Want to Roll Your Student Loans Into Your Mortgage? Here’s What to Consider

It can be a good option for some people, but for others it's just trading old debt for new.

It’s a question as old as debt itself: Should I pay off one loan with another loan?

“Debt reshuffling,” as it’s known, has garnered a bad reputation because it often amounts to just trading one debt problem for another. So it’s no wonder the news that Fannie Mae would make it easier for homeowners to swap student loan debt for mortgage debt was met with some caution.

It’s awfully tempting to trade a 6.8% interest rate on your federal student loan for a 4.75% interest rate on a mortgage. On the surface, the interest rate savings sound dramatic. It’s also attractive to get rid of that monthly student loan payment. But there are things to consider.

“One thing we stress big time: It worries me, taking unsecured debt and making it secured,” said Desmond Henry, a personal financial adviser based in Kansas.  “If you lose your job, with a student loan, there is nothing they can take away. The second you refinance into a mortgage, you just made that a secured debt. Now, they can come after your house.”

The Cash-Out Refinance

The option to swap student loan debt for home debt has already been available to homeowners through what’s called a “cash-out refinance.” These have traditionally been used by homeowners with a decent amount of equity to refinance their primary mortgage and walk away from closing with a check to use on other expenses, such as costly home repairs or to pay off credit card (or student) debt. Homeowners could opt for a home equity loan also, but cash-out refinances tend to have lower interest rates.

The rates are a bit higher than standard mortgages, however, due to “Loan Level Price Adjustments” added to the loan that reflect an increase in perceived risk that the borrower could default. The costs are generally added into the interest rate.

So what’s changed with the new guidelines from Fannie Mae? Lenders now have the green light to waive that Loan Level Price Adjustment if the cash-out check goes right from the bank to the student loan debt holder, and pays off the entire balance of at least one loan.

The real dollar value savings for this kind of debt reshuffle depends on a lot of variables: The size of the student loan, the borrower’s credit score, and so on. Fannie Mae expressed it only as a potential savings on interest rates.

“The average rate differential between cash-out refinance loan-level price adjustment and student debt cash-out refinance is about a 0.25% in rate,” Fannie Mae’s Alicia Jones wrote in an email. “Depending on profile [it] can be higher, up to 0.50%.”

On $36,000 of refinanced student loan debt — the average student loan balance held by howeowners who have cosigned a loan — a 0.50% rate reduction would mean nearly $4,000 less in payments over 30 years.

So, the savings potential is real. And for consumers in stable financial situations, the new cash-out refinancing could potentially make sense. Like Desmond Henry, though, the Consumer Federation of America urged caution.

“Swapping student debt for mortgage debt can free up cash in your family budget, but it can also increase the risk of foreclosure when you run into trouble,” said Rohit Chopra, Senior Fellow at the Consumer Federation of America and former Assistant Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “For borrowers with solid income and stable employment, refinancing can help reduce the burden of student debt. But for others, they might be signing away their student loan benefits when times get tough.”

Risking foreclosure is only one potential pitfall of this kind of debt reshuffle, Henry said.  There are several others. For starters, the savings might not really add up.

Crunch the Numbers. Alllll the Numbers…

“You don’t just want to look at back-of-a-napkin math and say, ‘Hey, a mortgage loan is 2% lower than a student loan.’ You’ve got to watch out for hidden costs,’ Henry said.

Cash-out refinances come with closing costs that can be substantial, for example. Also, mortgage holders who are well into paying down their loans will re-start their amortization schedules, meaning their first several years of new payments will pay very little principal. And borrowers extending their terms will ultimately pay far more interest.

“We live in a society where everything is quoted on a payment. That catches the ears of a lot of people,” Henry said. “People think ‘That’s a no brainer. I’ll save $500 a month.’ But your 10-year loan just went to 30 years.”

There are other, more technical reasons that the student-loan-to-mortgage shuffle might not be a good idea. Refinancers will waive their right to various student loan forgiveness options – programs for those who work public service, for example. They won’t be able to take advantage of income-based repayment plans, either. Any new form of student loan relief created by Congress or the Department of Education going forward would probably be inaccessible, too.

On the tax front, the option is a mixed bag. Henry notes that student loan payments are top-line deductible on federal taxes, while those who don’t itemize deductions wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the mortgage interest tax deduction. On the other hand, there are caps on the student loan deduction, while there’s no cap on the mortgage interest deduction. That means higher-income student loan debtors who refinanced could see substantial savings at tax time.

In other words, it’s complicated, so if you’re considering your options, it’s probably wise to consult a financial professional like an accountant who can look at your specific situation to see what makes the most sense. (It’s also a good idea to check your credit before considering any refinancing or debt-consolidate options since it’ll affect your rate. You can get your two free credit scores right here on Credit.com.)

As a clever financial tool used judiciously, a cash-out student loan refinance could save a wise investor a decent amount of money. But, as Henry notes, the real risk with any debt reshuffle is that robbing Peter to pay Paul doesn’t change fundamental debt problems facing many consumers.

“The first thing to take into consideration is you still have the debt,” he said.

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9 Ways to Lower Your Mortgage Payment

Here are nine ways you can lower your monthly mortgage payment.

If you’re a homeowner, your mortgage payment might be the largest financial obligation you have each month. An unmanageable mortgage payment can sap your monthly income and reduce your ability to save money, pay bills or otherwise meet your financial obligations.

Traditional lender expectations have suggested your housing expenses shouldn’t exceed 28% of your gross income. Here are nine ways you can reduce your monthly mortgage payment and get closer to that figure.

1. Refinance for a Lower Interest Rate

Refinancing your home can help you lower your interest rate, thereby lowering your monthly mortgage payment. Essentially, refinancing means you’re replacing your current mortgage with a new one.

Refinancing can require even more paperwork than you needed to buy your home. There are closing costs and other expenses that go into refinancing, so once you lower your payment, you’ll want to stay in your home at least long enough to break even on those costs. You’ll also need good credit to get beneficial interest rates. (Not sure where your credit stands? You can check two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

2. Refinance for a Longer-Term Loan

You can also refinance to a longer-term loan, spreading the payments out over a longer time frame. If you’re desperate to reduce your payment, this is one viable option. However, you may want to avoid this scenario because you’ll end up paying more in interest over time.

3. Ditch Private Mortgage Insurance

Were you able to provide a down payment of at least 20% of your home’s value when you bought it? If not, you’re likely paying private mortgage insurance (PMI), which could be adding hundreds of dollars to your monthly payment. In many cases, that cost can be removed once you’ve paid off enough of your mortgage.

“Some loans allow borrowers to apply to have mortgage insurance removed from their loan once the loan drops below 80% of the market value of the property,” said Brian Davis, co-founder of SparkRental.com. “Contact your lender to ask about what’s required to remove mortgage insurance from your loan.”

4. Reassess Your Property Tax

Often homeowners are paying property tax on an inflated property valuation. If you can reassess your property’s value, you may be able to lower the amount of property tax you pay.

“Municipalities routinely assess property values on the high side to maximize their property tax revenue,” Davis said. “If your assessment looks high, submit an appeal to your municipality to lower the assessment, and therefore your property tax bill.”

5. Pay Extra Now to Lower Future Payments

Although it may seem counterintuitive, you can actually lower your mortgage payment later by paying extra now. Any extra cash you can put toward the principal will help you pay off the debt sooner and reduce future payments.

Of course, this is a long-term strategy, and you may not see lower payments for years. If you’re anxious to reduce your monthly mortgage payment now, this strategy may not be the best.

6. Rent Out a Room

If you have extra space, renting out a room can help you cover your mortgage.

“Not only will [a housemate] pay rent to cover a large portion of the mortgage, they’ll also pick up a percentage of the utility bills every month,” said Davis. “In some markets, market rent that a homeowner can charge a housemate will cover the vast majority of the mortgage payment.”

7. Put More Toward Your Down Payment

If you’re still searching for a home, you should know that the larger your down payment, the lower your monthly mortgage payment will be. If you can put at least 20% down, you’ll be paying less on interest and avoid the extra cost of PMI.

8. Find a Government Loan Modification Program

If you’re having trouble making your mortgage payments, there are a number of government programs that offer counseling and even refinancing assistance. The Home Affordable Refinance Program can help eligible homeowners with little or no equity refinance their mortgage. You can research the federal, state and local programs that may be available to you.

9. Request Relief From Your Lender

If you believe you are in danger of missing a mortgage payment or even losing your home, you will need to contact your loan provider. Your lender may be willing to negotiate a loan modification, changing the original terms of your loan to lower your monthly payments.

This will require a good deal of paperwork and persistence. It might also lead nowhere. Still, some lenders would rather adjust your monthly mortgage payment than go through the costly and time-consuming foreclosure process.

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Looking to Get a Mortgage in 2017? Here’s What You Need to Know

Here's what you need to know about buying a home in 2017.

The mortgage industry has gone through some changes in the last three months. If you are looking to finance a home in 2017, it is important that you know what the opportunities are and how to capitalize on them. Over the next 12 months, here are some things to keep in mind as you consider your financing.

Interest rates have spiked and are now sitting at over 4% on the widely popular 30-year fixed-rate mortgages. This change occurred seemingly overnight once Donald Trump was elected president. The markets saw this and rallied, marking a change that meant less regulation, with more opportunity in the investment market. Subsequently, this meant that expense bonds were driving mortgage rates higher. The market was further affected when the Federal Reserve tightened its monetary policy in December 2016. As a result, you can now expect an interest rate on your mortgage anywhere between 4% and 4.5%, depending on your credit score, the loan program and your financial stability. (If you’re not sure where your credit stands, you can view two of your free credit scores, with updates every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

Is Buying a Home a Still Worthwhile?

Buying a home is still a solid goal for many, and it is certainly still an attainable one. With higher interest rates, however, affordability will become the main thing to consider, especially the choice between being able to make a mortgage payment and continuing to save. When you qualify for a loan, an interest rate with a half percent difference can translate to around $75 to $80 per month, depending on the amount being financed. While this change may not seem significant, in the long run it is something to take in to consideration when planning to invest in a high-ticket item. Keeping your credit score as high as possible is also important for scoring a good interest rate and keeping your housing payment manageable. (Tips on how to do that here.)

What About Refinancing in 2017?

The option to refinance in order to lower your interest rate might not be the best choice for the moment. Rates are not where they were prior to the election, so going from a 30-year mortgage to a new 30-year mortgage and expecting a lower interest rate may not be in the cards for a little while. Here are some refinance opportunities that are more accessible in today’s environment:

  • Cash-out refinancing: Refinancing with the intent to pull equity out of your home is a byproduct of an inflationary environment. Remember, when mortgage rates rise, it is also common for interest rates on consumer obligations such as lines of credit, student loans, and credit cards to rise as well. Cash-out refinancing can be a smart and prudent move to rid yourself of high payments that are typically associated with consumer debts. For example, if you can pull out $20,000 in a cash-out refinance and use that money to pay off your larger outstanding debts (i.e. car loan, student loan, credit cards, furniture), your mortgage payment may rise to $100 per month, but you’ll save $600 per month in obligatory debt. You can then take that extra $500 and save that money or pay down your mortgage principal.
  • Shortening your loan term: Long-term fixed-rate loans are expensive when you consider the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Going from a safe 30-year fixed-rate mortgage to a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage can save you a substantial amount of money. Fifteen-year and 10-year fixed-rate mortgages are both hovering in the mid-to-low 3% interest margins, marking an opportunity to pay your mortgage off in full while also perhaps planning for retirement.
  • Refinancing to drop mortgage insurance: This form of refinancing might mean having to pay a slightly higher interest rate on a long-term 30-year mortgage, but it also means dropping the private mortgage insurance that brings up your payments several hundred dollars per month. The key is to take the money and do something smart with your new savings.

What’s in Store for Mortgages This Year?

Here are some things to keep in mind in 2017.

  • Financial Markets: If the stock market continues to improve and rally, expect mortgage rates to continue their upward climb.
  • Big Events: It would take something big and unexpected to cause the market to reverse course, shifting money into bonds and driving mortgage rates lower. If something like this does happen and you are eyeing a particular interest rate, act quickly.
  • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: Pay attention to any news from Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. If rates continue to rise, current underwriting standards might be adjusted to meet the needs of the shrinking housing market. Expect guidelines to loosen slightly to offset the higher interest rates.

If you are looking to purchase a house or refinance one you already own, and there is a financial benefit to the terms and rate you qualify for, act on it. Let affordability be the driver of your decision to purchase or refinance a home to meet your financial goals. The market will always change and evolve, and if you can justify the opportunity, it should be something for you to seriously consider.

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