Make Lenders Fight Over You, Plus 6 More Refinance Rate Strategies

June 17, 2017 - 5 min read

Don’t Leave Money On The Refinance Table

With mortgage rates approaching historic lows, many homeowners are scrambling to take advantage of the times with a mortgage refinance.

Thirty-year fixed rates are near 4 percent, while 15-year interest rates are even lower. This is rare opportunity to lock in rock-bottom rates.

But many applicants are leaving money on the table. To ensure that you don’t, make your refinance more attractive to lenders. Then make them fight over you.

This, plus six other strategies, will work on any refinance type, from the popular FHA streamline to a standard conventional refinance. Even VA rate reduction loans and USDA refinances are prime targets for these methods.

With that in mind, here are seven ways to get the best possible refinance rate offer from your lender.

Verify your new rate

1. Increase Your Home’s Equity

By increasing your home equity, you create a lower loan-to-value ratio (LTV). This is the amount that you’re borrowing as a percentage of your home’s value. LTV is key to getting approved for a refinance — and getting a lower interest rate — because lenders consider loans with low LTVs less risky.

There are three ways to increase your LTV.

  1. Pay down your mortgage
  2. Make improvements
  3. Wait for similar homes to sell in your neighborhood

According to Fannie Mae, cutting your mortgage from 71 percent LTV to 70 percent could drop your rate by 125 basis points (0.125%). That’s a savings of $8,000 over the life of a $300,000 loan. If your LTV is just above of any five-percentage-point tier, consider paying down the loan just enough to get to the tier below.

You can also make small improvements to increase your value, thereby lowering your LTV. Focus on bathrooms and the kitchen. These upgrades come with the most bang for the buck.

Lastly, stroll your neighborhood and look for homes that are on the market. A high-priced sale near you can increase your home’s value; appraisers base your home’s value on sales of similar homes in the area.

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2. Improve Your Credit Score

In general, borrowers with credit scores of 740 or higher will get the best interest rates from lenders. With a score less than 620, it can be difficult to get a lower rate or even qualify for a refinance.

What’s the best way to improve your credit score? Pay your bills on time, pay down credit card balances, delay major new purchases, and avoid applying for more credit. All these things can negatively affect your credit rating.

It’s also wise to order copies of your credit report from the big three credit reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax, and Transunion — to make sure they contain no mistakes.

You are entitled to one free credit report per year, per bureau.

3. Pay Closing Costs Upfront

Closing costs can be substantial, often two percent of the loan amount or more.

Most applicants roll these costs into the new loan. While zero-closing-cost mortgages save out-of-pocket expense, they can come with higher interest rates.

To keep rates to a minimum, pay the closing costs in cash if you can. This will also lower your monthly payments.

Verify your new rate

4. Pay Points

Points are fees you pay the lender at closing in exchange for a lower interest rate. Just make sure that “discount points,” as they are known, come with a solid return on investment.

A point equals one percent of the mortgage amount – e.g., one point would equal $1,000 on a $100,000 mortgage loan.

The more points you pay upfront, the lower your interest rate, and the lower your monthly mortgage payment. Whether or not it makes sense to pay points depends on your current finances and the term of the loan.

Paying points at closing is best for long-term loans such as 30-year mortgages. You’ll benefit from those lower interest rates for a long time. But remember: that only applies if you keep the loan and home as long as it takes to recoup the cost.

5. Pit Lenders Against Each Other

As with any purchase, refinance consumers should comparison shop for the best deal.

This applies even if you have a personal relationship with a local banker or loan officer.

A mortgage is primarily a business transaction. It shouldn’t be personal. A friend or relative who “does loans” should understand that.

Even if your contact suggests he or she can give you a lower rate, it can’t hurt to see what other lenders offer.

Lenders compete for your business by sweetening their deals with lower rates and fees, plus better terms.

And, don’t pre-judge a company just because it’s a banker or broker. If a bank isn’t presenting tempting offers, consider a mortgage broker, or vice versa. Brokers may obtain a wholesale interest rate for you, which can be cheaper than the rates offered by banks. On the other hand, many banks offer ultra-low rates in an effort to undercut brokers.

You can benefit when lenders fight for your business.

Verify your new rate

6. Look Beyond APR

Two mortgages with the same APR are often unequal.

For example, some mortgage rates are lower only because they include points you’ll have to pay upfront. Others may have an attractive Annual Percentage Rate (APR), but cost more overall because of various lender fees and policies.

It’s possible for two mortgages to have the same APR but carry different interest rates.

Shopping by APR can be confusing, so it’s best to focus on the total cost of the loan, especially the interest rate and fees.

It’s also important to check out competing loans on the same day because rates change daily.

Verify your new rate

7. Know When to Lock In the Rate

Once you’ve found a new mortgage that meets your needs, consult with your lender to pick the best date to lock in low rates.

Loan processing times vary from 30 days to more than 90 days, but many lenders will lock in the rates for just 30 to 45 days.

Avoid expensive lock extensions. An extension is needed when you don’t close the loan on time.

Ask your lender to determine the best day to lock the loan based on a conservative loan processing time frame. Otherwise, you may end up spending more money than you originally planned.

What Are Today’s Refinance Rates?

Just about anyone can get a low rate in today’s market. Still, it pays to employ time-proven rate reduction strategies.

Get a rate quote for your refinance now, without delay. Mortgage rates can be seen in minutes, and no social security number is required to start.

Time to make a move? Let us find the right mortgage for you

Pete Gerardo
Authored By: Pete Gerardo
The Mortgage Reports contributor
Pete Gerardo is a business writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times and numerous trade magazines.