Many of us have procrastinated on refinancing. Why? Maybe it's because it didn't seem fair that while the
was slashing interest rates by 300 basis points (three percentage points, that is) this year, the rates big banks offer on houses, cars, school loans and credit cards haven't declined that much. For some, it doesn't seem worth the hassle when rates have come down, say, only one percentage point.
But consumer-finance experts say it's an excellent time to refinance if you haven't already. Lending rates have come down, and while they may not go lower, they probably won't rise for the next few months, either. In fact, if consumers took the time to refinance across the board, they may end up saving several thousand dollars a year.
Interested? For something to chew on this Labor Day weekend,
has created a model debt portfolio -- house loan, car loan, home-equity loan, school loan, credit-card debt -- and refinanced the whole enchilada. The bottom line: Our Joe Debtor, who carries $229,400 in debt outstanding, would save $287.99 a month, or $3,455.88 a year, by refinancing.
Joe Debtor is paying off a $150,000 mortgage, a $10,000 home-equity loan, a $24,000 car loan, a $44,000 student loan and $1,400 on a revolving credit card. His total debt is $229,400. Here's how he could save nearly $300 a month or $3,500 a year by refinancing at today's low rates.
Joe took out a 30-year, $150,000 mortgage 10 years ago when the rates were 9%. Since then, he's been making monthly payments of $1,126.47. By refinancing at today's average 30-year rate of 6.92%, his payments would be reduced by $202.56 a month to installments of $923.91.
A year ago, Joe took out a $10,000, three-year home-equity loan to finish his basement. At an annual rate of 10.27%, he makes monthly payments of $323.94. But if he refinances at today's rate of 7.08%, he'll be making monthly payments of $309.14, for a monthly savings of $14.80.
Then there's the $24,000 five-year car loan that Joe took out a year ago to buy a Mazda Miata. He locked in a 9.73% rate, giving him a monthly payment of $395.09. By refinancing at the current average rate of 8.19%, he's lowered his monthly payments to $376.35, for a monthly savings of $18.74.
Joe returned to law school seven years ago and is three years away from paying back his original $44,000 student loan. When he graduated in 1997, he was paying 8.07%, or $535 a month to repay that loan. By refinancing at today's 5.99% student loan rate -- the lowest in 20 years, according to
Sallie Mae -- Joe could save himself $46.73 a month.
Finally, Joe has $1,400 revolving debt on his credit card, which he took out 10 years ago when the average annual rate was 18.95%. The interest rate alone on Joe's revolving debt is $22.10 a month. If he refinances at the current average rate of 14.52%, Joe could save himself $5.16 a month.
When you add up your potential savings from various forms of debt, refinancing can be well worth it.
Why aren't rates down further if the Fed has cut so much? Lenders aren't under any obligation to lower interest rates in the first place and, in many cases, typically lower rates only when competitive pressures force them to do so. No interest rate has fallen a full 300 basis points since January in tandem with the drop in the fed funds rate.
Take long-term mortgages. Interest rates on 30-year mortgages now average 6.92%, down a measly 11 basis points from an average of 7.03% in January, when the Fed started cutting interest rates. What gives?
Long-term mortgage interest rates tend to move six months ahead of monetary policy changes. Indeed, when government Treasuries began decreasing last fall in anticipation of the Fed rate cuts, mortgage rates began dropping as well. By December, 30-year mortgage rates had declined to 7.38% from a five-year high of 8.64% in May 2000.
All in all, interest rates on most loans have come down and are considerably lower than they have been in years. And because the Fed appears intent on keeping the fed funds rate low until the economy rebounds, economists are predicting that interest rates will remain low for some time to come.
So, what are you waiting for?