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Local economic conditions, interest rates, crime rates and other factors can cause housing prices to rise or fall. Neglecting maintenance can cause a home to lose value. If your house is worth less than it was when you bought it, you may be thinking about refinancing to reduce your monthly payments. Your options will depend on your home’s current value and your outstanding loan balance.

How Much is Your House Worth?
Contact an appraiser to get an assessment of your home’s current value. Online estimates can be highly inaccurate. Once you have determined your house’s market value, you will be able to compare it to the amount you owe on the mortgage and explore your options.

Can You Refinance?
If your house is worth less than the loan balance, you have negative equity. This situation is often referred to as being “underwater” or “upside down” on a mortgage. It may be difficult or impossible to qualify for a traditional refinance, but you may be eligible for a government program. You can research programs online or contact your lender and request information.

If the value of your home is greater than the mortgage balance, you have some equity. Lenders generally require homeowners who want to refinance to have at least 20 percent equity. If you have less than that, it may be difficult or impossible to refinance. If you have at least 20 percent equity and qualify for a traditional refinance, you will have to pay for closing costs, which may be several thousand dollars. 

Is Refinancing a Good Idea?
The amount of money you can save by refinancing will depend on your mortgage balance and your current and future interest rates. If you refinance, you will have to pay closing costs, which may be several thousand dollars.

Compare the amount you can save by refinancing to the closing costs. Divide the closing costs by your potential monthly savings to figure out how many months it would take you to break even. If you don’t expect to stay in the house for at least that long, refinancing won’t save you money in the long run.

If you put down at least 20 percent when you bought the house, you didn’t have to purchase private mortgage insurance. If you now have less than 20 percent equity and you refinance, you may have to purchase PMI. That could add hundreds or thousands of dollars per year to your total housing costs. 

Find out what your home is worth, figure out how much equity you have, research your options, and figure out how much your net savings would be if you refinanced. 

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