By Chris Birk
Mortgage rates are beginning to creep up, but they're still well within the kind of range that makes longtime homeowners shake their heads in disbelief. The average interest rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage hit 3.63 percent for the week of March 10, marking the highest point since last summer. So while a seller's market may be taking shape, it's still a great time to shop for a mortgage, especially a refinance. That's why it's so frustrating for homeowners who can't get on the bus. So what's keeping you from getting a refinance loan right now? Here's a look at five of the most common culprits:
Same as it ever was when it comes to mortgage lending -- you're going to need to meet a lender's qualifying credit score for a refinance, which in many cases will be higher than what you'd need for a purchase loan. For conventional refinancing, you're likely looking for at least a 740 score to really capitalize on current rates. The bar won't be quite so high if you're going after a government-backed option like an FHA or VA loan. Make no mistake: A loan program may not have a credit score requirement, but the lenders who actually issue loans certainly will. Right now, for example, VA lenders are generally looking for at least a 620 score. But you'll more than likely need at least a 640 to start the refinance conversation.
Your Home Is Underwater
Values are starting to rebound in some parts of the country, but a lower-than-anticipated appraisal remains a common refi-killer. Consumers who owe more than their home is worth know this all too well. Pursuing a traditional refinance is all but impossible for underwater homeowners -- and that explains why the government's special refinance program for distressed borrowers is absolutely booming. Refinances through the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) topped 1 million in 2012, more than double the year prior. The HARP program helps underwater homeowners with Fannie Mae- and Freddie Mac-backed loans. It's possible for some lenders to process refinance applications without an appraisal (the VA's Streamline program is one example). But today that's a rare exception.
Not Enough Income
All indications are the economy is on the upswing. While that's good news for the nation, continued recovery doesn't suddenly put more money in your pocket. Many homeowners lost jobs or took pay cuts in the wake of the economic crisis. One missed mortgage payment can stymie a refinance application. Lenders will typically want to see 12 consecutive months of on-time payments. Diminished income can also make it tough to actually pay for the refinance, which like any mortgage loan comes with costs and fees. Self-employed homeowners will need at least 2 years of tax returns.
You Bought Big
Jumbo loans can present a unique set of refinance difficulties. These non-conforming loans typically require sterling credit and significant skin in the game to acquire. It can be especially tough when your $625,000 home has lost a third of its value. Jumbo homeowners may have to come to the closing table with cash in order to secure that lower rate.
Paying mortgage insurance can complicate your ability to secure a refinance. That's especially true for lender-paid mortgage insurance. Either form presents problems for the federal HARP program as well, although some lenders have loosened restrictions a bit in the last two years. If this is currently an obstacle, keep searching for a lender that will work with you.