How to Properly Compare Refinance Offers
Once you’ve decided that refinancing your mortgage makes sense for your situation, you need to shop around so you can compare offers and perform a detailed break-even analysis.
The break-even point
In the end, deciding whether the cost of refinancing is worth it comes down to a simple question: “How long will it take before I start to save money?” In theory, this is a simple calculation. You start with the amount you will save by lowering your monthly payment. Then you add up all the costs associated with refinancing and divide the total by your monthly savings. This will reveal the number of months it will take to reach the break-even point.
For example, let’s assume that refinancing would lower your payment from $1,000 to $800 (for a savings of $200 per month) and your prepayment penalty, closing costs and points add up to $5,000. Divide $5,000 by $200 and you’ll see that it would take 25 months to realize the savings.
In reality, however, your break-even point also depends on other factors, including your tax situation and whether you pay closing costs upfront or add them to the principal of your new mortgage. If you are refinancing and your home has appreciated in value, you may also be able to save by canceling your private mortgage insurance.
Use our refinance calculator to determine how long it will take to reach your break-even point.
One of the first things you should look at when comparing refinance offers is the interest rate. Even a slight difference in interest rates can mean a lot of money over the life of a loan. Make sure you understand if the rate offered includes discount points, which is money you pay up front to lower your interest rate.
But the interest rate isn’t the only rate to look for. Another good benchmark for comparing offers is their annual percentage rate (APR). This figure combines the interest costs and other fees charged by a lender over the life of the loan, and expresses them as a yearly percentage. Make sure to ask for an itemized list of what’s included in each APR calculation, so you know you’re making a fair comparison, as some lenders don’t include all of their fees in the calculation.
Other details matter too: Do the lock in terms vary? Is there a pre-payment penalty? What are all the closing costs and fees? Ask for a read a Good Faith Estimate (GFE) for each loan, and ask questions if something doesn’t make sense.