With current mortgage rates on the decline it may be a great time to look for the best refinance rates that will save you money on your mortgage. Most experts agree that interest rates have nowhere to go but up, so now could be your best chance to take advantage of favorable conditions.

Why Refinance Your Mortgage?

It’s common for people to transfer their balance from a credit card with a high interest rate to one with a lower interest rate, resulting in a more manageable monthly payment and a bit more breathing room in their budget. Refinancing your mortgage at a lower rate can allow for the same thing on a bigger scale. You may also want to refinance to obtain a shorter loan term or a different type of mortgage.

Whatever your reason, refinancing can save you money in the short term, the long term, or sometimes both.

How to Get the Best Refinance Rates

There’s little magic involved in getting the best mortgage refinance rates. Like most other financial decisions, you’ll need to do a little research and some comparison shopping. If your finances aren’t in top shape, you may also need to put in some hard work to raise your credit score and reduce your debt load before refinancing.

Step 1: Do the math.

Before you shop for mortgage refinance rates, play with the numbers using a refinance calculator. Selecting a shorter mortgage term can lower your interest rate, saving you much more in the long run and getting you out of debt faster — but it will also boost your monthly payment. You’ll want to decide what you can comfortably afford before a lender tries to make that decision for you.

Let’s say I originally obtained a conventional 30-year, $250,000 mortgage five years ago at an APR of 5.50%, and my current balance on the mortgage is now $230,000. Here’s what the numbers could look like according to new loan terms and average refinance rates, assuming $2,000 in closing costs (keeping in mind that shorter loan terms usually come with lower APRs):

New term and APR
Change in monthly paymentAmount saved over life of loan
30 years, 4.5%$253 less$6,164
25 years, 4.375%$157 less$47,054
20 years, 4.250%$6 more$83,883
15 years, 4.0%$282 more$119,469

If getting the lowest interest rate is my top priority, that 15-year term looks pretty sweet — and so does saving more than $119,000 in interest over the long run. But I’ll need to cough up an extra $282 a month.

Step 2: Make sure your credit is in top shape.

Your credit score will affect the interest rate you receive just as much as it did when you obtained your original loan. For that reason, refinancing will often provide the greatest benefit for anyone who has seen their credit score climb since getting their mortgage.

Wondering how much your credit score can affect your refinance rates? According to myFICO estimates, someone refinancing a conventional 30-year, $300,000 loan with excellent credit would receive an average APR of 4.125% as of March 2018. Meanwhile, someone with only fair credit would see an average rate of 5.714%. The excellent-credit borrower would pay almost $300 less per month. Here’s a more detailed breakdown:

Credit score
APRMonthly payment
760-8503.309%$1,315
700-7593.531%$1,352
680-6993.708%$1,382
660-6793.922%$1,419
640-659
4.352%$1,494
620-639
4.898%$1,592

If your score is lower than 620, you’ll have a tough time refinancing with most traditional lenders. Credit unions and local banks may offer a bit more wiggle room than bigger banks, but your chances of approval will be much better (and your APR much lower) if you take time to focus on raising your credit score first.

Step 3: Chip away at your debt.

Your credit score isn’t the only thing helping to determine your interest rate. Lenders also want to make sure you aren’t burdened by too much debt — after all, if you can’t keep up with your credit card payments, your mortgage could be next.

The number they’ll look at is your debt-to-income ratio, or DTI, which is simply the percentage of your gross income that your debt payments will eat up — those include student loans, car payments, and minimum payments on your credit card balances, as well as your potential mortgage. Someone earning $4,000 a month with total debt obligations of $1,000 a month has a DTI of 25%.

DTI requirements vary by lender, but most will want to see a maximum of around 43% DTI — and lower is better. So if you have a monthly gross income of $6,000 a month, you would want to make sure no more than $2,600 is being used to pay off debt.

If your DTI isn’t looking so hot, it may be time to form a game plan to help you reduce your debt load. Simple debt-reduction strategies like paying more than the minimum every month can ultimately reduce your DTI and put you in a better position to refinance mortgage rates.

Step 4: See if Uncle Sam will help.

If you  have an FHA loan, you might be eligible for the FHA Streamline Refinance, which doesn’t require a new home appraisal for you to obtain a lower interest rate. For that reason, the program can be enormously beneficial for those with homes that have dropped in value.

Step 5: Don’t forget about closing costs and fees.

Whether you’re buying or refinancing, there’s nothing cheap about getting a mortgage. There are application fees, home appraisal fees, attorney’s fees, survey fees, title searches — the list of things you may pay for to refinance is long, and will probably cost at least a few thousand dollars by the time it’s said and done.

Because closing costs and fees are not exactly insignificant (they average about $2,000 or more on a $200,000 loan, depending on the state you live in) be sure to decide whether it makes the most sense to pay cash at closing or add them to your loan. The former is ideal for anyone who wants to pay the least long term, while rolling them into the loan might be the better option for someone who doesn’t want to dip into savings.

Another option is a “zero closing cost” mortgage, where you may pay a slightly higher interest rate in exchange for your lender ponying up at closing. Again, this makes the most sense for someone who doesn’t have the cash on hand for closing costs or who might not stay in their new home long enough to recoup those costs and start benefiting from lower home refinance rates. If you’re aiming to stay in your home long term, you’ll probably pay more going this route.