Thanks to all-time-low interest rates, the number of homeowners refinancing their mortgages is at an all-time high. Of course, no one should refinance just because everyone else is doing it. But, for many homeowners, the benefits are simply too hard to ignore any longer.
Save money each month. According to Freddie Mac (The country’s largest purchaser of home mortgages), the average homeowner who refinances is able to cut their monthly payment by $108 (almost $1,300 per year) for a $200,000 loan.
Save even more in the long run. If you currently have a 30-year mortgage, refinancing with a 15-year version can save you thousands of dollars in interests over the life of the loan, plus allow you to build equity in your home faster than ever.
Switch to a fixed-rate mortgage. Refinancing with a fixed-rate mortgage gives you the security of knowing that your monthly payment will remain steady, regardless of whether lending rates rise or fall in the years ahead.
Access emergency funds. Something the mortgage industry calls “cash-out refinancing” allows you to take out a new mortgage for more than your current principal balance and use the additional money for other expenses (remodeling, college, a major medical procedure, etc.). Of course, this option should only be considered if you have a real need for the money and a solid plan for paying it back.
Consolidate debt. While consolidating credit card debt under a home loan may not be wise (unless you have a plan for controlling any additional spending), refinancing to consolidate two mortgages at these record-low rates can provide significant savings in both cases.
Things to consider beforehand:
Before moving ahead with a refinance of your own, a number of factors need to be considered (and numbers crunched) before you can determine how much you’ll actually benefit and if you can qualify for the best rates:
Closing costs. The fees associated with refinancing your mortgage are called “closing costs” and generally add up to somewhere between three and six percent of your loan amount (between $7,500 and $15,000 for a $250,000 mortgage refinancing). While there are ways to lower some of those costs, you’ll still want to weigh those expenses against how much you stand to gain.
For example, let’s say you figure you’ll be able to save $100 per month by refinancing, and you’ve calculated the closing costs at about $10,000. That means you’ll need to continue living in the house for at least eight more years before the savings surpass the closing costs. In the mortgage industry, this is referred to as the break-even point; and the longer you continue living in the house beyond the break-even point, the more money you’ll save.
Your credit score. It depends on the circumstances, but most borrowers will need a credit score of 700 or higher to get access to the best rates and closing costs. To determine your score, get a copy of your credit report from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. (Why all three? Because, if there’s any difference, most banks will use the lowest score.)
Your current level of home equity. To qualify for refinancing, your current level of “equity” (the difference between the market value of your home and the balance of your current mortgage) typically must be 20 percent or more. That means, if the market value of your home is $250,000, the remaining balance on your loan would have to be $200,000 or less.
Pre-payment penalty. Check to see if your current mortgage includes a pre-payment penalty for refinancing. That would likely make refinancing too expensive even at these record-low rates.
The importance of timing
Mortgage rates have sustained record lows over the last few years, and they will likely stay relatively low for the next few years. However, even a small increase can make a drastic change in the amount of money you will pay over the duration of your loan. Getting the lowest rate you can, will benefit your finances over the long-term.
Getting the process started is easy. Begin by checking your equity and credit score, then crunch the numbers using one of the many online mortgage calculators.