By Nathaniel Sillin
Have you ever considered how lenders compare applicants? Typically, the lowest rate goes to those who have the highest likelihood of repaying the loan on time. A lot of data goes into determining that probability, including the person’s credit, income and outstanding debt.
As these factors improve, your terms on new loans might improve as well. You could also refinance debts you took on earlier in life to take advantage of the changes. As a result, you might be able to decrease your interest rate, lower your monthly payment and save a lot of money.
Refinancing, which is often done by taking out a new loan to pay off existing debt, can be surprisingly simple. In some cases, you can submit all the information online, and the entire process will only take a few days. However, refinancing more complex debts, such as a mortgage, can take considerably longer.
While refinancing doesn’t always make sense, it’s worth considering if you’re in one of the following situations.
Interest rates dropped. Some loans’ interest rates depend on a benchmark interest rate, such as the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Even if your financial profile stays the same, when the benchmark rate rises or falls, your interest rate on a new loan could rise or fall as well.
You want to change the terms of your loan. Because you’re taking out a new loan to pay off existing debt, you might have the opportunity to change the terms of the loan. For example, you could have a variable-rate student loan whose interest rate rises or falls with a benchmark. You might be able to refinance with a fixed-rate student loan and have certainty that your monthly payments won’t change in the future.
If you have a lower interest rate after refinancing and have the same amount, or less, time to repay the loan, you can save money over the lifetime of the loan.
You want to lower your monthly payments. Say you have a 30-year mortgage that you’ve been paying off for five years. If you refinance with another 30-year mortgage, you have an extra five years to pay off approximately the same amount of money. As a result, your monthly payments could be lower, but be sure to take into consideration the fact that you will likely wind up paying more in interest.
Your loan has a cosigner. Perhaps you asked someone to cosign your auto loan to improve your chances of getting approved or getting a lower interest rate. If you’re eligible for refinancing on your own, you might be able to release your cosigner and take full responsibility for the new loan.
Proceed carefully because applying for refinancing could hurt your credit. Applying for refinancing often results in a hard inquiry, when a potential lender reviews your credit. Generally, a single hard inquiry won’t have a large negative impact on credit, but multiple hard inquiries might.
When you’re refinancing a mortgage, auto loan or student loans you can still shop around and try to find the best rate without worrying about your credit too much. As long as the hard inquiries happen within a 14- to 45-day period (depending on the credit-scoring model) the credit-scoring model will consider them a single inquiry.
Consider the fees and find your break-even point before refinancing. Depending on the type of debt and the lender, there could be costs associated with refinancing debt. For example, some loans have an origination fee, either a flat fee or a percentage of the loan amount, which could be significant.
The break-even point is how long it’ll take you to recoup the costs associated with refinancing. For example, it could cost you $3,000 to refinance your mortgage, but you’ll save $150 each month. You’ll break even after 20 months because that’s when you’ll have saved $3,000 in monthly payments. If you plan on selling the home before the break-even point, it likely doesn’t make sense to refinance.
Use the same sort of calculations to weigh the pros and cons of refinancing other types of debts. When it looks like refinancing could be beneficial, shop around to try and find the terms that best fit your needs.
Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa’s financial education programs. To follow Practical Money Skills on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney.