When should someone consider refinancing their mortgage?
You should consider refinancing when you can obtain an interest rate that is substantially lower than the one you are paying. You want to refinance if you expect to save more from lower interest payments than the fees you pay for the refinancing. This requires you to estimate how long you will stay in your home. If you plan to move soon, then you won’t be paying lower interest for long, so you won’t offset the refinancing fees. But if you plan to stay in your house for a long time, then you will save more in interest over time than you pay for the refinancing. There are free refinance calculators on the web that can help you figure out how long it will take to offset the refinancing fee.
A second reason to refinance is if your income has increased and you can afford a larger payment. If so, you might benefit from refinancing from a longer-term mortgage (say, 30 years) to a shorter-term mortgage (say, 10 years). With the shorter-term mortgage, you have higher payments, but the interest that you pay over the life of the loan will be much lower.
A third reason is that your credit-worthiness has improved. This can happen if your credit score improves, your income dramatically increases, or your home increases substantially in value. You can lower your rate substantially and get better terms in these scenarios.
How often should someone refinance their mortgage?
It depends on interest rates. There’s usually no reason to refinance when interest rates are rising. But if they are falling, as they generally have since 2007, it might make sense to refinance every three or four years, depending on the size of your loan and its time to maturity. You need to check the calculators to see how much you can save and then determine if you will remain in your home long enough to offset the refinancing fees.
A pitfall that is easy to overlook is that you can unwittingly end up paying far more interest if you continually refinance mortgages, even though you’ve lowered monthly payments. Consider someone who refinances his or her mortgage every three years and gets a new 30-year mortgage each time. After the third refinancing, that person has much lower payments. But that person also has 30 years left on the mortgage and could end up taking 39 years to be free of debt on their house. The extra nine years of payments mean nine more years of interest. At some point, the borrower should pay more than the minimum monthly payments — to speed the retirement of the debt and reduce total interest payments — or refinance into a short-term mortgage.
What are some tips for people wondering how to refinance their mortgage?
It’s very easy to apply for a refinance. Many lenders have easy web-based refinancing sites. You should certainly obtain multiple quotes. Check out the big national lenders, but also check out local lenders and the bank or credit union at which you have a checking account. They may give you a better deal if you are an existing customer. Make use of calculators to help you compare rates and to study the impact of “points” on your overall costs.
Before applying to refinance, take advantage of your guaranteed-by-law free credit report to make sure your credit history is accurate. Your credit score plays an important role in determining your interest rate.
In addition, mortgage lenders often encourage refinancing customers to borrow to pay their refinancing fee. Be careful. This adds to your overall debt burden and increases the interest you will pay over the life of the loan. Ideally, you will pay the refinance fee from your savings so you don’t increase the principal on your mortgage.