original loan value minus any monthly payments made against the loan’s principal. It is important to note that this does not include paid interest. Since the remaining loan value is the amount you will need to finance through a new lender it is imperative to know and understand it if you are considering refinancing.
Security interest is a way lenders and creditors secure the loaned funds. In relation to a car loan, the vehicle’s value acts as security interest. If the customer goes into default on their loan payments, the lender or creditor can repossess the vehicle to recoup some or all of the outstanding loan amount.
A term is the total length of a loan and is measured in a number of months. The most common loan terms are 36, 48, 60, and 72 months. You will need to make monthly auto loan payments for the entire term of the loan.
A vehicle’s title is an official document that proves who owns the vehicle and is issued by your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, or DMV. Titles can have various statuses such as branded or salvage. Branded or salvage titles indicate the vehicle was written off as a loss for insurance purposes and is probably rebuilt or significantly repaired if it is still drivable.
A “clean” title indicates the vehicle is in good operating order and free of all other statuses. If you financed your vehicle, there is most likely a lien placed on your title, which indicates there is outstanding debt related to your vehicle and you own the vehicle subject to the lender's lien. A “clear” title indicates there are no financial-related debts or outstanding liabilities related to the vehicle.
A total loss relates to property that has been damaged to the point that it no longer makes financial sense to fix or repair it, and it is deemed a complete loss. When a vehicle is determined to be a total loss, the insurance adjuster would determine the actual cash value of the vehicle to be used as the payout (minus your deductible).
The trade-in value of a vehicle is the offer price you can expect to receive at a car dealership when selling a used car as part of the down payment on a new car. Selling the vehicle outright at a dealer is an alternative to trading-in the vehicle if the seller does not want to purchase another car.
Trade-in values are calculated by taking your vehicle’s year, make, model, condition, options modifications, mileage, and various other details into consideration. This value is usually lower than other used vehicle values, like private party resale values, because the dealership plans to resell the vehicle and will need to sell the car for more than the dealer paid the seller in order to make money on the transaction.
TransUnion is a credit reporting agency. They collect and maintain credit data records on people who have borrowed money and have outstanding debts. In the United States, the three main credit reporting entities are Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.
The Truth in Lending Act, or TILA, is an extremely important federal law when it comes to financing a vehicle. This act protects consumer rights and sets forth that lenders must provide loan information, issue certain disclosures, and notify customers of credit terms. Using the information provided under this act, vehicle owners can compare lending offers.
The vehicle identification number, more commonly referred to as VIN, is a unique series of letters and numbers used to identify a specific vehicle. The VIN number identifies the make, model, engine size, manufacturer, place of assembly, and serial number. The VIN is visible on several areas of a vehicle such as on the VIN plate located at the bottom of the driver’s side windshield, on a placard inside the driver’s side front door frame, on the frame of the vehicle, and on its main engine components.
A vehicle’s make is the manufacturer of the vehicle. Several examples of manufacturers are Chrysler, Ford, Honda, Jeep, and Toyota. You will need to supply the make of your vehicle during auto financing and refinancing processes. You can also search for savings by vehicle.
A vehicle model is the specific product line within the vehicle’s make. Several examples of models are Pacifica, Bronco, Civic, Rubicon, and 4Runner. The model must be listed in your financing or refinancing process documents. Trim packages are also associated with the specific model.
A vehicle’s options are the features and add-ons that are outside of the base model and trim features. These options can include items like heated seats, remote start capability, alloy wheels, performance packages, towing packages, and more.
The trim package on a vehicle refers to a specific set of standardized options and features. For example, the Ford Explorer comes in the trim levels of Explorer, which is the base level, XLT, Limited, ST, and Platinum. Each trim level has its own individual set of interior features, technical enhancements, engine specifications, and powertrain upgrades. Referencing your trim package along with your model is important for finance and refinance options.
Vehicle service contracts, or VSCs, are a type of plan which pays for costly repairs and gets your vehicle back on the road. VSC coverage starts when the car’s factory warranty ends. These plans mitigate the impact of unexpected car expenses and are classified as additional repair products. Modern vehicles have a lot of advanced technology including cameras, sensors, and computers, which can have a tendency to fail more frequently than mechanical components. VSCs help drivers pay for the costly repairs if these components fail.
A warranty is a plan offered by the manufacturer that helps you fix your vehicle and is either included from the manufacturer for new vehicles or included with certified pre-owned (CPO) used vehicles. A vehicle’s warranty provides repair and replacement assistance if vehicle parts break or if features malfunction, and are typically based on either timeframe or mileage limits, such as 5 years or 120,000 miles.
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* This information is estimated based on consumers whose auto refinance loan funded through Caribou between 11/1/2022 and 9/1/2023, and had an existing auto loan on their credit report. These borrowers saved an average of $115.58 per month. Refinance savings may result from a lower interest rate, longer term, or both. There is no guarantee of savings. Your actual savings, if any, may vary based on interest rates, the repayment term, the amount financed, and other factors.
+ To check the refinance rates and terms you qualify for, we conduct a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a loan product and continue your application, we or one of our lending partners will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.
++ Social security number is required should you choose to move forward in the loan application process.
** APR is the Annual Percentage Rate. Your actual APR may be different. Your APR is based on multiple factors including your credit profile and the loan to value of the vehicle. APR ranges from 5.99% to 28.55% and is determined at the time of application. Lowest APR is available for a 36 month term, to borrowers with excellent credit. Conditions apply. Advertised rates and fees are valid as of 11/16/23 and are subject to change without notice.
Terms and Conditions apply. Caribou reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Participating lenders, rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. The information you provide to us is an inquiry to determine whether our lenders can make you a loan offer. If any of our lending partners has an available loan offer for you, you will be invited to submit a loan application to the lender for its review. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. We do not guarantee that you will receive any loan offers or that your loan application will be approved. If approved, your actual rate will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, income and other factors. Offers not available in MD, MS, NE, NV, WV.