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December 3, 2009

Economy: Why NOW May Be A Good Time To Refinance A Mortgage

Why Now May Be a Good Time to Consider Refinancing a Mortgage

By JENNIFER SARANOW SCHULTZ

 

With mortgage rates hitting record lows, it may be time to think about refinancing.

The rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage with no points hit 5.01 this week, slightly up from 5 percent last week but down from 5.97 percent this time last year, and the 15-year fixed mortgage rate hit 4.46 percent, compared with 4.47 percent last week, according to the latest data released Wednesday from Bankrate.com. These rates are at, or close to, the lowest levels since the company’s tracking began in 1985.

At the same time, the Mortgage Bankers Association said interest rates on the 30-year fixed-rate mortgages it tracks fell for a sixth straight week, remaining below the 5 percent level, “widely viewed as a psychological tipping point” according to this article.

The record lows are thanks to a combination of the Federal Reserve showing no inclination to raise short-term interest rates and investors and foreign central banks maintaining a healthy appetite for debt issued or guaranteed by the United States government, said Greg McBride, Bankrate.com’s senior financial analyst. And they come as many homeowners are finding themselves owing more than their house is worth and are having trouble making mortgage payments.

There is also a limited-time government program that helps people to refinance if they are slightly underwater. The “Home Affordable Refinance Program” is not as widely discussed as the related loan modification program. And it has been criticized by some housing experts for helping financial players profit. Still, it aims to help homeowners who have a mortgage balance equal to or greater than the value of their home refinance and obtain more affordable monthly mortgage payments.

The program is available until June of next year to homeowners who meet certain qualifications, including having loans owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac and having a first mortgage that does not exceed 125 percent of the current market value of the home. (See if you qualify and find out how to apply if you do here).

With the risk that rates may not stay this low for long and that the government program will end, “there is a window of opportunity” for refinancing that will not be available for long, Mr. McBride said. He recommended that those who think they may not qualify for the program to double check what their home is worth to confirm this. Then, even if you don’t ultimately qualify, he suggested considering trying to refinance anyway if you are paying a higher rate on a fixed-rate mortgage or have an adjustable-rate mortgage.

“Today’s record low mortgage rates represent an opportunity for homeowners to refinance at lower fixed rates or to trade out of an adjustable rate mortgage before an inevitable increase in rates and lock in permanent payment affordability,” he said.

Are you considering refinancing in this environment? Why or why not? If so, what kinds of problems and hurdles, if any, have you run into trying to refinance? (Find more information about mortgages here and more information about loan modifications here).

Original link: http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/02/why-now-may-be-a-good-time-to-consider-refinancing-a-mortgage/

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