Refinancing is the process of replacing your current mortgage with a new one based on today’s terms and interest rates. Is refinancing worth it? That’s the key consideration. Fees and expenses vary by lender, interest rate and the type of loan. Your goal is to sort through the options and figure out if the cost of refinancing ultimately will save you money for the rest of the time you are likely to own the house.

Three key factors affect the time-to-payback for refinancing:

Factor No. 1:

How Much You Borrow

If your house appreciated in value, you might be able to get a bigger mortgage and use the extra cash for remodeling or other expenses. Lenders calculate many refinancing costs as a percentage of the loan amount. As a result, larger loans might cost more to refinance than smaller loans. But very small loans, of about $100,000 or less, also tend to carry higher interest rates and higher fees than larger loans because small loans are less profitable for lenders.

Factor No. 2:

Loan Types and Fees

Some loans cost more than others – FHA loans, for instance, require an upfront mortgage insurance fee of 1.75 percent of the loan paid to the government. Title and escrow charges vary with state and loan type.

Factor No. 3:

Your Income, Credit Score & Debt Amounts

If your income, debt levels, credit score or other factors have changed since you got your current mortgage, lenders are likely to offer you different terms.

Common Closing Costs

Just like getting a mortgage when you buy a house, refinancing involves many professionals from different companies, all working together, and all charging fees. Here’s a breakdown of the key terms and fees and what you can do to minimize the total cost of refinancing. Generally, the lower the interest rate, the higher are the closing fees.

Pay attention to the estimated closing costs in a refinance, because these — in addition to the interest rate — will help determine whether refinancing is worth it.

Lender fees

Type of fee What the fee includes Cost range
Origination fee

Covers the lender’s administrative charges. If you see an origination fee, you should not also see a long list of administrative, processing, underwriting and other lender charges. In the past various fees such as delivery, copying and such were sometimes listed separately. Now, they usually are all rolled into the origination fee. Origination fees are usually expressed as a percentage of the loan amount. A 1 point origination charge is 1 percent of the loan amount.

0 to 1.5 percent of the loan principal

Discount points

Someone, usually the borrower, can pay discount points to buy a lower interest rate. Discount points are also called “prepaid interest” because that’s what they are — an upfront payment to reduce the monthly payment. Should you pay discount points when you refinance? It depends on the amount of rate reduction you get by paying them, and the length of time it will take to recoup the extra cost with a lower payment.

0 to 3 percent of the loan principal

Are these fees negotiable?

In some loan programs, the government sets the origination fee and is not negotiable under any circumstance. Origination fees in non-government loans may be negotiable, as well as discount points. The Loan Estimate form contains a section entitled “Origination Charges.” That number is the total for the fees the lender charges for originating your loan. It doesn’t really matter what lenders call the individual charges that make up this total – origination fee, processing, underwriting, loan documentation, administration, whatever. What matters is the total, and that’s likely negotiable.

Source: Federal Reserve

Third-party fees

Type of fee What the fee includes Cost range
Appraisal fee

Appraisals can range computer-generated estimates to on-site visits, with commensurate accuracy and fees. Automated valuation models (AVMs) estimate a value from publicly-available sales data, are usually cheap and sometimes are free.


For a desk or drive-by appraisal, an appraiser evaluates real estate listing databases for property sales data and features but does not visit the house. For a full appraisal, the appraiser visits the house and runs extensive comparisons to recently sold properties. The larger and more unique a property, the more extensive and expensive is the appraisal. In addition, lenders often require second appraisals when financing very high-end homes, which can increase the cost substantially.

$300 to $700

Inspection fee

It is not common for a mortgage lender to require an inspection for a refinance. This can come up, however, if you have a septic tank or private well, or if the appraiser notes conditions that could affect the property’s safety or marketability. For example, if the appraiser sees wood-to-earth contact, the lender will likely require a pest inspection to make sure there is no termite damage.

$175 to $350

Attorney Review/Closing Fees

In some states, it’s customary for closing to take place at title companies in the presence of an escrow officer. In other states, attorneys handle the closing. Attorney fees may also be charged if the lender has a lawyer reviewing its loan documents before closing.

$500 to $1,000

Title Search and Insurance

Mortgage lenders require borrowers to purchase a lender’s title policy, which protects them if others make claims on your property. For example, recently, some buyers of foreclosed houses lost their properties because the foreclosures were handled improperly and the lenders did not have the right to sell the properties. Title insurance covers this type of situation. Title insurers conduct a search for claims against your home, like judgments, mechanics’ liens, tax liens and mortgages before issuing you a policy. Title insurance can be expensive — shop around if you’re in a state that allows it. If your current mortgage isn’t more than a few years old, ask for a short-term or re-issue rate, which can be five to 60 percent less than the standard policy.

$700 to $900

Survey fee

Some states require a survey for any transaction involving real property, while others do not. Surveys confirm the location of buildings and improvements on the land.

$150 to $400

Credit report fee

This is the only fee that can be charged before you receive your Good Faith Estimate, which lists all the costs associated with your mortgage.

$15 to $50.

Are these fees negotiable?

Most third-party fees are negotiable, either in their amounts or who pays the fee. You may not be able to choose who your lender uses to provide third-party services. But your lender may waive a fee it controls, or agree to pay a third party’s fee. Appraisal services and credit report fee amounts are not negotiable. You may be able to choose your title and escrow services, and in that case, the fees are negotiable. The same applies to inspections and surveys. Also review and shop for homeowners’ insurance coverage when you refinance.

Source: Federal Reserve

Government Fees and Prepaids

Type of fee What the fee includes Cost range
County/state fees

Real estate transactions, including refinances, are public in the U.S. This means that the lender’s lien against your house will be recorded for all to see. Filing these records involves a small fee. Local governments also charge transfer fees and / or transfer taxes. Some charge these fees for refinancing.

Varies

Impounds and prepaid items

These amounts aren’t technically mortgage fees because most of them are costs associated with home ownership — you’d have to pay property taxes even if you did not have a mortgage, for example. The most common prepaid items are mortgage interest that will accrue between the closing date and month-end, property taxes and homeowners insurance. These are required because the lender does not want your home to be uninsured or delinquent on taxes.


Your mortgage lender will probably require you to have an impound account. (This might also be called an escrow account, but it’s completely different from the escrow opened at a title company.) Impounds are especially common for borrowers with less than 20 percent home equity. When you have an impound account, your lender adds an amount to your monthly payment to cover 1/12th of your taxes and insurance. When taxes or insurance premiums come due, the lender pays them. Borrowers who are not required to have impounds may be offered an interest rate or fee reduction for allowing them because loans with impounds are less risky for mortgage lenders.

Varies

Are these fees or prepaids negotiable?

These items are almost never negotiable.

Source: Federal Reserve

Loan Points Explained: Par, Rebate & Discount Points

Every home loan comes with one of three types of price points: par, rebate and discount.

Par Pricing

Par pricing is neutral and will cost you zero points. (A point is one percent of the loan amount) It’s the rate you qualify for based on your credit rating, loan-to-value and other factors.

Rebate Pricing

Rebate pricing means you choose a higher interest rate, but in exchange, you receive a rebate. You can use the rebate to cover some or all of your closing costs. Rebate pricing is what lenders mean when they advertise a no closing cost refinance.

Discount Points

Discount pricing gets you a lower-than-market interest rate, but it costs extra. The extra costs are called discount points. Paying higher fees to get a lower refinance rate is also called buying down the loan.

Average Closing Costs in 2014

Source: Bankrate.com’s annual closing costs survey. According to Bankrate, the survey includes lender fees and third-party fees. It excludes title insurance, title search, taxes, property insurance, association fees, interest and other prepaid items.

How to Calculate Your Refinance Break-Even Point

Refinancing is only worth it when you can save more than what you have to spend to refinance. You will break even on the refinancing when the cost to refinance equals the savings you expect to gain. Here’s how to estimate the point at which you break even and beyond.

The Quick, Dirty & Dangerous Way
  1. Tally your closing costs (lender fees and third party charges only).
  2. Subtract the proposed refinance payment from your current mortgage payment.
  3. Divide the closing cost total by the difference in your payment.
A More Accurate Way

Use a refinance calculator. Refinance calculators account for the difference in interest costs — not just the difference in payment — and they can show your true savings even if the new loan has a higher payment than the old one.

Using the quick, dirty, and dangerous way, your refinance might look like this: If it costs $3,500 to refinance, and your new payment is $70 per month less than the old payment, the estimated break-even is 50 months ($3,500 / $70), or four years and two months.

Keep in mind that while the quick, dirty, and dangerous way is easy, it could also lead you to the wrong conclusion. That’s because the difference between your old payment and your new payment does NOT equal true savings — some of the difference is the result of stretching out the remaining balance of your loan over a new loan term.

In other words, you pay less each month, but you pay for more months.

Another disadvantage of the quick, dirty, and dangerous method is it can’t calculate the savings you get by refinancing to a 15-year mortgage, because even if the refinance loan costs $100,000 less over its life than the old loan, its payment is almost certainly greater.

3 Refinancing Scenarios

Just as every household budget is different, each refinance situation is different. Whether you should refinance depends on your circumstances and the deal lenders offer. Which of the following three situations is most like yours?

Ditching Mortgage Insurance

Relevant Facts
  • Existing balance $180,771
  • Property value $232,000
  • LTV 77.9%
  • Refinance breakeven 21 months
Emma’s Story

Emma bought her house three years ago for $200,000, putting $10,000 down and financing $190,000. Her interest rate is 4.75 percent.

Refinance Opportunity

Emma was offered a refinance loan at 3.75 percent with refinancing fees costing $3,615. Her property value today is $232,000, and her loan balance is $180,771. She’s not sure how long she’ll keep her home, but thinks it will be at least three years. Refinancing would reduce her payment by $154, but it will take 33 months — nearly three years — to recoup her costs with a lower mortgage payment.

Should Emma Refinance?

Emma’s home’s value has appreciated to the point that her loan-to-value would be less than 80 percent, which would allow her to drop her mortgage insurance costs. When her PMI premiums (.58 percent per year) are subtracted, Emma’s monthly payment drops by $218 and her breakeven is slashed to just 21 months.

Tip:

When comparing loans, don’t forget to include mortgage insurance reduction / elimination!

Choosing a Higher Rate to Save Money

Relevant Facts
  • Matt is uncertain how long he will own property
  • Existing rate 5.5%
  • Offer 1 Rate 3.5%
  • Offer 1 closing costs $15,000
  • Offer 1 break-even 43 months
  • Offer 2 Rate 4.15%
  • Offer 2 closing costs $0
  • Offer 2 break-even 1 month
Matt’s Story

Matt is a divorced 30-something who owns a home that he originally purchased with his ex-wife. He never got around to refinancing and is paying 5.5 percent on an eight-year-old mortgage. The remaining balance of his $350,000 loan is $303,933.

Refinance Opportunity

Matt is considering refinancing to a loan with a 3.5 percent rate. His payment will go down by $622 a month! However, the closing costs for the new loan are over $15,000, and his breakeven point is 43 months. Matt’s not really sure how long he’ll keep his house, and that’s a lot of money to pay upfront — if he leaves in just two years, he’ll lose thousands.

Should Matt Refinance?

Matt should consider a loan with fewer upfront costs, even if the interest rate is higher. For example, if he chooses a no closing cost refinance with a 4.15 percent interest rate, he breaks even in just one month, lowers his payment by $510 and would save nearly $11,000 over the next three years.

Tip:

Avoid high upfront refinancing costs if you’re unsure of your time owing the property. Sometimes, the loan with the higher interest rate is the better deal.

Shortening Loan Term

Relevant Facts
  • Existing rate & term 6% @18 yrs remaining
  • Offer 1 rate & term 4% @30 years
  • Offer 1 lifetime interest $33,548 more than existing loan
  • Offer 2 rate & term 3.25% @ 15 years
  • Offer 2 lifetime interest $47,377 less than existing loan
Walter’s Story

Walter has known for a few years that his mortgage rate is too high, but he never got around to refinancing. His mortgage is 12 years old and he’s paying 6 percent. Of the original $400,000 balance, he owes $316,318.

Refinance Opportunity

If Walter refinances to a new 30-year loan at 4 percent (costing $7,908 in fees), his payment will drop by $888 from $2,398 to $1,510!

Should Walter Refinance?

It would take a total of 42 years to get rid of his mortgage if he does this, and it will cost him an extra $33,548. Walter should think about a 15-year refinance. The rate is 3.25 percent, his payment is still $175 less, and he’ll save $47,377.

Tip:

A 15-year loan can create huge savings if you can afford a higher payment. If your current loan is more than a few years old, your new payment might even be lower.

Shopping For Your Refinance

Why would you shop around for a refinance mortgage? Why wouldn’t you? A 2011 Stanford University study concluded that many consumers do not shop when financing a home because they don’t realize how much they’d save if they did — a median $2,664 at closing for a $200,000 mortgage! And there’s more — a Mortgage Industry Advisory Corporation (MIAC) study found that on any given day, average mortgage rates vary between lenders by .25 percent (for conforming and government loans) to over 0.50 percent (for jumbo loans). The chart below shows how this translates into real-word purchasing power — over time, choosing the right mortgage could get you anything from a free vacation to a new car.

Loan Amount Rate Payment 5 Yr 10 Yr 30 Yr
$ 200,000 4% $ 954,83 $ 76,395 $ 99,722 $ 257,290
$ 200,000 4.250% $ 983, 88 $ 77,417 $ 100,146 $ 259,033
Difference $ 29.05 $ 1,473 $ 3,486 $ 10,458
$ 500,000 4% $ 2,387.08 $ 190,987 $ 249,305 $ 643,225
$ 500,000 4.250% $ 2,533.43 $ 196,216 $ 196,216 $ 196,216
Difference $ 146.35 $ 8,781 $ 17,562 $ 52,686

5 Steps to Compare Mortgage Quotes

Follow these fine steps when you comparison shop for a loan. But let’s start with the premise — does comparison shopping matter? Yes. According to Stanford University researchers, you need at least four mortgage quotes to have a chance at getting the best deal. According to the Federal Reserve of Chicago, home loan comparison shoppers save thousands in lifetime costs in comparison to non-shoppers. Here’s how to shop systematically for the best deal on a refinance.

1
Compare Fairly

Try to get your quotes quickly — this is important because mortgage rates can and do change several times a day. A Monday quote from Lender A can’t be compared reliably to a Tuesday quote from Lender B. If the lender issues a Good Faith Estimate, it should indicate how long the quote is valid.

2
Narrow the Field

Review your mortgage quotes and pick two lenders with the most competitive pricing. Contact them both and discuss your home refinance. Go with the loan professional who is most responsive and who provides the best answers to your questions. Make sure you’re comfortable with this person — you may discuss sensitive topics (i.e., money), and you’re trusting him or her with an expensive transaction.

3
Ask For a GFE or CFPB Loan Estimate

A mortgage quote should contain the interest rate and the costs of getting the loan, including fees, service charges or points paid to the lender, and money paid to third parties like appraisers and title insurers. Ask for a Good Faith Estimate (GFE) or CFPB Loan Estimate instead of a worksheet or scenario. The GFE and Loan Estimate carry legal obligations to honor the quote, while a worksheet does not.

4
Be Prepared to Share Your Financial Information

Lender needs personal information about you to provide a GFE or Loan Estimate, because your rate depends on your credit score, home value and loan amount, loan type and property use. Without this information, lenders can give you a quote, but it might not be based in reality.

5
Review the Short- and Long-Term Costs

When comparing mortgage quotes, calculate the difference in monthly payments, closing costs and lifetime interest expenses. Normally, the loans with the lowest interest rates have the highest costs. Perform a breakeven analysis on these elements to choose a loan. Take the difference in closing costs and divide that by the difference in payments. The number of months is the length of time it will take for the more expensive loan to pay off.

Let’s look at a simple example of how to calculate the breakeven point on two loans with different interest rates and closing costs.

Loan Amount Rate Payment Costs
Loan A $ 200,000 3.75% $ 926.23 $ 5,000
Loan B $ 200,000 4% $ 954.83 $ 2,000
Difference 0.25% $ 28.60 -$3,000

Breakeven = $3,000 / $28,60 = 105 months or 8.75 years

In the example above, Loan A has a lower interest rate and monthly payment than Loan B, but higher closing costs. If you choose Loan A over Loan B, it will take almost nine years to make up the difference in the closing costs. If you plan to keep the loan for more than nine years, then Loan A is the better deal. However, if you think you may sell the home or refinance in less than nine years, then Loan B is the smarter choice.

No-Cost Refinances

Refinancing a mortgage is expensive, and it may take some time for the consequent savings to offset the upfront costs. That’s the idea behind the so-called no-cost refinance — there’s no free lunch.

According to the Federal Reserve, no-cost means different things to different lenders, so check your GFE or Loan Estimate to see exactly which costs are covered. For example:

  • The mortgage lender eliminates its total origination charges, but not third-party fees (like title insurance) or prepaid expenses (like property taxes).
  • The lender covers all of its fees plus third-party charges, but not prepaid items.
  • The mortgage lender absorbs all fees, including loan costs and prepaid expenses.

When the lender absorbs refinancing costs, you pay a higher interest rate. There’s another way to capture the benefits of a no-cost refinance that does not increase your rate.

The No-Cash Alternative

Avoid paying the fees out of pocket by having the lender add closing costs to o your loan balance. Because you borrow more money, you need sufficient home equity to qualify for this kind of refinance. Although you’ll get a lower interest rate, it will be applied against a larger loan balance.

In most cases, paying for a lower rate saves money only if you keep the loan for several years. The following example has been taken from actual loan pricing from a national mortgage lender and illustrates both types of “no closing cost” refinance. The loan with the higher rate has no lender fees, and the loan with the lower rate has lender fees, which have been added to the loan amount

Loan Amount Rate Payment Costs: 3 years Costs: 5 years Costs: 30 years
Loan A $ 320,000 3.625% $ 1,459 $ 106,270 $ 119,919 $ 205,371
Loan B $ 321,459 3.375% $ 1,421 $ 104,830 $ 119,013 $ 190,158

How you pay for refinancing costs depends on your finances, the structure of the “no-cost” offers you get from lenders, and how long you intend to keep the property. One thing always holds true — lower refinance rates cost more. Higher rates cost less. And there are no freebies, only trade-offs.

Closing Time: Know Your Rights

When you apply for a mortgage you will receive a form known as the GFE or Loan Estimate. These forms get their power because by law, lenders must disclose fact of their offers reasonably accurately. They must reissue a new GFE or Loan Estimate within three business days if there is a material change to your file. When you lock your rate, for example, or if you choose a different loan. At closing, either the GFE is reconciled to the Settlement Statement (HUD-1 form), or the Loan Estimate is reconciled to the Closing Disclosure. The lender must refund cost increases to the borrower. The final GFE or Loan Estimate must be provided to the borrower no later than three business days prior to closing.

The law classifies charges into three categories: those that can’t vary from disclosures at all, those that can vary within predetermined ranges, and those with no limits on variability.

  • Charges That Cannot Increase

    Origination fees

    Discount or premium points for a specific interest rate selected

    Adjusted origination charges (after the interest rate is locked)

    Transfer taxes

  • Charges that Cannot Increase >10%

    Required settlement services that the lender selects, such as the appraisal

    Title services, lender’s title insurance or other required services *

    Government recording charges

  • Charges That Can Increase Without Limit

    Title services, lender’s title insurance and required settlement services the borrower can choose **

    Owner’s title insurance and other non-required services **

    Initial deposit for borrower escrow account

    Daily interest charges

    Homeowner’s insurance

*If chosen by lender or if the borrower uses a company identified on the lender’s Settlement Services Provider List.

**If the borrower picks a service provider not included on the Settlement Services Provider list.

For the “Charges that Cannot Increase More Than 10%” column, the total of the listed charges can’t increase by more than 10 percent over the amount disclosed in the GFE.

Updated: July 27, 2017