There are two categories of home refinancing, “rate-and-term” and “cash-out.” Either option may be able to save you money.
Rate and Term Refinancing
The first type, rate-and-term, replaces your existing loan with one that has a better rate and/or terms. You might replace an ARM or balloon loan with a fixed-rate loan, for example. Or you may decide to lower your rate AND shorten your term. Some borrowers have been able to refinance from a 30-year loan into a 15 or 20-year loan, reducing the term, without appreciably raising their payments.
A borrower does not receive any significant amount of cash in a rate-and-term refinance; lenders generally consider that any cash proceeds above $2,000 pushes the loan into a cash-out category.
There are always certain costs involved in any mortgage transaction; there will always be fees for title, escrow, underwriting and document preparation, for example. Borrowers can add these fees to their new loan so as to avoid having to pay them in cash. Financing these items is not considered cash-out.
When you are deciding whether to do a rate-and-term refinance, you should evaluate it in two primary ways: first, how long will it take to recover the cost of doing the loan? For example, if the closing costs amount to $3,000 and the reduction in rate gives a saving of $1,500 per year in the first year, it will take approximately two years to “break even.” For most people, this time frame is more than satisfactory, but you should make your own decision. The second criterion is net savings over some time period, say five years, ten years or more.
Homeowners with adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) may decide to refinance into a fixed rate loan, even though their rate may initially be higher, they might feel more secure knowing that their rate will never change. This is more of a defensive strategy to guard against the possibility of a higher rate in the future, but it may not “save money.”
Cash Out Refinancing
The other type of refinance, a “cash-out,” is one where the borrower receives cash of more than $2,000 at closing. This is accomplished by getting a new loan that is larger than the balance of the old one plus closing costs. Borrowers can use that money for anything.
Some homeowners have used cash-out refinances to pay off consumer debt, like car loans, student loans, and credit cards. Using home equity to pay off credit cards can drop the payment dramatically! But paying down installment loans can create a false economy. A $30,000 car loan with an interest rate of 6% will have a payment of $500, but paying off that loan with the proceeds of a home refinance will effectively drop the payment to $150—but does it really make sense to finance a car for 30 years?