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Think Twice Before You Refinance

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With interest rates still lingering near record lows, the common question facing homeowners remains: Should you refinance your mortgage?

The rough rule of thumb is that if you can get your interest rate lowered by at least one percentage point, it may be a good idea. But even then, it may not be worth it. Before you rush out to the bank for a refi, ask yourself these questions first:

Do you expect to be staying put in your home for at least a few years?
If there's a good chance you'll be moving next year, you may want to skip the refinancing. That's because refinancing costs money. Closing costs typically total 2% to 3% of the loan. If it costs you $3,600 to refinance, and you're saving $100 per month, then it'll take you three years to recoup your closing costs by refinancing.

Is there a prepayment penalty in effect in your current mortgage?
Some loans have such penalties for the first few years of a loan. If so, refinancing may not be worth it. Look into your current loan terms, and if you do end up securing a new loan, make sure it lacks prepayment penalties.

How much equity do you have in your home?
Many homes have fallen in value significantly, with the median national price of a single-family home still down almost 20% since 2007. If you don't have 20% equity in your home, you'll likely be required to purchase private mortgage insurance (PMI), which can wipe out much of the savings you get from refinancing. (If you already pay PMI, this will be less of an issue.)

What's your credit score?
If your score is worse than it was when you originally got your mortgage, you may not qualify for those great low rates you see advertised, which are often reserved only for those with scores of 720 or better. If it has improved, you may find yourself offered rates much better than your current one.

How much of an interest-rate difference is there?
Obviously, the greater the difference, the faster the savings from refinancing will pay for its costs.

Has your income risen or fallen significantly?
On one hand, refinancing into a lower-rate loan can lower your monthly payment considerably. On the other, if you're making more than you did when you first took out your mortgage, you could pay off your mortgage more quickly by getting a loan with a shorter term.

Do you have an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM)?
If so, refinancing into a fixed-rate loan now, at these historically low rates, can be a smart move.

Are you mainly interested in refinancing so that you can "cash out" some money?
If so, be sure to consider that taking money out to pay off debts, or pay for a kitchen remodel, will mean that you'll probably be paying that money off for 15 or 30 years, with interest. You'll also reduce your equity stake in your home.

Whether or not to refinance can be a more complicated question than many people think. Be sure you assess your situation carefully, and remember that sometimes, not refinancing is the best option.

True to its name, The Motley Fool is made up of a motley assortment of writers and analysts, each with a unique perspective; sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we all believe in the power of learning from each other through our Foolish community.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.

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