There’s that great, old maxim that goes, “There are two kinds of jobs in the world; the kind you shower before and the kind you shower after.” And in that spirit, I would offer that there are two kinds of refinances in the world — the kind you transact because you want to and the kind you pursue because you must. We’ll cover both here and we’ll talk about when it may be a good time to consider refinancing your home. But first, some basics.
Refinancing your mortgage(s) allows you to change the terms of your current loan or loans, by replacing them with a new one. Yes, you will go through the loan process again and there will be associated costs. Analyzing the recovery period on the costs involved will be a component we’ll address below, but even in the case of a “no cost” refinance, just accept that there are always some expenses. Next, because your title does not transfer in a refinance, it is very unlikely your property tax basis will change via refinancing. Many homeowners express that concern, but it is a concern that is generally unfounded. You can most often refinance without fear of triggering a reassessment and seeing your property taxes go up. Finally, there are two, broad categories of refinances; rate and term, and cash out. A rate/term refinance will cover just the payoff of your existing loan balance and perhaps your closing costs. A cash out refinance will pay off the existing loan or loans, your closing costs and will allow you to “cash out” some of the equity in your home. In other words, you walk away from escrow with a check. And no, you do not pay income taxes on those proceeds, as they are not income, but equity instead.
Refinances of Choice
By far, most refi activity is driven by rate. If you hold a mortgage at 5.000%, for example, and rates drop to 4.250%, and a refinance at the lower rate can save you $250 per month, you can consider making the switch. Now if it costs $3000 to refinance the loan, you will “recover” your closing costs in the first year you hold the new loan, but thereafter, you are saving $250. Some might argue that part of your savings stem from resetting the loan term back to 30 years — and they would be right. But nothing prevents this borrower from refinancing then continuing to make the original payment they had with the old loan, right? By doing so, they might even get ahead of total interest payments. So a refinance by choice provides options for saving in the near-term or long-term, depending on the borrower’s objectives. And we help them analyze and figure this out.
We’ll occasionally help a borrower convert a 30-year fixed into a 15-year fixed loan to hasten pay down of the loan. Sure, the payment almost always goes up in these cases — so this would definitely fall into the “choice” category — but if the owners can afford it, the reduction in term interest can offer a real financial benefit.
Next, we have the “cash out” refinance where the borrowers will use the proceeds to finance home improvement, a large purchase, college tuition, etc. I’ll even go so far as to say a debt consolidation refinance can fall into the “choice” category because there are occasions where a borrower’s debt may still be manageable but a careful review suggests that by consolidating it with the mortgage, the overall financial result is positive. And then there are other occasions where debt gets out of control and a refinance is really the only way to bring it back to a manageable state. That brings us to our next category…
Refinances of Necessity
Debt consolidation refinances where a borrower can significantly reduce payments are NOT, I repeat, not a free lunch. If you build student loan, credit card and other consumer debt into your mortgage, you might effectively be financing short-term debt at higher rates over a much longer term at lower rates. Still, interest is accruing in both cases. Further, it’s incumbent upon the borrower to avoid racking up new debt once the old ones are consolidated. That kind of fiscal discipline must go hand in hand with a debt consolidation refi if it truly to move the homeowner forward financially. Other refinances of necessity happen when a loan has a balloon feature. In these cases, the loan holder must change the terms of the note before the balloon payment is due. Even though not as dire, we’ll often see a refinance used to get a borrower out of an ARM loan that will begin adjusting in the future and into a fixed rate loan. I’ll also group refinances to drop PMI (or FHA MIP) in the ‘necessity’ category. Sure, paying the insurance premiums perhaps isn’t life or death, but most borrowers do feel that if they can drop PMI and save right now, that’s something worth acting upon instead of waiting.
Individual financial situations are as unique as houses themselves. Refinancing is a tool that can help accomplish a wide array of financial goals, but regardless of the intended outcome, it’s vitally important that the math and the costs are understood. In each case, we help our refinance clients develop a better understanding of what’s at stake today, during the process and into the future. If you feel we can help you with your refinance decision, get in touch any time.
Back Jack, do it again,
Robert J. Spinosa
Vice President of Mortgage Lending
Marin Office: 324 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., San Anselmo, CA 94960
Berkeley Office: 1400 Shattuck Ave., Suite 1, Berkeley, CA 94709
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