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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

When Is Home Refinancing The Right Decision?

By Ned Dagostino

Everybody would love to have a little more money in their pocket, and many people are finding out that home refinancing can actually give them some extra cash at the end of the month. But all to often people jump in feet first, and end up spending more money than they save when they refinance their loan. So let's start by first looking at when refinancing is a good decision.

If your current loan has an adjustable rate, this is probably a good time to look into refinancing to a fixed rate loan. Chances are you'll save money. Adjustable rate loans can be good if you get the loan when the rates are high. But in the current rate environment it doesn't make sense. It could mean thousands of dollars in your pocket over the duration of the loan if you can simply lock in a low rate. Interest rates always go back up. When they do, you'll still be locked in at the current low rate.

Another good time to refinance is if you have a balloon payment that will be due soon, and you simply don't have the funds available. Finally, if your current mortgage has a rate higher than the current market, then seriously look into refinancing. Even a savings of 0.25% can make a huge difference over the course of a 30 year loan.

But in all cases you should carefully look at the closing costs for refinancing. They can be pretty significant. Then figure out how long it will take you to recover that money with whatever you will be saving every month.

All to often people move before their savings exceed what they spend in closing costs. This is just like burning money. If you might be moving soon, refinancing is probably not a wise decision. Plan on being in your current home at least long enough to get back what you spend.

Most newly refinanced loans will also come with pre-payment penalties. These can be quite costly, with an average cost of 2-5 years. If you want to pay off the loan early, you're also stuck paying the penalties. And again, if you might move and need a new loan while paying off your old one, the penalties may apply. These penalties must be measured against your monthly savings.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you'll want to look at your monthly payment. This is especially true if you're planning on taking advantage of a cash out option. The cash out option will give you spending money now, but it will also increase the balance on your loan. If your new interest rate is not significantly lower than what you are currently paying, your monthly payment could go up just because the balance is higher. You want a rate low enough that your payments will go down, in spite of the fact that your balance increases.

Home refinancing can be a great way to cut down on your monthly expenses, and also give you some spending money if you need it. But doing it at the wrong time and under the wrong conditions can cost you money that we're sure you don't want to give away. Always check your savings against any fees and penalties, as well as other factors such as a potential move. If everything checks out in your favor, don't just go with the first offer you receive. Shop around. You'll be surprised at the difference in rates in terms that exist. And get recommendations from friends and relatives as well.

Do this right, and it's like money in the bank. Do it wrong, and you could be paying for years to come.

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