Some 11 million homeowners can cut their mortgage payments with refinancing

At Bankrate we strive to help you make smarter financial decisions. While we adhere to strict , this post may contain references to products from our partners. Here’s an explanation for

Which bank should I choose?

Get personalized bank recommendations in 3 easy steps.

The average interest for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages dipped to 3.42 percent during the week ending June 25. This gives millions of homeowners a chance to save money by refinancing their loans.

More people have become eligible for refinancing as mortgage rates have steadily moved lower over the past few months. Even a small dip can open the gates for more eligible refinancers. For approximately 11 million borrowers with a minimum 3.42 percent interest rate, the current average rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage according to Bankrate’s national survey of mortgage lenders, refinancing can save them money on their home loan.

Likewise, some 6.5 million borrowers with slightly higher rates (at 3.8 percent) are refinance-eligible. On the higher side of the rate spectrum, close to 1 million mortgage holders with rates at 5.4 percent can save by refinancing.

Why your credit score, income and debt matter

Before you spend the time applying for a mortgage refinance, be sure you check your balance sheet and credit first. Applying for a refinance is similar to getting a mortgage in that lenders will consider your FICO score, debt-to-income ratio and employment history when evaluating your application. Your interest rate is a reflection of your financial situation and banks tend to reward low-risk customers with better rates.

Borrowers want to aim for a credit score of over 740 and a loan-to-value ratio of 75 percent or under to nail down the best rates, says Melissa Cohn, executive vice president at Family First Funding LLC in Toms River, New Jersey. The income needed for a loan is dependent on the bank’s qualifications; for self-employed borrowers, additional proof of income may be required to meet loan prerequisites.

Homeowners who have improved their credit score since getting their original mortgage should see if refinancing makes sense for them. For every 20-point increase in credit scores, the interest drops about 0.125 percent. So, if someone had a 680 credit score and now has above a 760, this alone will improve their rate by about 0.5 percent, says Daniel M. Shlufman, Esq., mortgage banker at Classic Mortgage LLC in Maywood, New Jersey.

For folks who are hoping to lock in a better rate but are not currently financially ready to do so, create a financial game plan now for a better position down the road. This includes paying down debt and saving money for an emergency fund (so that credit cards are not the go-to in a pinch).

“Anyone who has owned a home for a modest period of time can attest that unexpected expenses are the rule, not the exception. In addition, life brings its own surprises and added expenses,” says Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate. “For young families, that might include the birth of a child and related added expenses. By boosting your own finances, effectively paying yourself, you’ll also be boosting your creditworthiness which can only help one achieve financial goals overall.”

The best scenarios for refinancing

Falling rates might seem like a money windfall if you have a higher interest rate than what’s available today, but make sure refinancing bolsters your bottom line. Expensive lender fees can actually put you in the red if you decide to refinance and the savings don’t outweigh the expense.

Generally, you need a drop in the rates of 0.5 percent to 1 percent (depending on the monthly savings and the closing costs) to justify doing a refinance, Shlufman notes. The rule of thumb is that the savings should be enough to recoup the closing costs within about 18 months to make a refinance justifiable.

“If the closing costs are $3,600, you would need a savings of about $200 per month on the mortgage payment for a refinance to be worthwhile,” Shlufman says. “The larger the loan, the more likely a refinance will make sense since most of the closing costs are fixed (e.g., appraisal fee, recording fees, etc.) while the monthly savings will be much greater.”

If you’re paying PMI, pay attention

Refinancing also makes sense if you have private mortgage insurance, or PMI, and the house value has increased so that there is equity of at least 20 percent. Refinancing into a lower rate not only shaves off interest costs, but also knocks out monthly PMI payments, which are typically 0.5 percent to 1 percent of the total loan on a yearly basis. For borrowers with a $200,000 mortgage and a PMI payment of 1 percent, for instance, that’s a savings of $2,000 per year or $167 per month.

FHA loan borrowers are another group that can potentially benefit from refinancing into a conventional loan. Since PMI is more expensive on FHA loans, those qualified borrowers might save a small mint by reducing or eliminating their FHA PMI and locking in a lower rate, Shlufman says.

Those who want to reduce their terms and go from a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage to a 15-year loan might be able to ax an additional 0.5 percent from the top since 15-year loans usually have lower rates. That might also mean larger monthly payments, but overall less interest paid over the life of the loan. Adjustable-rate mortgage holders can also profit from dropping rates; the timing might be right to lock via a fixed-rate mortgage as rates continue to hover around the 4 percent mark.

Finally, folks hoping to tap their equity while reducing their interest rate can take advantage of cash-out refinances. These are low-interest loans that allow homeowners to borrow against their equity by replacing their existing mortgage with a new loan for a higher amount and receiving the balance in cash. These can be useful for people who want to make home improvements, as the interest is tax-deductible if the improvements boost the home’s value.

Create a free Bankrate account to get expert advice, personalized lending offers and other resources tailored to your unique financial goals.

Featured image by Artur Debat of Getty Images.

Learn more: