Why You Should Not Refinance Just to Lower Your Payment

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I keep talking with people who don't understand that a higher interest rate on a refinance can result in a lower payment even though the cost of money goes up. In fact, they don't understand why refinancing tends to lower the payment at all.

Before I go any further, I need to reiterate my standard warning that you should Never Choose A Loan (or a House) Based Upon Payment. There are all kinds of games lenders and loan officers can play to manipulate your apparent payment.

Now, as to why refinancing tends to lower the payment: It's actually very simple: Because you are extending the period of the loan. You're spreading the repayment of the principal over an entirely new thirty year period starting today, and going out thirty years from now, instead of thirty years from whenever you originally started.

Let's say you took out a home loan five years ago for $300,000 at 6% on a thirty year fixed rate basis. Your payment has been $1798.66, and assuming you've just been going along and making minimum payments, you have paid your principal down to $279,163. Even adding $3500 in closing costs into your loan balance, if you refinance again at exactly the same rate, your payment will drop to $1611.72. If you divide the cost by the payment savings, it looks like you break even in less than two years!

However, that isn't a valid calculation. What you're doing is taking a loan with a remaining period of 25 years, adding $3500, and swapping it for a brand new 30 year loan, serving no purpose except to extend the period for which you have borrowed the money by 5 years. Your monthly cost of interest actually goes up, because you owe $3500 more on the new loan at the same rate, not to mention that $3500 is real money you paid to get the loan done for no real benefit! Your total of remaining payments goes up by over $40,000! Even if you keep making the same payments ($1798.66), you have added nine months to your loan! This also leaves aside all kinds of games that can be played with payment in the short term.

Never choose a loan based upon payment. If you will remember this one rule, you will save yourself from more than fifty percent of the traps out there. Loan officers and real estate agents and everything else tend to sell by payment. You do need to be able to afford the payment, and I mean not just now but what it's going to go to in five years. With that said, however, remember the fact that payment can be extended out practically indefinitely. Used to be with credit cards taking 26 years to pay off by minimum payments, you could be paying off a restaurant meal 25 years after the crop it was processed into fertilizer for was harvested, costing you five to ten times the original cost of the meal. The same principle applies for real estate loans. Unless it's a cash out loan, or a higher interest rate, you're likely to cut the payment just based upon the fact that you are extending the term.

I have also said this before, but just because they quote you a lower payment to get you to sign up for the loan doesn't mean it'll be that low when you actually go to sign documents. In a case like this, it is very possible for them to conveniently "forget" to tell you about prepaid interest, impound accounts, third party and junk fees, and origination points, all of which will add to the balance on your loan and have the effect of raising the payment reflected upon the final documents. So you sign up expecting your payment to drop by $180 plus, and at final signing, you've paid $10,000 more than they told you about and you are only lowering your payment by $80, but it's all done and it would be wasted effort if you don't sign these final documents, so you do - blissfully unaware that you have actually done something worse than wasting that $13,000 you added to your balance to get your loan done. This is real money, despite the fact that it didn't come out of your checkbook - you've just added $13,000 to what you owe, removing $13,000 in real money to what you have. In fact, you've just added about $75,000 to the actual costs of paying off your property! And the loan company got paid to talk you into this!

If you're not sure if you should refinance, one of the questions to ask yourself is "What would happen if I keep making the same payments as now? Would I be done sooner, or would it take longer?" It's hardly a foolproof question, but taking a financial calculator to closing, and plugging the new balance and interest rate reflected on the new loan documents together with your old payment, and seeing whether it results in a quicker payoff, is certainly one good check upon the ability of slick operators to sell you a bill of goods. This doesn't work for cash out or consolidation loan refinances, obviously, but for "rate/term", where the attraction is is simply a lower payment or lower interest rate, it's certainly one question worthy of asking. An answer that's less than your current total doesn't mean it's a smart loan to be doing, but a longer payoff is a pretty universal indicator that it's not.

Refinancing to lower your rate can certainly be a major benefit to you, as I've said before, but you need to crank the numbers to see if it actually helps your situation, as opposed to stretching out your loan term to make it seem like your costs have gone down, when in fact they have done no such thing. With thousands and tens of thousands of dollars on the line, it might even be smart to pay a disinterested expert to run the calculations. Let's say you pay $200 for an hour of their time, which saves you from making that $75,000 mistake I describe above. The downside is you wrote a check for $200. The upside is that you don't end up writing checks for $75,000 more than you needed to. If you understand finance yourself, the computations aren't difficult, and that $40 financial calculator will save you as often as you ask it questions, although you might have to feed it a $2 battery occasionally. If you aren't certain how to do the calculations, or what calculations you need to do, by all means give your accountant a call.

Caveat Emptor

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2 Comments

M.A. said:

My sister in law and husband bought a home together in 1998 in the low 200,000 range at 5% interest. My husband and I live in the house and pay the monthly mortgage while she still lives at home with her father. Anywho long story short she is in financial trouble and wants us to refininace this house which by the way in 9 more years will be paid off to give her the equity. She is convinced that we can lower our monthly payment and get rid of all debt by just refinancing! I am going to forward her this article, maybe she'll wakeup.

Dan Melson Author Profile Page said:

There's more at stake here than just a low payment or what's most efficient.

If your sister has put any money to the deal, she is within her rights in wanting for it to be paid back. If she's entitled to a share of equity, she's entitled and you should give it to her. I don't know what arrangements your husband and sister in law had, but you should honor them, especially for family. Finally, if her name is on the loan, she is entitled to get it off as the monthly payment impacts her own creditworthiness. Your sister in law did your husband and possibly you a favor! If it's hurting her now (and it may be), or if she needs the money she's entitled to, you should do what is necessary to get it to her.

I'd refinance my own residence in a heartbeat were I in that situation and be grateful that the rates were as low as they are right now!

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on October 8, 2019 7:00 AM.

Mortgage Loan Modification was the previous entry in this blog.

When Loan Modification Will Not Help, or Is Not Appropriate is the next entry in this blog.

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