Should You Refinance Your Home?

A column devoted to answering your questions on consumer, mortgage, small business and non-profit investments and lending programs to help you navigate the new financial landscape. Send your questions to bill.carter@civicfcu.org.

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Interest rates are approaching historic lows, and many people are asking me, is now a good time to refinance? The final answer to this question could vary based on your specific financial situation. But if you’re going to look into it, here’s what you need to consider: the best rate, the most agreeable terms and the most affordable payments.

The decision to refinance your current debt requires you and your lender to take a serious look at the options to see if refinancing will be beneficial for you.

What are the Benefits of Refinancing?

Generally speaking, here are some reasons people refinance their homes:

  • Shortened loan terms. Depending on your original loan term, refinancing could be a way to pay things off faster.
  • Lower interest rates. Sometimes, the only way to adjust to lower interest rates is to refinance your mortgage loan.
  • Lower monthly payments. Largely dependent on the new term you select, there could be options that reduce your monthly payments considerably, freeing up more cash flow.
  • Cash-out options. Some lenders will allow you to tap into your home’s equity during the refinancing process.

You might want to obtain a loan type that is more suitable for you and your family, such as replacing a variable or adjustable rate with a fixed rate or converting a balloon mortgage into a traditional fixed rate.

For most people, the mortgage loan is their largest financial endeavor and the centerpiece of their financial planning, so you will want to make sure you choose the best mortgage option for your family and your goals.

How to Determine if You Should Refinance?

A good perspective to take when evaluating your current debt is to think about what makes the most sense for you now, as well as in the future. It’s important to recognize that things do not have to be done as they were in the past. Loan terms, rates, structure, costs, and prepayment fees are all additional things to be considered.

You also need not use the same mortgage lender as you did for past loans. Request proposals from at least three lenders, and make your choice based on the best pricing with the lowest settlement fees. Don’t limit yourself to brick-and-mortar places either. There are many online mortgage companies with very competitive rates and terms.

Also take into consideration the level of service provided, the ease of the loan origination and approval process, and the amount of time and energy you will spend providing your financial information to the lender.

As the borrower, you have the power to approach your loan officer with a plan you think will work best for you. A good loan officer should work with you to help structure options into something beneficial for you and your financial institution.

What Type of Mortgage Product Should I Choose?

Fixed-rate loans are approaching historic lows, and we may never see rates this low again. So, if you are in a balloon mortgage or an adjustable-rate loan, now could be a good time to lock in a low, fixed-rate loan and set your monthly payment for the remainder of the time you are in your home.

Typically, all fixed-rate mortgages are quoted with a one percent origination fee being paid to the lender. When shopping for rates always ask for the lowest fixed rate with zero discount points being paid. If you have sufficient equity, you can typically roll all costs associated with the loan into the new mortgage.

Many lenders will advertise “a no closing cost loan.” Unfortunately, nothing is free, and there will be costs associated with the transaction. These lenders typically “buy up” the rate to make a sufficient overage to cover the costs. This means that you will be paying approximately .25-.50 percent higher on the rate. If you are spending the money and the time to do this, you should get the lowest rate that you can without paying any discount points.

What Type of Mortgage Loan Term Should I Choose?

Having spent over 25 years in the North Carolina mortgage market, I would advise you to avoid falling into the trap of basing your choices just on rate. Often a consumer has called and asked to refinance their present mortgage because rates were falling, and I’ve had to advise them that it was not to their benefit to refinance their current loan in the manner they are asking. Let’s say that you took out a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage four years ago at five percent and now you would like to refinance for another 30-year term at a lower rate. Everyone wants the lowest rate, and you can get caught up in the refinancing without thinking things through. If you have been paying on your mortgage for four years — and you don’t need the cash flow increase realized by extending your term back out to another 30 years – you should avoid refinancing for another 30-year term. You have likely paid thousands in interest and little in principle during this early part of your loan. Extending your term back out to 30 years will be a costly decision for your future financial picture. In this scenario, the borrower should seek the lower rate of a 15-year fixed-rate loan which will save them tens of thousands of dollars and their mortgage will be paid off 11 years sooner, and the new payment would stay close to the old 30-year loan payment.

So, if you can qualify and afford it, consider shortening the term of your loan. The shorter term and corresponding lower interest rate will result in thousands of dollars of savings for you, which could provide you more money over time to invest in your retirement.

A Refinancing Exercise.

First, check your most recent mortgage statement to obtain the current balance, rate, and payment. Be sure to only use the principle and interest part of your payment if you are escrowing for annual taxes and insurance. If you cannot find it online, then you will need to dig out the original promissory note. The note will also provide the date of the loan, the date of your first payment, and the maturity date. Calculate how many payments have been made based upon the date of the first payment to the present. This will show you how many monthly payments are left on your loan. Use this data to determine what term you would like on the new mortgage.

Second, get a snapshot of all your current debt. This will allow you to see how you would like to structure other high-rate unsecured credit card or personal loan debt with the new loan.

Third, determine what your payment would be on the new loan based upon the total amount that you plan to finance, including estimated closing costs and other debt being rolled into the new loan.

Fourth, compare your existing monthly principle and interest payments to the new proposed payments. This will be your monthly savings with the new loan, or if you are choosing a shorter term, if it still fits within your budget.

I cannot stress how important it is to look at this as soon as possible, as when the economy begins heating up rates will certainly begin to rise.

So, get your information together and contact a mortgage company, credit union or bank, and get started. Now is not the time for procrastination. And this opportunity may never happen again. Good luck!

Bill Carter is Director of Fire/EMS Business Development for Civic Federal Credit Union in Raleigh. He has been in the financial services industry for 41 years and serves on the Advisory Board of the North Carolina Fallen Firefighters Foundation. You can send your questions to him at: bill.carter@civicfcu.org.
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