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Is Refinancing Right For You?

May 2009refinancing

Are you tempted to refinance with interest rates at historic lows? Or are your loan payments stretching your budget? How do you know if refinancing is right for you? This month's report looks at reasons why now may be a good time to refinance your mortgage or other loans.

Is refinancing right for your circumstances?

Is your loan’s interest rate higher than current loan rates? Do you have equity in your house or property (that means, do you owe less than the current value of your property)? Are you current on your loan payments? If you can answer yes to these questions, then you may wish to consider refinancing.

Have you fallen behind in making your mortgage payments? Are you having financial difficulties in other ways, perhaps in paying other bills or loans? If you answer yes to either of these questions, then conventional refinancing may not be the best option for you. If you are not already discussing your problem with your lender, the time to do that is now. Some lenders may consider loan modifications as one option to help delinquent and struggling borrowers. If your loan is with BayPort, they encourage you to call right away. Even if you have other lenders, BayPort offers Financial Counseling Services  which helps members develop an effective plan to better manage their finances, understand and improve their credit report, and provide information about consumer rights. 

How does the refinancing process work?

When you refinance your mortgage, you are paying off your existing mortgage and creating a new mortgage. The refinancing process is very similar to the process of acquiring the original loan. The same is true if you are refinancing a vehicle.

To refinance a mortgage, you will have to fill out an application and, depending upon the lender, you may have to pay an upfront application fee. The lender will look at your income and assets, credit score, other debts, the current value of the property, how much you currently owe on the property, and how much you want to borrow.

A key criteria for mortgages is the loan-to-value (LTV) ratio. The LTV ratio is the relationship of the property's appraised value to the total amount of the loan. In order for you to receive a new mortgage, the LTV ratio must conform to the lender's guidelines.

Beyond an application fee, there are also other fees and costs typically associated with refinancing a mortgage. These can include a loan origination fee, points, appraisal fee, survey fee, title search and title insurance, and others. Chapter 6 of the GetReal Mortgage Guide has more information about these and related closing costs.

If a lender offers "no-cost" refinancing, make sure you understand what is meant by the term. If the lender is paying the closing costs, then it is truly a no-cost loan to you. If the refinancing fees are rolled into your new mortgage, even though you don't have to pay the costs at closing, you'll end up paying the costs plus interest on that amount over the life of the loan.

Is refinancing right for you?

  • Is your loan's interest rate higher than current loan rates?
  • Do you have equity in your house or property?
  • How long do you plan to stay in the house?
  • How many years are left on your current mortgage?

Read on to see how your answers to these and other questions can you help determine if refinancing is right for your circumstances.

Is the time right to refinance?

Before visiting a lender or filling out an application, ask yourself these questions.

How long do you plan to stay in the house? You will need to stay in the house long enough to break even on the cost of refinancing. This means you need to know how many months it will take to recoup the refinancing costs before you actually benefit from the lower interest rate. BayPort's mortgage calculator can help you determine your break-even period.

Does your current mortgage have a prepayment penalty? If so, you'll need to add the amount of the penalty to your break-even calculations.

How many years are left on your current mortgage? In the early years of a typical mortgage, a greater percentage of the monthly payment is applied to interest not to the loan principal. The longer you hold a mortgage, the more the percentage of your payment applied to the principal increases, while the percentage applied to interest decreases. When you refinance and extend the loan term, more of your monthly payment will be applied to interest. Compare the total cost of your current loan and the proposed new loan (including all interest) to see which saves you money. For example, if you extend the new loan term beyond your remaining loan term (something lenders may suggest), then you may have a lower payment but pay more interest in total because of the extended term. Use BayPort's mortgage calculator to compare terms of different loan options.

Determine your equity in your home.

Whether you're eligible to refinance will be determined, in part, by the current value of your home and how much you still owe on it. So, before you apply for any refinance loans that require an outlay of your cash, such as an application fee, you should get an idea of the current value of your home. Use several of the following types of information to get a “ball-park” estimate:

  • An appraisal by a licensed appraiser. This typically should give you the most up-to-date and accurate picture but the appraisal will cost you money. Also lenders typically will order another appraisal even if you have a recent appraisal; their concern is bias in the results of homeowner-paid appraisals for refinancing purposes.
  • Recent sales of comparable properties. In many states, this information can be found online. Start with the website of your local government property appraiser’s office. Locate yours at
  • Current listings of comparable homes for sale. To find the multiple listing service for the area, put the area name and MLS in your favorite search engine.
  • Estimates from local real estate brokers or appraisers.
  • Home valuation websites such as
  • Local government property tax valuations. Many of these offices now have this information online. A caution: the basis for tax valuations or assessments varies from state to state and can vary widely within a state. Even in states where regulations require fair market value assessments, typical assessments may be well below what a homeowner could sell the home for—or, in the current depressed real estate market, tax valuations might be higher than sale value.

Experts recommend that you use multiple sources to generate an estimate due to the timeliness of the information from some of the sources.

Once you've generated your estimate, subtract what you currently owe from it. The result represents the equity you have in the house.

To qualify for refinancing, you may need equity equal to at least 3.5% of the property value (for an FHA loan). Depending on the lender, your equity may need to be 5%, 10%, or higher.

If you don't have the required equity, you may still be able to refinance if you can pay down the principal to reach the required equity.

Refinancing your mortgage to reduce your payment

You may be considering refinancing if your mortgage is too expensive. For many people, this situation arose when their Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM) reset. For others, changes occurred in their financial situation.

You can reduce your payment by refinancing the remaining amount you owe at a lower interest rate at a term equal to relatively near the remaining term on your current loan.

Another option is to extend your loan term. The drawback to this option, is that you'll increase the amount of interest you'll pay over the life of the loan. Your equity will build more slowly.

If you don't qualify for refinancing, talk to BayPort about your options.

Refinancing your mortgage to get a lower rate

If interest rates have dropped, then your can refinance your mortgage at a lower rate.

Another option to get a lower rate is to decrease the mortgage term. By reducing the term, even though you may have a higher payment, you may build equity more quickly and reduce the interest paid over the course of the loan.

Refinancing other loans

Mortgages aren’t the only loans that you can refinance. If you have an auto loan, you may be able to refinance it to save a bundle or lower your payments. If you didn't get your car loan from BayPort, check out BayPort's refinancing program. It may be advantageous to refinance other loans as well such as for boats or RVs.

A better bottom line

The purpose of refinancing is to save money long term on your mortgage or other loans and/or to ease the stress of loan payments on your monthly budgets. Doing a little homework and comparison can help you evaluate whether refinancing is right for you.

For More Information

BayPort's Financial Counseling Services

BayPort's Mortgage Calculators

A Consumer's Guide to Mortgage Refinancings from the Federal Reserve Board

Reviewed and updated August 2014.

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