This device is too small

If you're on a Galaxy Fold, consider unfolding your phone or viewing it in full screen to best optimize your experience.

Skip to main content

How to Refinance Your Mortgage

Many or all of the products here are from our partners that pay us a commission. It’s how we make money. But our editorial integrity ensures our experts’ opinions aren’t influenced by compensation. Terms may apply to offers listed on this page.

When you take out a mortgage refinance, you're replacing your old loan with a new mortgage loan. Two of the most popular reasons to refinance are to tap the equity in your home and get a lower mortgage interest rate. No matter what your motivation, with mortgage rates hovering around all-time lows, many borrowers can benefit from knowing how to refinance mortgage loans.

In this guide, we'll explain each step of the refinancing process and cover everything you need to know.

What is a mortgage refinance?

A mortgage refinance involves taking out a new mortgage and using the proceeds from it to pay off your existing home loan. Generally, the purpose is to reduce your mortgage interest rate. However, you may also refinance to change other loan terms, such as the repayment timeline or to switch from an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) to a fixed-rate loan.

How does refinancing your mortgage work?

Refinancing involves applying for a new mortgage with either your current lender or a different one.

You'll need to have your home appraised and qualify for your refinance loan based on your home's value, your income and credit score, and other financial credentials. Once approved, your new loan will be used to pay off your current mortgage. You'll then make your monthly payment to your new lender.

How to refinance a mortgage

Here are the steps you need to follow to complete a mortgage refinance.

1. Name the goal

Be clear about your reason for refinancing, and as specific as possible. If you want to reduce your monthly payments or change your loan term, think about what you can afford each month and how much you'll pay in total. If you need cash out, decide how much you need before you apply so you're not tempted to go with the maximum amount you're offered unnecessarily.

2. Assess your current mortgage situation

Learn the details of your current loan. Gather recent statements from your current lender to see how much you owe, what your interest rate is, and how many months remain before the loan is paid off. You need to know these details in order to analyze the benefit of any new loan offer. 

3. Check your credit

The best mortgage interest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy applicants. If you don't have excellent credit, find out why. You might then take steps to increase your credit score before you apply to refinance a mortgage. 

4. Rate shop with multiple lenders

The best way to spot a good deal is to comparison shop with a few refinance lenders. There's no way to know what loan terms you'll be offered unless you apply. For a true apples-to-apples comparison, it's best to make all of your loan applications on the same day, because interest rates can and do change often. 

You'll need to provide mortgage application documentation. This usually includes proof of employment, recent pay stubs, bank account and asset account statements, your homeowners insurance policy details, and recent tax returns. 

It won't hurt your credit score to apply with several lenders. Even though every application for new credit has the potential to ding your credit score, most scoring models recognize rate shopping. As a result, all mortgage lender inquiries made within 14 to 45 days will be counted as just one inquiry (the specific number of days in this window depends on the credit scoring model used).

5. Compare offers

When you apply for a mortgage, the lender will provide you with a loan estimate, which is a simplified form that tells you the loan's terms and costs. All lenders are required to use the same form so you can easily compare offers.

6. Select a loan 

Once you choose the right option, you'll need to let the lender know you intend to proceed. You should do this as quickly as possible because the loan estimate is only good for 10 business days. If you wait too long, the lender can change the terms and costs.

It's a good idea to also let the other lenders know you've decided to get your loan elsewhere.

7. Close on your loan

Before you close, you may need to provide additional documentation and pay an appraisal fee.  After this, you'll need the underwriter to approve your loan, and your lender will then schedule a date to close. Many lenders will send a mobile notary to your home or office so you can sign the final loan documents. Some lenders may ask you to schedule your closing at another location. If you're required to pay closing costs, the lender will likely ask you to bring a cashier's check to the closing.

Once the closing documents are signed, the loan will be funded. If you are getting cash out, the funds will be sent to your bank account.

When and why you should refinance a home

There are many reasons you might want to refinance a mortgage, and many factors to take into account when you make that decision.

For example, now may be a good time to refinance because mortgage refinance rates are very low. If you lower the rate on your loan, it could save you money. Be aware, the rate you get will depend on your loan, location, credit score, income, and other factors. Not everyone will qualify for the lowest advertised rates.

You'll also need to be sure you will stay in your home for long enough to cover your mortgage refinancing costs. In order for it to be a true money-saving move, you'll break even on your closing costs before you sell or refinance again.

Why you should refinance your home

Mortgage refinancing can be a good idea if it will:

  • Lower your interest rate
  • Shorten your loan term
  • Disentangle you financially from a relationship, like an ex-partner
  • Provide the cash you need to make repairs

On the other hand, if you've already been paying down your mortgage for a long time and want to start a new 30-year mortgage to lower your monthly payment you might want to think twice. You'll pay a lot more in interest charges overall if you start the loan term over. 

No matter what reason you have for refinancing, it's important to look at the pros and cons of the new loan compared to staying with your old loan. 

What are the reasons to refinance?

Here are some of the most common reasons to refinance a mortgage.

Lower the interest rate: If you have a significant number of years remaining on your home loan and can qualify for a lower interest rate, refinancing might make sense. 

Lower your monthly payment: A lower rate or longer term could both lower your monthly mortgage payment. 

Shorter loan term: You can save money by paying off your home loan more quickly. If you can qualify for a lower interest rate, you may be able to shorten the loan term without significantly increasing your monthly mortgage payment.

Get rid of mortgage insurance: Some borrowers are required to pay a monthly and/or annual fee or mortgage insurance premium. Private mortgage insurance (PMI) on a conventional loan is canceled automatically once you have enough equity. But for other loans (including most FHA loans), the only way to stop paying this extra fee is to refinance to a new loan that does not require it.

Get cash: If you have enough equity in your home, you could do a cash-out refinance. In this instance, you'd borrow more than your current loan balance -- essentially tapping the equity in your home to receive funds in cash. This is one way homeowners pay for major home improvements.

Consolidate debt: According to the Federal Reserve, the average credit card rate in November 2020 was 16.28%. In contrast, Freddie Mac put the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate Jan. 7, 2021 at 2.65%. It might make financial sense for some people to use a cash-out refinance loan to pay off their higher interest debt. (This strategy has a couple of important caveats, so keep reading.)

Consolidating debt doesn't have to be about credit cards. Some borrowers use a mortgage refinance to consolidate other debt, such as a first mortgage and home equity loan or line of credit.

Remove someone from the loan: Sometimes, a co-borrower needs to be removed from the home loan. The way to do this is for the remaining borrower to refinance to a new loan.

Move from an adjustable-rate mortgage to a fixed-rate mortgage, or vice versa: Adjustable-rate mortgages, or ARMs, usually start out at a low, fixed teaser rate and then adjust after a certain period of time. The rate is guaranteed for an initial period, after which it can go up or down periodically along with a benchmark rate. When market rates are very low, it can be a financial advantage to refinance to a fixed-rate loan with a set interest rate.

Right now, interest rates are at rock bottom. As such, few people will financially benefit from taking out an adjustable-rate mortgage rather than a fixed-rate mortgage. However, when interest rates rise again, it could make sense to convert from a fixed-rate mortgage to an ARM. You might save money in the short term if the teaser rate on the ARM is significantly lower than your current mortgage rate and you know you will sell the home or refinance again within a couple of years.

For more on why to refinance your mortgage, read our guide.

When is the best time to refinance?

Traditional wisdom used to be you should only refinance if you could reduce your interest rate by at least 2%. That's no longer true. Some borrowers find they can save money by refinancing even to shave half a percent off the rate. Use our mortgage refinance calculator to help you decide. 

The best time to refinance a mortgage is when you can answer yes to both these questions:

  • Is there a clear benefit to refinancing now?
  • Will you own the property long enough to break even on the refinance costs?

On breaking even: Every mortgage loan has closing costs. And the costs involved in a refinance will be similar to your original purchase mortgage -- usually 2-5% of your loan amount. Freddie Mac puts the average refinance cost at about $5,000. The actual price you pay will depend on your location, loan size, and lender. If you see a no-closing-cost refinance, don't be misled. You'll find the costs are added to the loan balance or the interest rate is higher. 

Here's how to calculate when you'll break even on your refinance. Let's say your refinance costs $5,000 and you're able to cut your monthly payment by $150. It would take $5,000/$150 = 33 months to reach your break-even point and recover your costs. 

How much could I save by refinancing?
{{ result.monthly_current_error }}
{{ result.current_balance_error }}
{{ result.years_remaining_error }}
{{ result.refi_interest_rate_error }}
{{ calcResult }}
Fill out the inputs to see how much you can save in total and in monthly payments with a refinance
{{ result.msg_monthly_payment }}
$ {{ result.monthlySavings.toString().replace('-','') }} / Month

The new monthly payment would be:
$ {{ result.newMonthlyDisplay }}
{{ result.msg1_total }}
$ {{ result.totalSavingsDisplay.replace("-","") }}
{{ result.msg2_total }}

Benefits of refinancing a mortgage

The benefits of refinancing depend on your goal.

Reason to refinance Benefit
Lower rate You can save money over time, or pay off your mortgage faster.
Cash out You can get funds to use as you wish.
Lower monthly payment A lower payment could provide immediate monthly relief in your budget.

Risks of refinancing your mortgage

Here are some cases when refinancing isn't the best move.

Outcome Risk
Sell the home a short time after refinancing You'll lose money on fees if you haven't reached the break-even point when you sell.
Consolidate credit card debt This transforms unsecured debt into secured debt with your home as collateral. Remember, the lender can't take your house if you default on credit card debt. If you default on your mortgage, it can. In addition, you could rack up your credit card balances again.
New 30-year loan at lower rate You could add years to your mortgage and take longer to get out of debt.

Refinance vs. cash-out refinance: What's the difference?

A traditional refinance loan simply swaps out your existing mortgage for a new one. In a cash-out refinance, you borrow more than you owe on your current mortgage, and the lender gives you the difference in cash. 

You might be able to reduce your interest rate so much on the refinanced loan that you can get cash out and still have the same monthly payment. 

How to refinance a mortgage, step by step

To recap, these are the steps you'll follow to refinance your mortgage:

  1. Name your goal
  2. Assess your current mortgage situation
  3. Check your credit
  4. Rate shop with multiple lenders
  5. Compare offers
  6. Select a loan
  7. Close on your loan

READY TO REFINANCE? Check out The Ascent's CashCall Mortgage review to see if this is the right company to refinance your mortgage.

Still have questions?

Here are some other questions we've answered:

The Ascent's best mortgage refinance lenders

Refinancing your mortgage could save you hundreds of dollars for your monthly mortgage payment and secure you tens of thousands of dollars in long-term savings. Our experts have reviewed the most popular mortgage refinance companies to find the best options. Some of our experts have even used these lenders themselves to cut their costs.

FAQs

    • Name your goal
    • Assess your current mortgage situation
    • Check your credit
    • Rate shop with multiple lenders
    • Compare offers
    • Select a loan
    • Close on your loan
  • It's a good idea to refinance your mortgage if you can reduce your interest costs and the amount you save will cover your closing costs before you plan to sell the property.

    The standard rule of thumb is that it makes sense to refinance if you can drop your rate by around 1%.

    You may also want to refinance if you can't afford your current monthly payment. You might be able to switch to a loan with a lower interest rate or longer repayment timeline that works with your budget. And some homeowners take a cash-out refinance to tap into the equity in their home.

  • The cost of a mortgage refinance loan is similar to the cost of a purchase mortgage. The average closing costs on a refinance are $5,000. Your costs could be higher or lower, depending on the size of your loan, location, credit score, and the amount of equity in your home.

  • You can generally refinance your mortgage with any lender you want. If your original lender offers the best rate and terms, secure your refinance loan from them. Otherwise, shop around and choose the mortgage lender offering the most affordable loan.

About the Author