If you're having trouble paying a mortgage, one option is to refinance. This means taking out a new loan with a lower interest rate, which should lower the monthly payment. A refinance can simply mean trading for a new loan, or cashing out some of the equity you already have in the property. If you do a "cash-out" refinance, however, your equity will drop.
Equity, Principal and Interest
Equity is the market value of your property minus the outstanding loan amount. If your home is worth $200,000, and you have $150,000 of principal left to pay on the mortgage, your equity is $50,000. The amount of interest you have left to pay in the loan doesn't enter into the equation -- if you refinance the loan with a lower interest rate, then you'll be paying less interest, but on the same amount of principal.
Rate and Term Refinancing
There are a couple of good reasons to refinance a home loan. If your current loan carries an interest rate higher than the market rate, then you're paying more in interest every month than necessary. Getting a lower interest rate by refinancing makes sense, as long as you don't lose too much through closing costs and fees. Any kind of refinancing requires a credit check, income verification and documentation of your resources, household expenses and debts. If you have an FHA-backed loan, however, you may be eligible for the Streamline refinance program, which has fewer requirements. At the end of the process, your monthly payment amount should be significantly lower; you'll have the same amount of equity and owe the same amount of money on the house.
A second type of refinancing puts some cash in your pocket, drawn from the equity you already have in the home. As an example, owing $100,000 with $50,000 of equity can allow you to contact for a new loan of $125,000; with a lower interest rate, your monthly payments may stay the same while you bank the extra $25,000. You can use the money for improvements, repairs or any other expense, but you have halved the amount of equity in the house to $25,000.
Losing equity in your home is a bad thing. If you've spent years paying the mortgage, you've worked hard to build up equity, which provides a cushion during lean financial times and, ultimately, a profit if you decide to sell the home. However, a refinance can actually raise equity, under the right circumstances. If you use the cash you've drawn out to make improvements to the home that raise its market value, then the refinance ends up as a profitable transaction. However, you always have to take the costs of the refinance into account. Closing costs negate the savings on interest, and the shorter your remaining time in the house, the more expensive these costs become.
Founder/president of the innovative reference publisher The Archive LLC, Tom Streissguth has been a self-employed business owner, independent bookseller and freelance author in the school/library market. Holding a bachelor's degree from Yale, Streissguth has published more than 100 works of history, biography, current affairs and geography for young readers.