8 Tips on Preparing for a Refinance

Aug 05, 2023
20 People Read
Find out the top tips for refinancing this year.
Table of Contents
  1. Why Refinance?
  2. Tips on Preparing for a Refinance
    1. Review Your Credit Score
    2. Reduce Debt
    3. Research Lenders and Rates
    4. Assess Your Equity
    5. Set Clear Goals
    6. Gather Financial Documents
    7. Calculate Closing Costs
    8. Explore Government Programs
  3. Final Thoughts

Refinancing your home can be a smart financial move, potentially saving you thousands of dollars over the life of your loan. 

Whether you're aiming to lower your interest rate, reduce monthly payments, or tap into your home's equity, preparation is key to a successful refinance. 

In this article, we'll discuss eight tips on preparing for a refinance so you can get the best terms for your new mortgage.

Why Refinance?

Refinancing can be a beneficial financial move for homeowners, offering various advantages depending on individual circumstances. Here are some compelling reasons to consider refinancing:

Lowering Interest Rate

One of the primary reasons to refinance is to secure a lower interest rate than what you currently have on your mortgage. 

A lower rate can lead to reduced monthly payments and significant long-term savings over the life of the loan–savings that can be used in other places like acquiring real estate or starting a business.

Reducing Monthly Payments

If your financial situation has changed or you're looking to free up cash flow, refinancing to extend the loan term may lower your monthly payments. 

This can be especially helpful during times of economic uncertainty or when facing budget constraints.

Shortening Loan Term

Conversely, if you want to pay off your mortgage sooner and save on interest costs, refinancing to a shorter loan term can help you achieve that goal. 

Shorter terms usually come with lower interest rates and help build home equity faster. However, shorter loan terms will result in higher monthly payments, so make sure you have the monthly income to make it work.

Converting from Adjustable-Rate to Fixed-Rate

If you currently have an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) and want to stabilize your housing costs, refinancing to a fixed-rate mortgage can provide predictability and protection from potential interest rate fluctuations.

Be sure to consult with your mortgage loan officer to decide if the current market conditions make it a smart decision to convert to a fixed rate.

» MORE: Pros and Cons of Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs)

Cashing Out Home Equity

Refinancing allows you to tap into your home's equity by borrowing more than your existing mortgage balance. 

This cash-out option can be used for home improvements, debt consolidation, education expenses, or other pressing financial needs.

Removing Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)

If your home's equity has increased, refinancing can help eliminate the need for private mortgage insurance (PMI) if you initially put down less than 20% when purchasing the property.

Before proceeding with a refinance, it's essential to carefully assess your financial goals and evaluate the potential costs and benefits to determine if refinancing aligns with your long-term plans. 

» MORE: How to Remove PMI on Your Mortgage

Tips on Preparing for a Refinance

Refinancing can be a lengthy and stressful process. However, these tips should make your refinance experience smooth and comfortable so you know that you made the right decision.

Review Your Credit Score

Your credit score plays a major role in your interest rate and loan terms you'll qualify for during a refinance. 

Obtain your credit report from the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) and review it to ensure there are no mistakes. 

A higher credit score, typically above 700, demonstrates to lenders that you are a reliable borrower and may lead to lower interest rates and better loan offers.

» MORE: Understanding Hard Inquiries on Your Credit

Reduce Debt

Lenders consider your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio when evaluating your refinance application. DTI measures your monthly income compared to your debt obligations.

To improve your DTI ratio, focus on paying down existing debts and credit card balances. It’s also a good idea to create a budget and make extra payments towards high-interest debts to lower your overall debt load. 

This not only enhances your chances of approval but also strengthens your financial standing.

Research Lenders and Rates

Refinancing terms can vary significantly among lenders, so it's crucial to do your research. 

Explore offerings from multiple lenders, including banks, credit unions, and online mortgage lenders and look beyond the interest rate; compare loan terms, closing costs, and any potential fees. 

Don't be afraid to shop around different lenders and see who can offer the best terms.

» MORE: Understanding Mortgage Lending Criteria

Assess Your Equity

Equity is the difference between your home's current value and the outstanding mortgage balance. The more equity you have, the better your chances of securing favorable refinancing terms. 

To assess your equity, get a professional appraisal or use online tools and real estate websites to estimate your home's value. Aim for at least 20% equity to avoid private mortgage insurance (PMI) and potentially get access to lower interest rates.

Set Clear Goals

It’s important to identify your specific goals for refinancing. Whether you want to lower your monthly payments, switch from an adjustable-rate to a fixed-rate, or shorten the loan term, knowing your objectives will help you tailor the refinance to your needs.

Gather Financial Documents

Prepare the necessary financial documents well in advance to expedite the application process. Common documents include recent pay stubs, W-2s, tax returns, bank statements, and proof of any other assets or income sources. 

Having these documents readily available will save time and prevent potential delays during the underwriting process.

» MORE: Preparing for the Mortgage Application Process

Calculate Closing Costs

Refinancing involves certain closing costs, similar to the costs incurred during your original mortgage. 

These costs can include application fees, appraisal expenses, title searches, and other administrative fees. Before proceeding with the refinance, estimate these costs and factor them into your budget. 

Explore Government Programs

Various government-backed refinance programs may offer special benefits to eligible borrowers. 

For example, FHA (Federal Housing Administration) loans are designed for first-time homebuyers or those with lower credit scores. 

VA (Veterans Affairs) loans are available to veterans and active-duty military members, providing attractive terms and sometimes waiving the need for a down payment. 

HARP (Home Affordable Refinance Program) was created to assist homeowners with loans owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac who are underwater on their mortgages. 

» MORE: Tips When Saving for a Down Payment

Final Thoughts

By following these steps and tips, you'll be well-prepared to navigate the refinance process confidently and make informed decisions that align with your financial goals.

Remember to shop around various lenders by comparing Loan Estimates which outline the terms of your refinance. 

Sometimes you can get lenders engaged in a bidding war where they will constantly try to undercut each other with better terms to earn your business. Use this leverage to negotiate better interest rates and closing costs to put you in the best position financially.

Related: The Role of Credit Scores in Mortgages

Trending: Understanding Traditional Mortgages

Table of Contents
  1. Why Refinance?
  2. Tips on Preparing for a Refinance
    1. Review Your Credit Score
    2. Reduce Debt
    3. Research Lenders and Rates
    4. Assess Your Equity
    5. Set Clear Goals
    6. Gather Financial Documents
    7. Calculate Closing Costs
    8. Explore Government Programs
  3. Final Thoughts