How to Find the Best Refinance Rates

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While mortgage interest rates in 2018, they’re still near historic lows — so it’s still a good time to look for the best refinance rates that will save you money on your mortgage.

It could also be your last chance for a while, as most experts agree that interest rates have nowhere to go but up. But where do you find the best refinance rates, and insure that you don’t miss the boat? Below, I’ll share some strategies that will help you find the best refinance rates on your mortgage.

To nab the best mortgage refinance rates, one of your first moves should be to shop around online and get a sense for the best rates in your area. You can use the tool below to get a feel for what you might pay.

Why Should I Refinance My Mortgage?

It’s common for people to transfer their balance from a credit card with a high interest rate to one with a lower interest rate, resulting in a more manageable monthly payment and a bit more breathing room in their budget. Refinancing your mortgage at a lower rate can allow for the same thing on a bigger scale. You may also want to refinance to obtain a shorter loan term or a different type of mortgage.

Whatever your reason, refinancing can save you money in the short term, the long term, or sometimes both.

Current Rate Climate

The average rate on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage was 4.58% in March 2018, . A 15-year fixed rate loan averaged 4.00%. Rates have been slowly rising since the beginning of the year.

Where will rates go in 2018? No one can say for sure, but most housing experts expect a slow climb toward 5% as the Federal Reserve continues to set rates incrementally higher in a bid to keep inflation in check. The question has shifted from whether rates will rise or fall to how much they’ll rise — slightly, or more substantially?

How to Get the Best Refinance Rates

There’s little magic involved in getting the best mortgage refinance rates. Like most other financial decisions, you’ll need to do a little research and some comparison shopping. If your finances aren’t in top shape, you may also need to put in some hard work to raise your credit score and reduce your debt load before refinancing.

Step 1: Do the math first

Before you shop for mortgage refinance rates, play with the numbers using a . Selecting a shorter mortgage term can lower your interest rate, saving you much more in the long run and getting you out of debt faster — but it will also boost your monthly payment. You’ll want to decide what you can comfortably afford before a lender tries to make that decision for you.

Let’s say I originally obtained a conventional 30-year, $250,000 mortgage five years ago at an APR of 5.50%, and my current balance on the mortgage is now $230,000. Here’s what the numbers could look like according to new loan terms and average refinance rates, assuming $2,000 in closing costs (keeping in mind that shorter loan terms usually come with lower APRs):

New term and APR
Change in monthly paymentAmount saved over life of loan
30 years, 4.5%$253 less$6,164
25 years, 4.375%$157 less$47,054
20 years, 4.250%$6 more$83,883
15 years, 4.0%$282 more$119,469

If getting the lowest interest rate is my top priority, that 15-year term looks pretty sweet — and so does saving more than $119,000 in interest over the long run. But I’ll need to cough up an extra $282 a month.

Step 2: Make sure your credit is in top shape

Your credit score will affect the interest rate you receive just as much as it did when you obtained your original loan. For that reason, refinancing will often provide the greatest benefit for anyone who has seen their credit score climb since getting their mortgage.

Wondering how much your credit score can affect your refinance rates?  someone refinancing a conventional 30-year, $300,000 loan with excellent credit would receive an average APR of 4.125% as of March 2018. Meanwhile, someone with only fair credit would see an average rate of 5.714%. The excellent-credit borrower would pay almost $300 less per month. Here’s a more detailed breakdown:

Credit score
APRMonthly payment
760-8504.125%$1,454
700-7594.347%$1,493
680-6994.524%$1,524
660-6794.738%$1,563
640-659
5.168%$1,641
620-639
5.714%$1,744

If your score is lower than 620, you’ll have a tough time refinancing with most traditional lenders. Credit unions and local banks may offer a bit more wiggle room than bigger banks, but your chances of approval will be much better (and your APR much lower) if you take time to focus on raising your credit score first.

Step 3: Chip away at your debt

Your credit score isn’t the only thing helping to determine your interest rate. Lenders also want to make sure you aren’t burdened by too much debt — after all, if you can’t keep up with your credit card payments, your mortgage could be next.

The number they’ll look at is your debt-to-income ratio, or DTI, which is simply the percentage of your gross income that your debt payments will eat up — those include student loans, car payments, and minimum payments on your credit card balances, as well as your potential mortgage. Someone earning $4,000 a month with total debt obligations of $1,000 a month has a DTI of 25%.

DTI requirements vary by lender, but most will want to see a — and lower is better. So if you have a monthly gross income of $6,000 a month, you would want to make sure no more than $2,600 is being used to pay off debt.

If your DTI isn’t looking so hot, it may be time to form a game plan to help you reduce your debt load. Simple debt-reduction strategies like paying more than the minimum every month can ultimately reduce your DTI and put you in a better position to refinance mortgage rates.

Step 4: See if Uncle Sam will help

If you  have an FHA loan, you might be eligible for the , which doesn’t require a new home appraisal for you to obtain a lower interest rate. For that reason, the program can be enormously beneficial for those with homes that have dropped in value.

Step 5: Don’t forget about closing costs and fees

Whether you’re buying or refinancing, there’s nothing cheap about getting a mortgage. There are application fees, home appraisal fees, attorney’s fees, survey fees, title searches — the list of things you may pay for to refinance is long, and will probably cost at least a few thousand dollars by the time it’s said and done.

Because closing costs and fees are not exactly insignificant (, depending on the state you live in) be sure to decide whether it makes the most sense to pay cash at closing or add them to your loan. The former is ideal for anyone who wants to pay the least long term, while rolling them into the loan might be the better option for someone who doesn’t want to dip into savings.

Another option is a “zero closing cost” mortgage, where you may pay a slightly higher interest rate in exchange for your lender ponying up at closing. Again, this makes the most sense for someone who doesn’t have the cash on hand for closing costs or who might not stay in their new home long enough to recoup those costs and start benefiting from lower home refinance rates. If you’re aiming to stay in your home long term, you’ll probably pay more going this route.

Step 6: Shop around

Remember, you’ve got a lot of options when it comes to refinancing: mega banks, community banks, credit unions, and even non-bank entities like big home builders among them. All are direct lenders that will decide whether to approve your application and fork over the money.

You can also work with a mortgage broker that can help you look around and decide which lender is best for you. That could translate into a better rate, but you’ll want to beware of any hidden costs or fees for this service.

Whatever you decide, make sure you look at rates online to get a baseline for comparison. And don’t discount other important factors such as customer service in your rush for the the best mortgage refinance rates. You can check out for an unbiased look at several major lenders. It also helps to ask family and friends about their experiences if they’ve recently bought or refinanced a home.

Go Online to Find the Best Refinance Rates

Be sure to begin your search with an online quote tool like the one at the top of this article, which can give you a good starting point for investigating rates in your area. Want to learn more about refinancing? Here are some of Money360’s past articles on the topic: