Cash-out Mortgage Refinance or Home Equity Loan?

August 21, 2000, Revised September 6, 2002, November 30, 2006, September 3, 2010

“I need $50,000 to remodel my house. Is it better to refinance my existing mortgage (with a balance about $140,000) into a new $190,000 mortgage, or should I borrow the extra $50,000 with a home equity loan.?”

Every homeowner in need of extra cash faces this question. To answer it, you must consider several factors, including:

* The interest rate and points you have to pay to refinance the first mortgage, compared with the same costs for a second mortgage.

* Any mortgage insurance requirement on the new first mortgage.

* The interest rate, mortgage insurance, and period remaining on the term of the existing first mortgage.

* The term you select on the new first relative to that on the new second.

* The amount of cash you need.

* Your income-tax bracket.

* The length of time you expect to remain in your home.

* The interest rate you can earn on savings.

All these factors are pulled together in refinance calculator (3d), Refinance to Raise Cash or Take Out a Second Mortgage. This calculator computes all costs of both options over a future time period specified by the user. It also shows a break-even interest rate on the second mortgage -- the highest rate you can pay on the second and come out ahead of the refinance option.

The second mortgage is the less-costly option if it is available at an interest rate below the break-even rate.

Consider your case. You have a $140,000 first mortgage and you need $50,000. The average age of most refinanced mortgages is a few years, so I'm assuming you acquired yours two years ago, at 7 percent for 30 years, without mortgage insurance.

Example 1 assumes you are in the highest income tax bracket (39.6%) and can earn 5% on your investments. Your house is now worth $213,000. A new loan for $190,000 plus settlement costs will require mortgage insurance. I’m assuming the insurance will continue during the entire 5 years you expect to remain in your home. The new first mortgage would be for 30 years at 8.25% and one point. The second mortgage for $50,000 plus costs would be for 15 years at 11.5% and one point.

The break-even rate on the second mortgage is 18.25%, well above the market rate of 11.5% for the second. Over 5 years, the second would cost $11,361 less than refinancing the first.

Example 2 is the same, except that I assume you can afford a 15-year term on the new first mortgage cash-out. The break-even rate on the second would fall to 16.86%, and the savings on the second would drop to $8,982.

Example 3 is the same as Example 2, except that I assume you are in the 15% tax bracket. The break-even rate on the second mortgage would drop to 14.98%, and the savings to $8,230.

Example 4 is the same as 3 except that I assume that your house will appreciate by 5% a year, resulting in termination of mortgage insurance on the new first mortgage after 18 months. The break-even rate on the second would fall to 13.21%, and the savings to $4,021.

Example 5 goes one step further and assumes that marked recent appreciation in the value of your house eliminates the need for mortgage insurance altogether. The break-even rate on the second would drop to 12.41% and the savings to $2,138.

Borrowers who acquired mortgages a few years ago at rates significantly below the current market are likely to do better taking second mortgages than refinancing. But older mortgages carrying higher rates can be a different story.

For example, lets make all the assumptions of Example 1, but instead of having a 7% 30-year loan from 1998 we assume you have a 10% 30-year loan from 1990. The break-even would be 9.98%, or below the market rate on the second, and refinancing would save you $2,467 over 5 years compared to the second.

If we apply the assumptions of Example 5 to the 10% mortgage, the breakeven on the second would be 3.81% and the savings from refinancing $17,106.

But don't rely on generalizations because no two situations are identical. Use the calculator to find the answer that applies to your precise situation. 

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