Mortgage interest rates are on the rise, but today’s rates are still well below the historical average of 7 percent. If your interest rate is above today’s average, you may have already tried—and failed—to refinance your mortgage, maybe more than once.
Why, if you have remained current on your mortgage through these tough economic times, is it so hard to refinance? Why does the process remain so time-consuming, cumbersome, and expensive?
Being unable to refinance is especially frustrating when you consider how much emphasis has been put on refinancing in the past few years. The Obama administration created and expanded the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) to help borrowers with Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loans refinance their homes.
And in early 2013, the Responsible Homeowner Refinance Act of 2013 was introduced in an effort to remove the barriers that prevent many homeowners from refinancing into loans with lower interest rates. (That bill was referred to committee in February 2013.)
What’s preventing me from refinancing?
If you are a borrower who has continued to make your mortgage payment despite being underwater on your mortgage or having a high interest rate, you are probably frustrated with the banks, the government, and the real estate market. You are not alone. It seems that the majority of focus and attention has been spent helping borrowers avoid foreclosure and streamlining the modification process for distressed borrowers who have fallen behind on their payments.
Key factors as to why refinance transactions aren’t as simple as they should be include:
- Bottlenecks. Banks are still under regulatory and legal scrutiny around foreclosure practices, and resources continue to be focused on distressed borrowers behind on their payments—not borrowers who are current on their loans. Therefore, although you may have made on-time payments, you will have to get in line behind distressed borrowers.
- Lack of incentives. As a borrower who makes on-time payments, you are less of a loss risk for the bank and investor. Because your loan continues to be a source of cash flow, there is no reason to expedite or simplify the refinancing process for you.
- Staffing concerns. Resources in the origination business continue to be squeezed given the number of layoffs. After an initial upswing, refinance applications have begun to slow as rates have started to creep up, and more originations staff members are being reassigned or let go due to lower volumes.
What can I do?
The best advice I can offer is this: Start the refinancing process with a great deal of patience.
- Voice your concerns. If you are financially strained and worried that you would miss a payment if you cannot refinance your mortgage, be very vocal with your mortgage servicer about your financial hardship. The servicer may accelerate review of your loan for payment reduction options rather than allow you to default.
- Improve your creditworthiness. The refinance process can lengthy, and in many cases you will have to provide updated documentation and also demonstrate overall creditworthiness in the form of a solid credit score. Just as when you bought the home for the first time, the bank will again look for stable income and good credit before it extends you the benefits of a refinance. Although you already own the home and have been paying your mortgage, these are not primary factors in your refinance approval.
In the current housing environment, it seems policymakers should be taking a much harder look at simplifying and accelerating the refinancing process so that many more owners can benefit. Many homeowners stand to save a lot of money from a simple rate reduction refinance.
Hopefully the efforts of the current administration and the continued outcry from consumers who feel left on the sidelines will spur the necessary change for the future.
Alanna McCargo is a housing and financial services executive and personal finance writer and advocate. She is a public speaker on hot topics in financial services and the housing market, and she writes a personal finance blog called “Matter of Money.” She is an active volunteer and serves on the board of directors for the Women in Housing & Finance Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to advancing financial literacy, housing policy issues, and education programs for women, children, and under-served communities. Follow Alanna on Twitter @myhomematters.