There are many reasons refinancing can be a smart financial move, such as lowering your mortgage payments and eliminating private mortgage insurance (PMI). Each borrower’s goals and financial picture is unique, which means there isn’t one type of refinancing that makes sense for everyone.

Refinancing – and choosing which sort of refinance method fits your needs – is a major decision. We will guide you through the many refinance options that are available to help you determine which is best for you.

Mortgage refinance options

Rate-and-term refinance

Rate-and-term refinancing is one of the best-known types of refinancing. It allows you to replace your existing mortgage with a new mortgage that has a different interest rate, a different loan term (the length of your mortgage) or both.

If you’re in good financial standing, a rate-and-term refinance can make sense when refinance rates are lower than your current mortgage rate. Unfortunately, since rates are currently quite high (and expected to keep climbing), now likely isn’t the right time to refinance to a lower rate.

Before you apply for a refinance, check your credit score and loan-to-value ratio (LTV). An ideal scenario for conventional refinancing is a FICO score above 700 and an LTV below 60 percent. Borrowers can qualify for refinancing with LTVs of 80 percent or lower. Anything more than 80 percent and you’ll need to pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI).

Changing the mortgage term

You also can change the term of your mortgage. If you want to pay off your mortgage faster (and reduce the total amount of interest you pay), you can refinance into a shorter loan. Of course, since this doesn’t change the amount you owe, it means your monthly payments will be higher.

Let’s say you only have 10 years left on your existing 30-year mortgage. You can refinance into another 30-year fixed-rate mortgage with a lower interest rate. This will reduce your monthly payments, but you will pay more in total interest because you’re resetting your loan. To maximize your total savings, you should lower your interest rate and shorten the term of your mortgage.

Here are three scenarios that show what happens when you reduce the rate on a $300,000 loan to 5.5 percent with a 30-year, 15-year and 10-year fixed-rate mortgage.

30-year fixed mortgage 15-year fixed mortgage 10-year fixed mortgage
Monthly payment $1,703 $2,451 $3,255
Total interest paid $313,415 $141,250 $90,726
Total cost of the loan $613,415 $441,250 $390,726

If your goal is to reduce interest on the life of the loan, then the 10-year fixed-rate option is the best one. Keep in mind that you might get a better interest rate on a shorter loan, which would help ease those monthly payments and further trim your total interest debt.

Of course, while these scenarios provide a helpful example of refinancing options, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should refinance right now. Rate-and-term refinancing makes the most sense when you can lock in a lower rate than your current one, but since interest rates are so high at the moment — and still moving fast — waiting to refinance is probably your best bet.

Cash-out refinance

A cash-out refinance allows borrowers to tap the equity in their home — the amount of the house they own outright — while (preferably) also lowering their mortgage interest rate. Borrowers refinance their mortgage (the same way you would with a rate-and-term refinance) and get a check for the amount they borrow at closing. The new balance is higher because it reflects the borrowed amount, plus any closing costs you roll into the loan.

Typically, lenders cap the amount you can borrow at 80 percent of the equity you have in your home, which would leave 20 percent tied up in the house.

For example, if your home is currently appraised at $300,000 and you owe $100,000, you can get up to $140,000 in cash out, which would leave the minimum 20 percent equity in your home.

A cash-out refinance may make sense for borrowers who want to make home improvements or need emergency funds with a relatively low interest rate. After all, mortgage money is the most favorable debt available to most consumers.

However, experts advise against tapping your equity for lifestyle purchases, such as vacations or entertainment, and even to think twice before tapping home equity to pay down credit card balances. If you don’t address the issues that led you to run up the credit card debt in the first place, you’re likely to repeat the pattern of overspending.

Borrowers with higher credit scores and more home equity might stand a better chance of qualifying for this type of refinance.

Cash-in refinance

With a cash-in refinance, you make a lump-sum payment instead of taking cash out of your equity. A cash-in refinance can be an option if your LTV ratio isn’t where lenders typically require it for a refinance, or if you simply want to refinance to a smaller loan.

Aside from cutting down your debt load, cash-in refinances have some advantages. Bringing money to the table will lower your LTV ratio, helping you qualify for a lower interest rate and lower monthly payments. With a reduced LTV ratio, you might also be able to eliminate PMI.

Of course, all of this is in exchange for a sizable lump sum upfront. If paying that lump sum would empty your savings or mean turning down other potentially more lucrative financial opportunities, a cash-in refinance might not be the best use of your funds.

Streamline refinance

Streamline refinances are an efficient way to get a lower rate on an FHA, VA or USDA mortgage — which are federal government-backed loans — because they involve relatively little paperwork and don’t require a credit check or appraisal. The result is potentially faster turnaround times and lower closing costs. The major programs are:

  • FHA streamline refinance: This program lets you refinance your FHA-backed loan as long as it’s in good standing and provides you with a “tangible benefit,” such as a lower rate.
  • VA streamline refinance: Called an interest rate reduction refinance loan (IRRRL), a VA streamline refinance can help you secure lower monthly payments and a reduced interest rate.
  • USDA streamline refinance: You can refinance your USDA or USDA-backed loan with this program as long as it helps you achieve at least a $50 net reduction in your monthly mortgage payment.

No-closing-cost refinance

In a no-closing-cost refinance, you don’t pay closing costs for the refinance upfront. Instead, you finance these fees with the loan (and pay interest on the larger loan amount), or pay a higher interest rate.

A no-closing-cost refinance can be tempting since it eliminates the need for you to have cash ready at closing. But, depending on how long you plan to stay in the home, that convenience can cost you significantly more in the long run. Bankrate’s refinance break-even calculator can help you run different scenarios.

Short refinance

In a short refinance, a mortgage lender offers a distressed borrower a new loan in an amount that’s lower than the original balance, and might choose to forgive the difference. For the lender, accepting lower payments might be more cost-effective than foreclosure proceedings. For the borrower, a short refinance helps avoid foreclosure, but can harm their credit.

Reverse mortgage

With a reverse mortgage, homeowners aged 62 or older who have substantial equity in their home or paid off their mortgage in full can withdraw equity as income and don’t need to repay it until they leave the home. It works the opposite of a regular mortgage: The reverse mortgage lender makes payments to the homeowner (hence the name). This income is tax-free, but accrues interest.

These types of refinance loans offer a steady stream of cash for a variety of purposes, such as supplementing retirement income, paying for home repairs or covering medical expenses. The amount varies depending on a number of factors, including the age of the youngest borrower or eligible non-borrowing spouse, the home’s value, the HECM borrowing limit and current interest rates.

Which type of mortgage refinance is best for you?

When weighing up which of these refinance options is right for you, there are multiple factors to consider, including:

  • Your existing mortgage payment, rate and term
  • Your financial situation, including your credit score, LTV, and DTI
  • Your savings/investment goals and how they apply to your reasons for refinancing
  • How much equity you have in your home
  • How long you plan to stay in the home
  • Closing costs (paying them upfront vs. over time)

If you qualify for a lower interest rate, plan to stay in your home for a long time and can afford the closing costs, for example, you might come out ahead with a rate-and-term refinance. Alternatively, a cash-out refinance might fit your needs better if you’re looking for a way to pay for a large expense, such as home renovations or remodeling, at a relatively low rate.

FAQs about mortgage refinancing