How to Refinance a Mortgage (8 Easy Steps)


It doesn’t matter how long ago you purchased your house, whether it’s been just a few years or several decades. Consider re-evaluating your current mortgage and living situation to determine whether a refinance could benefit your wallet.

refinancing mortgage

The process is almost as in-depth as getting a new mortgage, so we’ll show you exactly when you should consider refinancing and how to complete the process.

What is a mortgage refinance?

Mortgage refinancing is the process of replacing an existing mortgage with a new mortgage loan. The new loan may have a different interest rate, term, or loan amount than the original mortgage.

People often refinance their mortgages to take advantage of lower interest rates, to change the terms of their loan, or to tap into the equity they have built up in their home.

When should you refinance your mortgage?

Before you jump into the refinance process, it’s wise to think about your goals. There are many times when it’s a good idea to look into mortgage refinancing, but you always have to look at the big picture as well.

For example, if interest rates are lower than when you got your mortgage or your credit has improved recently, you may qualify for a lower interest rate. This allows you to save money over the long run and have a lower monthly payment.

But here’s the catch.

If you lock into that lower interest rate and refinance for another 30-year mortgage, you’re adding time to the loan term. This might not be a big deal if you’ve only been paying off your mortgage for a couple of years. On the other hand, you may end up paying more interest over time, even with the lower rate, if you’re already several years into your current term.

Get your lender to crunch some comparisons for you, or do it yourself using a refinance calculator. That way you know for sure whether you’re really saving money or not.

See also: How Much Does it Cost to Refinance a Mortgage?

Drop Your PMI Coverage

Another time to look into refinancing your mortgage is if you’re paying private mortgage insurance and have reached 20% equity in your home’s value. At that point, you may be able to refinance and drop that PMI contingency.

Since PMI typically costs up to 1% of your loan amount each year, you could save yourself some serious money, especially since it’s not going towards your principal or interest.

As always, be sure to also consider the closing costs that come along with refinancing as well as how much of your loan you’ve already repaid. The financial benefits of the refinance should always outweigh the expenses.

Cash-Out Refinance

Another reason some people want to refinance is to access cash. Maybe they want to fund a home renovation project or pay off debts. A cash-out refinance will allow them to leverage the equity in their house to obtain that cash.

How soon can you refinance your home?

When it comes to refinancing, lenders typically look more at the amount of equity in your home than the length of time you’ve owned it. This is especially true of cash out refinances, which require 20% equity in the home. If you just want to change your interest rate or length of the loan, then you’ll need somewhere between 5% and 10% home equity.

If you’ve already refinanced your home once after the original purchase, your lender might make you wait before doing it again. The industry standard is usually six months, so as long as you’re over that threshold, you shouldn’t have an issue.

Prepayment Penalties

One issue to be aware of, however, is the potential for a prepayment clause in your existing home loan. Although it’s rare these days, this penalty can charge you a large fee if you pay off your mortgage early.

When you refinance, that’s exactly what you’re doing: paying off your old mortgage (and lender) with a new mortgage that could very well be through a new lender. Check your existing loan contract to make sure a refinance won’t come with any unexpected penalties.

How much could you end up paying?

Some prepayment penalty clauses are structured so that you pay 80% of the interest you would owe over the next six months. That can easily amount to thousands of dollars, especially if you’re early in your mortgage with interest-heavy payments.

How to Refinance a Mortgage

Refinancing your home doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, there are several steps involved. Here’s a play by play so you know exactly what to expect.

1. Determine the Type of Refinance You Want

We’ve talked about setting a goal for your refinance and this is a huge part of starting the process. You may want a standard refinance that merely adjusts your interest rate. Or perhaps you want to cash out some of your equity. Alternatively, you may wish to refinance out of an adjustable-rate mortgage to a fixed-rate or switch the length of your term.

2. Check Your Credit Score

Once you know the type of mortgage loan you want, it’s time to start preparing for the process. Knowing your credit score lets you know a bit more what you can expect in terms of loan qualification and interest rates.

Some loan types have absolute minimums, while others are more flexible. Check your credit score upfront so that you can get an idea of whether you meet basic refinance requirements.

3. Estimate Your Home’s Value

Next, you need to get an idea of how much your home is currently worth. The best way to do this is to look at comps in your neighborhood.

Check websites like Zillow and to find out what current sales prices look like, as well as properties that have been recently sold. Take a look at the price per square foot for these homes and apply that number to the square footage of your own home.

Of course, that’s not an absolute. Your home’s true value depends on several factors, including upgrades and lot size. But you can take these things into consideration to get a general idea of what your appraisal value could be.

4. Compare Lenders

You don’t have to refinance with your current mortgage lender. In fact, it’s smart to shop around to find the best loan terms. Compare all the details of your refinance offer. Getting a lower interest rate is definitely important, but you also want to consider potential closing costs and origination fees.

How a lender structures the new loan is also significant and can influence your decision. If you’re trying to save on how much cash you spend upfront, you might prefer a lender who lets you incorporate your closing costs into the loan amount. Alternatively, low interest rates may be the most influential factor when choosing a lender.

5. Get a Loan Estimate

After comparing rates and fees from multiple mortgage lenders, you can get a loan estimate from your top choices. A loan estimate is a form that provides essential information about the terms of a mortgage refinance loan.

It is intended to help borrowers compare different loan offers and make an informed decision about which one is the best fit for them. The loan estimate includes the loan terms, the projected monthly payments, the closing costs, and other charges associated with the loan. It also includes information about the lender, the mortgage broker (if applicable), and the real estate broker (if applicable).

6. Prepare for Your Application

After you pick out a lender with the mortgage rates and terms you like, it’s time to start gathering your documentation for your refinance application. You’ll likely need things like bank statements, tax forms from the last two years, and pay stubs.

Getting all of this paperwork together in advance can save time during the application and underwriting processes.

7. Get Ready for the Appraisal

Part of the mortgage refinance process is to get a professional appraisal on your home. Your lender typically orders this and the fee is usually included in your closing costs. Make sure your home is clean and presentable. You don’t need to make major changes but picking up ahead of time can create a good impression on the appraiser, as can a freshly mowed yard.

8. Anticipate Your Needs for Closing

Closing on a refinance is similar to when you originally closed on your home. Typically, your lender will arrange a meeting with a public notary so you can sign all of your paperwork. You can make this at a time and place that is convenient for you. If the refinanced loan is in both your name and someone else’s, like your spouse’s, then you’ll both need to be present to sign.

Once the paperwork is complete, you’ll start making monthly payments to your new lender as scheduled in your closing documents. Any new terms or rates will also apply so you can start paying down your newly refinanced home loan.

How to Refinance Your Mortgage FAQs

What are the eligibility requirements for a mortgage refinance?

To be eligible for a mortgage refinance, you typically need to have good credit, sufficient equity in your home, and the ability to make the monthly payment on the new loan.

  • Credit score: Lenders typically prefer borrowers with good credit scores when evaluating mortgage refinance applications. A good credit score is generally considered to be above 670, but this can vary depending on the lender. If you have a lower credit score, you may still be able to refinance your mortgage. However, you may be offered less favorable terms, such as a higher interest rate.
  • Equity: To be eligible for a mortgage refinance, you typically need to have sufficient equity in your home. Equity is the portion of your home that you own outright, and it is determined by subtracting the amount you owe on your mortgage from the value of your home. To refinance, you will typically need to have at least 20% equity in your home.
  • Ability to make payments: Lenders will consider your income, debts, and other financial obligations when evaluating your ability to make the monthly mortgage payment on a refinance. You will typically have to provide proof of income, such as pay stubs or tax returns, and you will need a debt-to-income ratio that is within the lender’s guidelines.

In addition to these requirements, you may also need to meet other eligibility criteria, such as being current on your mortgage payments and having no recent bankruptcies or foreclosures.

How do I compare refinancing options?

To compare refinancing options, you can use online mortgage calculators or consult a financial professional or mortgage lender. You should consider the interest rate, terms, and costs of each option.

What are closing costs?

Closing costs are fees that are associated with the process of obtaining a mortgage. They can include fees for appraisals, credit checks, title searches, and other services.

How much do closing costs typically cost?

Closing costs can vary widely depending on the specific loan and lender, but they typically range from 2% to 5% of the loan amount.

Can I refinance my mortgage if I have bad credit?

It may be more difficult to qualify for mortgage refinancing if you have bad credit, but it’s not impossible. You may be able to qualify for a refinancing option with a higher interest rate or with a co-signer.

How long does it take to refinance a mortgage?

Refinancing your mortgage can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the complexity of your situation and the lender’s process. It’s a good idea to start the process as early as possible to ensure that you have enough time to complete it.

Lauren Ward
Meet the author

Lauren is a personal finance writer who strives to equip readers with the knowledge to achieve their financial objectives. She has over a decade of experience and a Bachelor's degree in Japanese from Georgetown University.