Traditionally, the decision on whether or not to refinance has meant balancing the savings of a lower monthly payment against the costs of refinancing. But in recent years, companies have introduced “no cost” and low cost refinancing packages that minimize or completely eliminate the out-of-pocket expenses of refinancing. (These refinancing packages compensate with a higher interest rate, or by including some of the costs in the amount that is financed.)
With traditional refinancing, the most often cited rule of thumb is that the interest rate for your new mortgage must be about 2 percentage points below the rate of your current mortgage for refinancing to make sense. However, with the newer low and no cost refinancing programs, it can be worth your while to refinance to obtain a smaller reduction in interest rates.
How long you expect to stay in your home is also a factor to consider. If you’ll be moving in a few years, the month to month savings may never add up to the costs that are involved in a refinancing.
When you’re making your decision, there are several things to keep in mind.
If your current interest rate is significantly higher than today’s lowest rates, you may be able to roll your loan costs into the loan and still get a lower rate than you have today, thereby reducing your interest payments and saving money immediately.
Second, if you are planning to stay in your home for at least three to five years, it may make sense to pay “points” (a point equals 1% of the loan amount) and closing costs to get the lowest available rate.
And third, you can avoid laying out cash and still get a low rate by adding the points and closing costs to your new mortgage. Does that mean shouldering a lot of extra debt? Not necessarily. If you’ve had your current mortgage for at least three years, you’ve probably reduced your balance by several thousand dollars. So you may be able to tack your closing costs onto your new loan and still end up with a mortgage that’s smaller than your original one — plus, of course, a lower rate and lower monthly payment.
When you refinance your mortgage, you usually pay off your original mortgage and sign a new loan. With a new loan, you again pay most of the same costs you paid to get your original mortgage. These can include settlement costs, discount points, and other fees. You also may be charged a penalty for paying off your original loan early, although some states prohibit this. The total expense for refinancing a mortgage depends on the interest rate, number of points, and other costs required obtaining a loan. To obtain the lowest rate offered, most mortgage companies will charge several points, and the total cost can run between three and six percent of the total amount you borrow. So, for example, on a $100,000 mortgage, the company might charge you between $3,000 and $6,000. However, some companies may offer zero points at a higher interest rate, which may significantly reduce your initial costs, although your payments may be somewhat higher.
Build Home Equity Faster
Many borrowers use a refinance to shorten the term of the mortgage. And brace yourself, even at low rates, a shorter term means a higher monthly payment. The benefit is that you’ll build up equity faster and pay far less in total interest over the life of the loan.
Consider Jim Neill, 48, a real estate broker and his wife Merrilyn, 55, a psychotherapist. Recently, the couple took out a 15-year fixed rate loan at 6.75% to replace an 8.13% ARM with a 30-year term. Their monthly payment jumped by $200, but now they will own their own home outright by the time they retire. In addition, the total interest on the 15-year loan will come to $95,447, vs. $222,234 on the remaining life of the ARM — and that assumes their adjustable rate would have held steady at its current 8.13%. “This is forced savings,” says Jim. “When we retire, we can scale down and take equity out of the house.”
If you can’t afford the payments on a 15-year mortgage, your next best means of building equity is to refinance for less than 30 years. To do so, ask your mortgage company to customize your new loan’s term to match the years that are left on your old loan — if you are five years into a 30-year mortgage, for example, ask for a 25-year loan.