Refinance Basics Advice & Articles
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Should you refinance your mortgage?

March 16, 2009

The average U.S. homeowner refinances his or her mortgage every four years. Sometimes it’s to take advantage of lower interest rates, but there are many other reasons to refinance. Are any of them right for you? Find out by seeing if you can answer “yes” to one or more of the following questions.

Are interest rates rising?
If you have an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) and expect interest rates to rise, you may want to switch to a fixed-rate loan. By locking in the interest rate, you won’t have to worry about your payments climbing in the future. On the other hand, if rates are rising and you have a fixed-rate mortgage, you’re in good shape. You may still have other reasons to refinance, but obtaining a lower rate isn’t one of them.

Is your monthly payment straining your budget?
You may want to consider refinancing to lower your monthly payment.
Even if rates are the same as when you obtained your current mortgage, you may want to refinance to extend the term of your loan if you’re having difficulty meeting your monthly payments. For example, assume you have a $200,000 mortgage at 6 percent for 30 years and have been paying $1,200 a month for seven years. Refinancing to a new 30-year loan at the same rate would lower your monthly payment to $1,075.

Is your ARM causing stress?
Perhaps you were attracted to an adjustable-rate mortgage because the initial rate and payments were lower than a fixed-rate loan. However, many ARMs are adjusted annually. That means if interest rates go up so too will your monthly payments. If you aren’t comfortable with this variance and would prefer the peace of mind of a consistent payment, consider refinancing to a fixed-rate loan or to another ARM with more favorable rate caps (limits on how much the interest rate can increase).

Has your credit rating improved?
When you applied for your mortgage, perhaps you had little credit history or maybe even a blemish or two on your borrowing record. Your credit score was a big factor when your lender determined the interest rate on your mortgage. If you had a low or mediocre score that has since improved, you may now be eligible for a better rate if you refinance.

Have you recently begun to earn a higher income?
Refinancing isn’t always about lowering your monthly payment. Maybe you’ve received a salary increase at work, or your spouse has recently returned to the workforce after staying home to raise a family. You may want to put that extra income towards your mortgage. Converting to a 15- instead of a 30-year amortization, for example, will pay it off much faster and save you tens of thousands of dollars in interest payments.

Has your home equity climbed above 20 percent?
If you obtained your mortgage with a down payment of less than 20 percent, chances are you incurred Private Mortgage Insurance. However, if rising house prices have increased the value of your house, your home equity may now exceed 20 percent. If this is the case, you have several options. First, you can ask your lender to cancel your PMI. To do this, you’ll need to get an appraisal to prove that your home’s value has increased and that you have exceeded 20 percent equity. However, if you can’t persuade your lender to drop the mortgage insurance, you might want to consider the refinancing. If your new mortgage is for at least 80 percent of your home’s appraised value, you’ll avoid paying PMI and could save $100 a month or more.

Do you need to consolidate debt?
If you have built up considerable equity in your home, but you’re mired in other debt, consider cash-out refinancing. That involves getting a new mortgage for a larger amount than you currently owe. For example, if your home is worth $285,000 and your outstanding principal is currently at $185,000, you have $100,000 in equity. By refinancing to a new mortgage with a principal of $215,000, you can free up $30,000 to pay down high-interest credit card or other debt. You’ll save money if your new mortgage has a lower rate than the other loans, and you’ll have the added convenience of only having to make a single monthly payment.

Do you need money for a major expense?
Cash-out refinancing isn’t just for consolidating debt. If you have available equity in your home, it may enable you to undertake some major home improvements, or to free up money for your children’s education. If you do plan on taking cash-out, it's important to be realistic about your future goals. Remember that taking cash out will increase the principal you owe on your home. This may impact you when you go to sell your home.

Remember, refinancing doesn’t come without a price: closing costs will eat into your savings at first, so the longer you plan to stay in your home, the more you’ll benefit. Before considering refinancing, use the LendingTree refinance calculator to help determine your break-even point.



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