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May 7, 2020

Recently, economists at the Mortgage Bankers Association projected refinance numbers would double their original 2020 projections and reach a whopping $1.2 trillion. With numbers like that we figured it was a good time to evaluate what the different lenders had to offer in hopes of finding the best mortgage refinance companies in the U.S.

As an extension of MONEY’s Best Mortgage Lenders of 2020, we interviewed an array of industry experts to get the inside scoop on current market trends, as well as refinancing dos and don’ts. We vetted companies based on 10,200 data points, including percentage of refinance originations by state, loan products offered, and customer satisfaction ratings.

Money.com Research Team: Gabriella Cruz-Martínez, Heidi Rivera, Joan Pabón, Colin Grubb

Money’s Top Picks

  1. Quicken Loans: Best for Online Mortgage Redinance
  2. Guild Mortgage Company: Best Mortgage Refinance Company for Airbnb Owners
  3. Bank of America: Best Mortgage Refinance Company For Member Discounts

Methodology

When mortgage rates fell to a 50-year historic low earlier this year, refinance applications went through the roof. In fact, the Mortgage Bankers Association had to revisit their initial 2020 forecast as refi numbers doubled to $1.23 trillion, a 36% increase from 2019. This led us to research market trends and interview economists, real estate professionals, loan officers, and mortgage brokers to better understand the elements at play in the current mortgage market.

It also led us to look at the refinance loan offers of the largest lenders in the industry and the ways in which they’re simplifying the application process for these types of loans. We considered lenders that provided online tools, discounts, or exclusive refinance programs.

In terms of data, we initially split our collection effort into two broad areas: lender size and reach, and reputation for customer satisfaction. To determine lender originations we relied on the annual report from the Mortgage Bankers Association. As for customer sentiment, we consulted the J.D. Power’s 2019 U.S. Primary Mortgage Origination Satisfaction Study. Although we initially began with a consideration set of 100 refinance lenders, working with these two reports narrowed our list down to 24. Next, after figuring the national average number of purchase originations, we cut all those companies that fell below the median. This further cut the list down to 11.

Finally, we vetted the remaining companies based on the most important attributes of a lender according to the experts we interviewed and consumer feedback from a short poll that ran on MONEY’s social media platforms. After weighting professional and consumer opinion accordingly, we identified our three top picks for best of the mortgage refinance industry.

More on Money’s Top Picks

Quicken Loans: Best for Online Mortgage Refinance

Minimum Credit Score 620 is standard, with minor exceptions
Do they consider alternative credit data No, they consider credit scores and DTI Ratios
MBA Ranking 1
JD Power Ranking Among the Best

Currently ranked as the nation’s top refinance originator by the MBA, we chose Quicken Loans as the best for online mortgage refinance because of its in-depth digital software and web-based customer support. From tracking your budget, to evaluating loan options, Quicken provides comprehensive tools to help borrowers manage their refinancing process totally online from start to finish.

Through Rocket Mortgage, Quicken’s digital platform, customers can import their property taxes and home insurance information automatically upon entering their address. Additionally, the company offers the ability to integrate digitally with your bank so it is not necessary to manually input account statements. Customers can also modify their rate, term, and costs to see other payment options. And the entire process can be completed using eClosing.

This not only resonates with tech-savvy borrowers, but frankly anyone else looking to refinance from home in the current climate of social distancing.

Another big win for Quicken is they basically offer every refinancing option under the sun. From conventional to ARM, short-term rentals, and government-backed loans, if you decide to go with the company you’ll have plenty of choices.

Although the company is deeply rooted in online technology, Quicken also has over 3,000 Home Loan experts available 7 days a week to help you complete your application over the phone.

Highlights from Quicken

  • Offers a streamlined application process with eClosing
  • Outperformed every other lender last year, even in government-backed loan originations
  • Rated the best in the industry for customer support
  • First mortgage lender to move completely online
  • Refinance calculator

Covid-19 Response

As of April 20, 2020, Quicken Loans has ceased to offer conventional adjustable rate mortgages (ARMS). In response to the Covid-19 outbreak, Quicken is providing the federal mortgage debt relief option of forbearance for up to three months for borrowers affected directly by coronavirus. Once the forbearance period ends, clients have the option to pay the deferred amount in a lump sum, to sign up for a loan modification, or begin a repayment plan to finance the owed amount. Borrowers may also request an extension on their forbearance period, however, note that while this won’t affect credit scores — interest will continue to accrue.

Applying for assistance can be completed through your online Rocket Mortgage account.

Guild Mortgage Company: Best Mortgage Refinance Company for Airbnb Owners

Minimum Credit Score 620 is standard, with minor exceptions
Do they consider alternative credit data Yes, such as utility bills and rental payment histories.
MBA Ranking 12
JD Power Ranking Better Than Most

Out of all the mortgage refinance companies we vetted, Guild offered the most diverse array of loan options for borrowers in different financial circumstances. This includes those who may be facing financial hurdles like student loan debt or tight credit, as well as options for struggling Airbnb owners, which could be particularly advantageous considering the current world situation.

Guild’s Airbnb refinancing option is available for owner-occupied primary residences for borrowers with a loan-to value ratio of at least 97% for rate-and-term refinances, and 80% LTV for cash-out refinance. Qualifying borrowers must also have a credit score of 620.

Although other companies accept short-term rental income to qualify for certain loans, most require at least two years of evidence, while Guild accepts 12 months, making it an ideal option for new and veteran hosts alike. That’s what makes them our best for Airbnb owners.

Guild’s Airbnb program also enables borrowers to factor their short-term rental income on primary residences with multiple service providers, so it doesn’t just have to be Airbnb income. This added qualification muscle could potentially make Guild’s Airbnb-specific refinance easier to qualify compared to other lenders.

To qualify applicants must also present an Airbnb Proof of Income Statement, proof of stable short-term rental income for the past 12 months.

Highlights from Guild Mortgage

  • Offers conventional, FHA, VA, USDA, and Airbnb refinance
  • Has a refinance calculator, total mortgage payment calculator, and helpful blog
  • Accepts LTVs as high as 97% for rate and term refi and 80% for cash-out refinance

Covid-19 Response

Guild Mortgage is encouraging its clients to continue making mortgage payments, if they can. These can be made online using MyAccount, where additional assistance plans are available should borrowers need it. Amid coronavirus concerns, Guild is offering an initial mortgage relief option of forbearance for federally backed loans. Guild is also waiving late charges for all borrowers for the months of April and May and will cease negative credit reporting to credit bureaus from March to May. Repayment options for those opting to choose a forbearance will depend on your financial resources, Guild is also providing loan counseling available from 7:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Pacific Time at 800-365-4884.

Bank of America: Best Mortgage Refinance Company For Member Discounts

Minimum Credit Score 620 is standard, with minor exceptions
Do they consider alternative credit data Yes, such as utility bills and rental payment histories.
MBA Ranking 10
JD Power Ranking About Average

As one of the nation’s leading mortgage leaders, Bank of America is well-suited to help you determine if refinance is the right option. And if you decide to go that route, the company offers multiple types of refinancing and home equity loans to choose from, including fixed and adjustable-rate refinance loans, FHA and VA refinance, and cash-out refinance.

What makes Bank of America the best mortgage refinance company for member discounts, however, is its Preferred Rewards program. With this service, members can qualify for up to a $600 reduction of their purchase or refinance origination fees in closing costs. The program is based on tiers ranging from Gold to Platinum Honors, and the discount-level is based on the tier for which a customer qualifies. A member’s tier is determined by qualifying balances in Bank of America banking and or Merill investment accounts. So customers who have one of or both these accounts should definitely look into this as an option.

Another perk of doing business with Bank of America is that it has comprehensive digital services, including an online tool to track the progress of your mortgage loan and refinance application in real-time. While the company doesn’t state a credit score requirement on its website, you can consult a loan specialist to see if you qualify for refinance.

Highlights from Bank of America

  • Offers conventional, FHA, VA, USDA mortgage refinance loans
  • Exclusive membership discounts available on both purchase and refinance closing costs
  • Physical branch locations available throughout the nation

Covid-19 Response

Bank of America is actively monitoring the coronavirus outbreak as it unfolds and encourages those impacted directly or indirectly by this crisis to contact customer assistance to evaluate alternatives. As per the Financial Services Forum, BoA is allowing clients with mortgages or home equity loans to request payment deferral without adverse credit effects, yet payments will be added to the end of the loan. The bank is also pausing foreclosure sales, evictions, and repossessions.

Finally, Bank of America is also committing $100 million to support local communities affected by the coronavirus. The funds will help increase medical response capacity, address food insecurity, increase access to learning as a result of school closures, and provide support to the world’s most vulnerable populations.

Mortgage Refinance Companies and COVID-19

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, refinancing may take longer than usual. Record low mortgage rates earlier this year caused an avalanche of refinance applications and lenders have since struggled to keep up with demand due to reduced staffing and working hours.

Additionally, in order to safeguard the public, appraisers may not be permitted to enter your home to avoid potential contagion. However, as most mortgage companies have offered temporary waivers on appraisals and private mortgage insurance, this could actually result in speeding up the process.

If you are unable to make your current mortgage payment, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced they were taking measures to protect those affected directly or indirectly by the novel coronavirus.

These actions include a nationwide suspension of all foreclosures and evictions, as well as additional mortgage relief and loan modification programs set by individual lenders. You may also consider pausing your payments by requesting forbearance. However, note that you will still have to repay any missed or reduced payments in the future if you qualify for this option.

In addition, the Financial Services Forum states that some refinance lenders are implementing supplemental relief efforts, such as fee waivers, and are not reporting negative items to credit bureaus.

Make sure to contact your loan provider directly to know which steps they are taking during this crisis.

Is Now the Right Time to Refinance Your Mortgage?

While most borrowers turn to refinancing their mortgage as a means to lower their interest rate, monthly payments or loan term, refinancing can provide a number of other advantages such as consolidating debt, adding or removing a person from your loan, and more.

But refinancing comes at a cost. Standard fees may include origination, appraisal, attorney, courier, and underwriting fees, just to name a few, which can be as much as 5% of the total amount of the loan.

While refinancing can seem like an attractive way to decrease your payments or lower your term, you should make sure it’s the right move for you. If done wrong, it could potentially result in higher interest rates and mortgage payment you can’t afford.

What’s a mortgage refinance?

Refinancing a mortgage involves replacing an existing mortgage with a new one, with different terms, interest rates, or borrowed amount. In the best cases, refinancing can help you save money on your monthly payments through a lower interest rate, or by reducing your term. Below are the two most common forms of refinancing:

Rate-and-Term Refinance

This form of refinancing allows homebuyers to replace their existing loan with a shorter-term or lower interest rate.

 

Lower your rate

If interest rates are low, refinancing could potentially save you thousands of dollars over the life of your loan.

 

Lower your term

Resetting the term of your loan allows borrowers to either extend or shorten the life of their loan. But consider this: if you extend your loan, you may have a lower monthly payment with higher interest. Meanwhile if you shorten your loan term, this may result in a higher payment.

 

Cash-Out Refinance

A cash-out refinance replaces your existing mortgage loan with a new loan that’s higher than your balance for the purpose of converting the difference in home equity into cash. The extra cash can help borrowers pay off debt or remodel their home.

Watch Out For:

The borrower may have a higher interest rate through a cash-out refinance. Keep in mind to borrow an amount that is feasible to pay off as well.

Advantages of Refinancing

Besides lowering your interest rate and term, refinancing your mortgage may also help you in the following ways:

 

Consolidate Debt

As of January 2020, the average credit card APR was 17%, according to Experian, which is considerably higher than the average mortgage rate of 4% or under. If you do a cash-out refinance, you can consolidate high-interest debt from old credit cards. This will not only help you pay off your debt faster but can also save you hundreds to thousands of dollars down the line.

 

Free Up Cash

If you’re in need of extra cash in your budget for things like remodeling your home, or paying for some expensive medical procedure, refinancing your mortgage may be an option to consider. A cash-out refinance replaces your current home loan with a new mortgage that’s higher than your outstanding loan balance, so you can withdraw the difference between the two mortgages in cash. Keep in mind that a higher loan amount may come hand-in-hand with a higher interest rate.

 

Get Rid of Private Mortgage Insurance

One of the perks of refinancing your mortgage is that you may be able to have your private mortgage insurance (PMI) removed if your new mortgage is 80% or less of the home’s current appraised value or loan-to-value ratio (LTV). In fact, refinancing is the only option to cancel this type of insurance on most government-backed loans, such as FHA loans. However, you’ll have to refinance from a government-backed loan to a conventional mortgage to get rid of PMI.

 

Add or Remove a Cosigner from Your Mortgage

If yours is the only name you want on your mortgage, refinancing may be the solution. However, lenders may ask you to prove that you can make mortgage payments on your own. This will require some additional paperwork to document your income, debt, and credit history. The other cosigner may also have to provide evidence that they are willing to withdraw from the mortgage contract.

 

Peace of Mind

If you’re worried about interest rates increasing in the near future and you have an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM), shifting, for example, to a 30 fixed-rate loan can secure your rate for the remainder of the loan. This lowers risk and can give you peace of mind, as you no longer have to worry about fluctuating interest rates.

Requirements

Before refinancing, ask yourself what you want out of the process and if it makes financial sense.

It also pays to know that there are three main considerations lenders take into account when you apply for refinance: credit score, debt-to-income ratio, and average loan-to-value ratio.

Debt-to-income ratio (DTI)

Your debt-to-income ratio consists of all of your monthly debt payments added up and then divided by your gross monthly income. The DTI helps lenders determine your ability to manage payments and plays a key role when you apply for refinance.

Last year, Fannie Mae increased their DTI ratio limit to 50%, up from 45%. Usually, lenders require your debt-to-income ratio to be 50% or less to qualify for FHA loan refinance. Meanwhile, conventional loans usually allow DTI ratios of up to 43%, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Credit Score

When you choose to refinance, lenders will evaluate your most recent credit report. You can obtain free copies of your credit report from the three main credit reporting bureaus — TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian — at annualcreditreport.com once a year. If your credit, income, savings, or amount of debt have improved since your last mortgage application, you may be eligible for a reduced interest rate on your loan.

Average Loan-to-Value Ratio (LTV)

The LTV is the amount of the loan you want to take out divided by the appraised value of your home. Most lenders require borrowers to have at least 20% in equity in order to qualify for refinance. Some mortgage lenders are flexible in terms of equity requirements, however they will still request an appraisal to determine the actual market value of your home and calculate your equity. Having enough equity reassures borrowers that you won’t default on your new loan.

Things You’ll Need to Apply:

When applying for a mortgage refinance, you’ll be asked to provide some of the same personal information and paperwork than you did when you first got your mortgage. Check out the list below to ensure you have everything you need to get the ball rolling:

  • You may be asked to provide a copy of your government-issued ID or Social Security card
  • A recent copy of your credit report
  • Pay stubs to serve as proof of income for the last 30 days
  • W-2s for the past 2 years
  • Federal tax returns (personal and business) for at least the last 2-3 years
  • Written explanation if employed less than two years or if there’s a gap or change in employment
  • Statements of outstanding debt, and all current expenses
  • Address of property to be refinanced and purchase contract
  • Homeowners insurance information such as the agent’s name and contact information
  • Statements of assets
  • Bankruptcy/ discharge papers if applicable

Market Projections Timeline According to Experts

Short-term Projections

With the approval of the CARES Act and the Fed’s move to restore liquidity and stabilize the mortgage-backed securities market, interest rates are once again on a downward trend after a slight increase mid-March.

Despite ramifications from the coronavirus, refinancing numbers have still remained ahead of those reported in 2019. In fact, the MBA is confident that projections remain on track with their updated 2020 forecast, which expects refinance to surpass last year’s record-breaking figure and reach $1.2 trillion.

The surge in refinance reached its peak earlier last month when mortgage rates plunged to rock-bottom levels, leaving lenders struggling to keep up with the high demand.

Challenges In Refinances During Q2

The increase of unemployment levels has also jolted lenders into taking measures to lessen risk, as some borrowers have moved to lock-in low mortgage interest rates while they can.

As a result, most lenders have taken conservative positions and are tightening credit requirements and setting overlays for the average borrower to ensure that they’ll be able to recoup their investment.

“How many people that lost their job are going to get a job back is the concern. We’re up to 22 million. Economists say 10% or 20% of them might not have employment when this thing’s over. That’s still, two or five million Americans losing a job,” said Casa.
According to Casa, at least 1 or 2 out of 10 borrowers may potentially lose their job as a result of Covid-19.

Casa cited JP Morgan Chase as an example, which has recently tightened their home borrowing standards due to Covid-19. Customers now must have a 700 credit score and 20% down to be considered for a loan.

Josh Lewis, mortgage broker and owner of Buy Wise Mortgage says that while refinancing may be more challenging now, if you qualify for one – you should absolutely lock-in that low rate.

Refinancing Mortgages May Save Homes From Foreclosure

Americans are set to receive stimulus cash soon, and some are counting on that $1,200 check to serve as a safety net for upcoming mortgage payments. Since the pandemic started, unemployment claims rates have skyrocketed to 22 million — that’s roughly 7% of the US population. With no economic resolution in sight, unemployment numbers are increasing weekly and are expected to rise.

According to the MBA’s latest Forbearance and Call Volume Survey, forbearance rose from 2.73% to 3.74% during the week of March 30 to April 5.
“The share of loans in forbearance grew the first week of April, and forbearance requests and call center volume further increased. With mitigation efforts seemingly in place for at least several more weeks, job losses will continue and the number of borrowers asking for forbearance will likely continue to rise at a rapid pace,” said Fratantoni.

Lenders have also reallocated staff and updated websites to help borrowers find relief options, he added. But what if you’ve fallen behind on payments?

Generally, most lenders allow a 15-day grace period for borrowers to pay their mortgage. After that timeline, payments are officially considered late. Mortgage companies often start a foreclosure process if a borrower has defaulted on payments for at least 120 days.

According to Lewis, you should consider alternative options before filing for forbearance. Not only will interest accrue during a forbearance period, which can be tough on borrowers juggling more than one mortgage — your chances of getting approved for a new loan in the future will be much lower.

“I’m not saying all lenders will refuse to make a new loan to you, but many lenders will refuse to make a new loan to you,” says Lewis. “So forbearance is a great thing if it is your one and only option. If you have other options, you absolutely owe it to yourself to pursue those options.”

According to Lewis this may include a loan modification or refinance, if you are able to.

General Trends Will Remain in Flux

Mortgage rates have remained at historically low levels, but market volatility has caused rates to fluctuate significantly over the past couple of months. This means that prospective borrowers should be careful when shopping for a favorable rate.

As of April 15, the MBA announced that the refinance share of mortgage activity increased to 76.2% of total applications from 74.2% the previous week.

“Refinance activity has experienced a volatile four-week period, but did increase 10% last week,” added Kan, “Refinancing will continue to be beneficial for the many borrowers able to lower their monthly payments during this time of economic distress.”

Purchase applications decreased less than 2% last week — the fifth straight weekly decline. Compared to the first week of March, the purchase index was down around 35%, as the economic downturn and nationwide mitigation practices slowed the spread of COVID-19, which disrupted the spring homebuying season.

“The purchase market is still expected to rebound, as long as the public health measures to reduce the pandemic’s spread are successful and result in a broder recovery,” said Kan.

Long-term Projections

According to Carlos Garriga, Vice President of Economic Research and Industry at the Federal Reserve St. Louis branch, it’s too early to determine what the housing market will look like in the spring due to the recent market volatility.

Garriga says that economic indicators have shown that numbers should stabilize in the coming weeks depending on how well the U.S. recovers from the pandemic. However, properties in coastal areas may be suffering due to halt in travels, for example short-term vacation stays and rentals.

Your Mortgage Refinance Questions Answered

1) Should I choose loan modification instead of refinancing?

A loan modification is an agreement that changes the terms of your existing mortgage loan, to lower your payments, interest rate, or both, just like a refinance would. The main difference is that this type of loan requires much less paperwork and it’s more cost effective, since you’re able to skip most of the closing costs and origination fees tied to a traditional mortgage refinance.

Loan modifications are an alternative solution most lenders are willing to provide to avoid borrowers falling behind on payments or opting for a foreclosure.

To qualify for a loan modification, borrowers are recommended to be current on their payments. These requirements may vary depending on your lender, but you may have to provide evidence of financial hardship, such as medical statements, divorce papers, or proof of loss of a stable income. Still, it’s worth noting that some lenders may offer to reduce mortgage rates with a loan modification even if a borrower isn’t having trouble making payments.

2) Can I refinance a second property?

Yes, you can refinance a second home or property but lenders will have guidelines you must meet in order to qualify. Refinancing a second property can have a handful of benefits such as shortening the life of your loan, and lowering your rate. You can even combine, or consolidate, both mortgages into one single payment or loan.
But be aware of the terminology. A second home is a property other than your primary residence, while investment homes are properties you will never live in full-time. Airbnb’s, for example, may still qualify as second properties or ‘vacation homes’ for some lenders if you provide reasonable evidence that you still use the home personally.

According to Keith Gumbinger, Vice President of HSH Associates, mortgage rates for investment properties usually run about 1 percentage point above owner-occupied residential mortgages.

Most lenders tend to consider investment properties as a risk compared to loans for primary properties, because the property’s income is used in order to qualify for the loan. As income for an investment property may be subject to change, lenders may hike up their interest to avoid risk.

If your rental property is listed on a platform such as Airbnb, Vrbo, or Homeaway, it may be easier to document payout history and your income as a host. This could be beneficial as lenders may require up to 2 years of income history for your short-term rental or investment property in order to qualify for a refinance.

Before moving forward, it’s important to make sure that a refinance is the right choice for you when considering your financial goals.

3) Is it possible to refinance an underwater mortgage?

A mortgage is considered underwater when the borrower owes more on their mortgage than what the property is worth. Underwater mortgages could still be refinanced through Fannie Mae’s HARP replacement program, also known as the High LTV Refinance Option (HIRO).

Fannie Mae’s HIRO program is available to homeowners that are current on their mortgage payments and have a loan-to-value (LTV) ratio that exceeds the maximum amount for a standard cash-out refinance.

To qualify for the HIRO program, you must benefit from the refinance in the form of a reduced monthly payment, a lower interest rate and term, or reduced risk on your mortgage.
4) When is it a bad idea to refinance your mortgage ?

If refinancing doesn’t save you money once you add up the potential closing costs, it may not be the best option for you. Other factors that may indicate that refinancing may not be worth your time and effort include:

  • You can’t afford closing costs
  • High break-even point
  • You’re lowering your monthly payment, but spending more money in the long run

Refinance Glossary

 

Zero-Closing-Cost Refinance

While refinance closing costs can amount to up to 5% of your principal balance, some lenders offer “no-closing-costs” or “zero-closing-costs” refinance loans for those who qualify. These loans let you roll up closing costs into your mortgage loan. You still have to pay closing costs and interest on those fees, just not upfront.

 

Rate-And-Term Refinance

Also known as a “no cash-out refinance,” a rate-and-term refinance adjusts the interest rate or the term (or both) of an existing mortgage while its balance stays the same. This option often has a lower interest rate than cash-out loans.

 

Cash-Out Refinance

When you opt for a cash-out refinance, you’re essentially taking out a new mortgage for a larger amount than your current mortgage balance. In turn, you get the difference in home equity as a tax-free cash advance paid you at closing. It may take up to 60 days for you to receive it.

 

Cash-In Refinance

A cash-in refinance refers to the act of paying down an existing mortgage in an effort to lower your mortgage balance during a refi negotiation. Contrary to a cash-out refinance, this option may improve chances of an underwater mortgage qualifying for a refinance. Generally, a LTV ratio of at least 80% is required by most lenders to refinance.

 

Streamline Refinance

According to Tim Lucas, Managing Editor of MyMortgageInsider.com, all government-backed loan programs offer a streamline refinance option that requires low or no income documentation. These loans don’t require appraisals, in most cases only employment verification, which can be helpful to those who have reduced work hours due to COVID-19 slowdowns.

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