The news in the papers, financial websites, and money blogs this month has us pondering interest rates and refinancing again. First, 30-year mortgage interest rates continue their historic drop, reaching an average low of 4.125 percent. It’s difficult to predict if those rates will continue to go down or start to creep up, but we know one thing for sure:  These rates could mean a lot of savings for homeowners. Then there’s the news about the Obama administration’s plans to help struggling homeowners refinance their mortgages. This program would help homeowners with government backed loans refinance to more favorable terms to keep their homes. Finally, home prices have seen a slight increase this spring – rising by as much as 3.5 percent. This good news means some homeowners may actually have equity in their homes again as the value of houses climbs. All this news about loans and refinancing got us thinking: Is now a good time to refinance your home?  Who Can Refinance?

These days, not everyone can refinance a home – nor does it make sense for everyone to refinance. The main reasons to apply for a refinance are to lower monthly payments, secure more favorable loan terms, or consolidate debt. If you already have a low interest rate, good loan terms, and a manageable monthly payment, you may be better off leaving your mortgage alone. Most people assume homes that are underwater, meaning you owe more than the home is worth, aren’t eligible for refinancing. However, many programs, both governmental and non-governmental, work specifically with homeowners in this situation so they can take advantage of today’s low rates. The standard rule of thumb for homeowners considering refinancing used to be  that, unless you can lower your interest rate by at least one percentage point, the refinance doesn’t pencil out financially. With “No-Cost” loans often available today, this is no longer the rule. If you’ve maintained good credit and would like to lower your monthly outlay, ditch some less-than-desirable loan terms or get out from being underwater, refinancing now might just make perfect sense. Interest rates are at historic lows, and banks are ready to work with refinancing applicants.

Refinancing Advantages

The main advantages of a home refinance don’t change much, no matter the state of the housing  market. There are really three main reasons to seek a refinance. 1. The top reason to refinance is to lower your monthly payment by securing a lower interest rate. Right now, 30-year mortgage interest rates are averaging about 4.125 percent. Rates can go lower if you refinance into a 15 or 20-year loan instead. We don’t know where rates will go in the future, but they can’t get much lower.

2. The second reason you might try to refinance your home is to secure better loan terms. During the housing boom, many homeowners got themselves into interest-only, adjustable rate mortgages.

At the time, this loan option made sense as home values kept rising. In today’s housing market, a fixed-term loan that locks in today’s low interest rates makes more financial sense for homeowners and allows you to pay off your principal balance, not just interest. Now could be an especially good time to refinance if you are in a 5, 7, or 10-year adjustable rate mortgage. You don’t want to get to the end of that loan and suddenly face skyrocketing interest rates. Also, if you’re underwater on your home, any refinancing option that lowers your payment or helps you gain equity in your home is better than your current mortgage.

3. Lastly, many homeowners use a refinance to consolidate debt, either from a home equity line of credit or credit cards. Rolling these debts into your mortgage secures a better interest rate and lowers the total amount you’ll end up paying for these debts in the long run. the refinance by the amount your monthly payment is reduced. The answer tells you how many months it takes to break even.

However, a better way to determine whether now is a good time to refinance is to figure out how much the refinance will save you in overall interest expenses. You want to capture enough savings in interest expenses to offset the closing costs. A lower interest rate can certainly lower total  interest expense, but so can refinancing into a loan with a shorter term – 15 to 20 years, for example. This move can save you tens of thousands of dollars over the life of your loan. A shorter loan term means your monthly payments will increase, but if you can afford the additional cost you can save yourself a bundle of money in the long run.

 Next Steps

Talk to my lending partner, Tom Testerman at (949) 422-4497 to learn about whether a refinance makes sense for you right now. You could save yourself a bit of money right before the holidays arrive – there are only so many shopping days left!

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