Real Estate

Why aren't you refinancing your mortgage?

Mortgage rates have been historically low for several years, but a surprising number of borrowers are still not taking advantage even though rates fell again at the start of this year. How many? Close to 7 million.

After the Federal Reserve raised its target interest rate in early December, the common expectation was that mortgage rates would rise. Refinances had already dropped by nearly a third throughout 2015, as rates inched up in anticipation of the Fed's move.

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"Global economic shocks then sent investors looking for the safety of U.S. Treasurys, driving down yields on benchmark 10-year bonds. Mortgage interest rates began to fall in defiance of prevailing wisdom, and the refinanceable population grew by 30 percent in the first six weeks of 2016," said Ben Graboske, Black Knight Data & Analytics senior vice president.

Mortgage interest rates dropped 30 basis points in that time. By the end of February, 6.7 million borrowers could have saved an average of $3,000 per year, representing a total of $20 billion in potential annual savings, according to an analysis by Black Knight. These borrowers have enough equity in their homes and high enough credit scores to qualify for refinances.

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"It's lack of awareness of the opportunity, and how to act on it," added Graboske.

How much does that translate into on a monthly payment? More than 3 million borrowers could save $200 a month or more; nearly 1 million could save $400 a month or more. Mortgage refinance applications have increased in the past two months, but millions of borrowers are still sitting on the sidelines, perhaps unaware of the savings, or just too lazy to go through the process.

"There are costs that come into play for sure and there is often the perception of costs," said Graboske. "Still, if you look at this population, we have 1.5 million borrowers that are sitting at almost a full point above what they could be."

Black Knight broke borrowers up into rate clusters and found that about 3.4 million borrowers had active 30-year mortgages and interest rates of 4.5 percent to 4.75 percent. Of these, 1.5 million met broad-based underwriting criteria, and would be impacted when rates moved from 4 percent to 3.75 percent. When you look at the 4.25 percent to 4.5 percent rate range, 4.7 million had active 30-year mortgages, 2.1 million of which met underwriting criteria. They become "in the money" if rates drop from 3.75 percent to 3.5 percent.

Mortgage rates did move slightly higher in the past week, but not enough to change most of the analysis here. Millions of borrowers are still choosing to pay more than they have to on their home loans. That opportunity is likely to vanish in coming months, should rates rise as expected. Of course, last year most expected mortgage rates would already be far higher than they are now, and that did not materialize.