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Cash-in refinances break record in 4th quarter

More homeowners than ever paid down mortgage loan balances while refinancing their homes in the fourth-quarter of 2010, according to Freddie Mac. During the period, 46 percent of homeowners who refinanced mortgages brought cash to closing to lower their principal balance. That is the highest “cash-in” share since Freddie Mac began tracking refinance activity in 1985.

Paying down mortgages and other debt

Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac vice president and chief economist, said in a statement:

Consumers are generally shedding debt, and mortgages are just another way they’re doing it. Between 2007 and the third quarter of 2010, mortgage debt declined more than $400 billion, according to the Fed. The estimated volume of net equity cashed out in our report do not account for the homeowners who have paid off their mortgages in their entirety.

Cash-out refinancing

Freddie Mac also reported that the percent of cash-out refinances, in which homeowners cashed out some home equity, fell to a record low. Borrowers who increased their mortgage loan balance by at least 5 percent accounted for 16 percent of mortgage refinancing. The cash-out refinance share has averaged 62 percent over the past 25 years.

Getting a cash-out refinance deal has gotten tougher for many borrowers as the housing crisis has dragged on. Lower home values, high unemployment and tougher lending standards all have put the brakes on the my-house-is-a-piggy-bank mentality that swept America before the housing downturn.

Taking advantage of low mortgage rates

Some savvy homeowners who still have good credit have can use current market conditions to their advantage. Instead of using low mortgage rates to simply lower monthly payments, you can choose to also reduce the amount of principal being refinanced by bringing cash to closing. This strategy can give you a choice of making the new lower payments or continuing to pay down your mortgage faster by sticking with the higher payments you made before refinancing. Either way you end up paying out less interest over the life of the mortgage loan.

When shopping around to compare mortgage loans, let lenders know that you are interest in bring cash to closing to pay down the principal. This could work in your favor and allow you to get a better mortgage rate. Bring cash to closing also could push up your home equity enough to get rid of monthly mortgage insurance (MI) payments.

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