How Refinancing Works

Are you looking to reduce your monthly mortgage payments, get a lower interest rate, convert your home equity into cash, or switch to a fixed-rate loan? Consider refinancing your home loan.

However, before you decide to refinance it’s important to understand how the process works and to evaluate the pros and cons for your individual situation. For example, many homeowners are surprised at the amount of documentation needed to get approved and aren’t aware that there are some refi options requiring very little paperwork.

Learning the basics of home refinancing—and how it contributes to your goals—will help you decide which mortgage option makes the most sense for you.

What are some good reasons to refinance your mortgage?

  • Lower your payment
  • Use your home equity to better manage debt
  • Pay off your loan faster
  • Get a low rate for the life of your loan

What Is Refinancing?

Refinancing is the process of replacing an existing mortgage with a new loan. Typically people refinance their mortgage in order to reduce their monthly payments, lower their interest rate, or change their loan program from an adjustable rate mortgage to a fixed-rate mortgage. Additionally, some people need access to cash in order to fund home renovation projects or paying off various debts, and will leverage the equity from to their house to obtain a cash-out refinance.

Regardless of your goal, the actual process of refinancing works much in the same way as when you applied for your first mortgage: you’ll need to take the time to research your loan options, collect the right financial documents and submit a mortgage refinancing application before you can be approved.

Benefits of Home Refinance

There are several reasons to refinance your mortgage. Some of the potential advantages include:

  • Lowering your monthly payment. According to one study, an average homeowner may save $160 or more per month with a refinance. With a lower monthly payment, you are free to put the savings toward other debts and other expenditures, or apply that savings towards your monthly mortgage payment and pay off your loan sooner.
  • Retire mortgage insurance. Some homeowners who have enough property appreciation or principal paid off will not be required to pay mortgage insurance which will reduce your total monthly payment.
  • Reducing the length of your loan. For homeowners who took out a mortgage in the early stages of their career, a 30-year mortgage may have made the most financial sense. But for those who want to pay of their mortgage sooner, reducing the loan term can be an attractive option.
  • Lowering your interest rate. Today’s rates remain near historic lows and refinancing to a lower fixed interest rate mortgage can lower your monthly mortgage payment amount.
  • Switching from an adjustable-rate mortgage to a fixed-rate loan. When you have an adjustable-rate mortgage, your payment can adjust up or down as interest rates change. Switching to a fixed-rate loan with reliable and stable monthly payments can give homeowners the security of knowing that their payment will never change.
  • Consolidating your first mortgage and your home equity line of credit. By rolling these into a single monthly payment, you can simplify your finances and focus on one debt. Home-equity lines of credit often have adjustable rates, so refinancing into a fixed-rate loan could potentially save you money in the long run.
  • Using the equity in your home to take a cash-out refinance loan. With rising home values, you may have enough equity to take out a cash-out refi. This money can be used to finance home improvements, pay off debts or to fund large purchases.

Risks of Loan Refinancing

Depending on your goals and financial situation, refinancing may not always be your best option. While refinancing offers a lot of benefits, you’ll also have to weigh the risks.

For example, refinancing your mortgage usually restarts the amortization process. So, if you are five years into paying on a 30-year loan and you decide to take out a new 30-year mortgage, you’ll be making mortgage payments for 35 years. For some homeowners this is a good plan, but if you’re already, say, 10 or 20 years into your mortgage then the lifetime interest may not be worth the extra costs. In these instances many homeowner refinance into a shorter-term loan that won’t extend the time they will make mortgage payments, such as a 20 or 15 year mortgage (which often times also offer lower rates than 30-year loans).

Generally, refinancing is a good option if the new interest rate is lower than the interest rate on your current mortgage, and the total savings amount outweighs the cost to refinance. For example, if you have $390,000 remaining on a $400,000 loan at 4.25%, replacing your existing mortgage at 3.75% can earn savings of $162 per month compared to your previous loan.*

Use our mortgage calculators to estimate what your new monthly mortgage payments might be.

*By refinancing your existing loan, your total finance charges may be higher over the life of the loan.

Mortgage Refinancing FAQs

Before you choose to refinance, it’s important to be prepared. To gauge your refinancing readiness, consider the following questions.

Should I refinance if I only plan on living in my home for a few more years?

Similar to when you initially purchased your home, you will have to pay closing costs on your refinance. Processing, underwriting, and appraisal fees are just a few of the extra expenses you’ll have to pay before you can close on the new loan. In some cases, closing costs can be so high that borrowers fail to break even after refinancing a mortgage, so make sure you do the math and understand how the new loan will affect you.

Should I refinance if I only plan on living in my home for a few more years?
How does my credit score affect refinancing?

How does my credit score affect refinancing?

Your credit score not only helps determine your mortgage refinance approval, but also determines the interest rate your lender is going to offer. Simply put, the higher your credit score, the lower your interest rate is going to be.

For example, a borrower with an average loan size of $250,000 and a credit score of 640 may pay around $2,500 more a year in interest payments than a borrower with a credit score of 760. If your credit score has fallen since you first obtained your mortgage, you can expect to pay higher rates—which may negate any potential benefit of refinancing.

What’s my remaining loan balance?

Before signing a new mortgage, you’ll need to assess your current loan balance. If you’re currently on the 15th year of your 30-year loan, you may want to look at your options for refinancing with a shorter term. This makes sense for a lot of homeowners because it allows them to take advantage of historically low rates without pushing out their payoff date, which can often provide substantial savings.*

What’s my remaining loan balance
Do I need flexibility or a rigid payment schedule?

Do I need flexibility or a rigid payment schedule?

A common use for refinancing is to shorten the length of a loan and pay it off earlier. If current mortgage interest rates are lower than your current interest rate, it’s common to have a similar monthly payment amount while shaving years off your mortgage.

For example, homeowners with a 30-year mortgage may refinance into a 15-year loan. This can be a great choice, but there are things to consider:

First, most lenders will allow you to pay off your mortgage early. So, if you want to pay off your 30-year loan in 15 years by making extra payments, you may be able to do so. This can help you build equity faster and save on interest payments. If circumstances change and times get tough, you have the freedom to revert to the original contractual 30-year payment.

On the other hand, a 15-year loan typically offers even greater interest savings, and can also help you build equity quickly—so you can own your home free and clear sooner rather than later.

Is Refinancing available for FHA, VA, or USDA loans?

Yes, if you have a loan backed by the FHA, VA, or USDA, refinancing options are available, including several streamlined refinance programs. Streamlined refinance programs offer a simplified approval process by reducing or eliminating many of the income, credit or appraisal reviews that are included in standard refinance programs. The VA streamline program is called the Interest Rate Reduction Refinance, or “IRRRL”.

It’s important to mention that streamline refinance loans may not allow a cash-out option. Also, like other refinancing options, streamline refinance loans may increase your total cost over the life of the loan.

Is Refinancing available for FHA, VA, or USDA loans?

Is Now the Right Time to Refinance?

Ultimately, it’s critical to crunch the numbers to see if a refinancing makes sense for you. Even if you’ve been unable to refinance in the past, loan programs and rates are always changing. These changes, along with rising home values in several markets, may enable you to reduce your rate or lower your monthly payments.

But you don’t have to go at it alone! PennyMac loan experts are always ready to answer your questions and guide you along the path to a successful refinancing.