Streamline Refinance

Streamline Refinance Programs

If your existing mortgage is backed by the government, you may be entitled to refinance under a “streamline refinance” program. These cut both the time and the paperwork required, and often make it much easier to get approved because some ignore your employment status, the current market value of your home and your credit score and report.

If you have a mortgage provided under any of the following government-backed programs, read on to discover the benefits offered by a streamline refinancing and to learn about some of the rules and restrictions that surround them:

  • FHA loans – Federal Housing Administration
  • VA loans – Veterans Administration
  • HARP refinances – Home Affordable Refinance Program
  • USDA Rural loans – United States Department of Agriculture – rural development

Please note that, just because the government (which guarantees the loans) sets eligibility rules, that doesn’t mean that every lender (which puts up the money) has to accept them. Lenders are entitled to impose their own eligibility criteria, and your existing one may be stricter than others. Don’t despair. Simply shop around for a lender that’s more comfortable with your personal circumstances.

FHA mortgage streamline refinance

If you currently have an FHA loan, and want to cut your monthly payments by refinancing to a lower rate, you may benefit from this streamline program. Among its major attractions, which generally apply:

  • You won’t have to prove your income or employment status
  • There won’t be a credit check
  • Your home won’t be appraised again – the original valuation from when you first bought it will be used

If you currently have an FHA loan, and want to cut your monthly payments by refinancing to a lower rate, you may benefit from this streamline program. Among its major attractions, which generally apply:

  • You must be current on your mortgage and have been so for the last three months. Beyond that, you can have been late once in the previous year, but you mustn’t have been past due more than 30 days.
  • You need to get a real benefit from the refinance. You should shave at least 50 basis points (one half of 1 percent) off your combined interest rate and mortgage insurance premiums. But …
  • You can refinance your adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) to a fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) without meeting that 50-basis-point threshold. In those circumstances, your rate can go up.
  • This can’t be a normal “cash-out refinance,” which is one where you walk away with a lump sum to spend, though you can take out up to $500. Your only significant benefit can be a reduced rate that results in lower monthly payments.
  • You may have to pay closing costs, although those should usually be lower than with a non-streamline refinance, because you don’t have to pay for an appraisal, credit check and so on. However, some lenders may offer a “no-cost” option, usually by slightly increasing your new mortgage rate.
  • You must have made at least six monthly payments since you last closed on the mortgage loan you’re refinancing. In fact, it must be at least 210 days since you bought the home (closed) or last refinanced it.

VA loans

The VA calls a mortgage refinanced under its streamline program an “Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan” (IRRRL), and it’s sometimes referred to as a VA-to-VA refinance or loan. In some ways, the offering is similar to the FHA’s (see above for details), including:

  • There are no appraisals, credit checks or income/employment verifications
  • You must be current on your mortgage payments and have been late no more than once in the previous 12 months
  • You have to refinance to a lower mortgage rate unless you’re moving from and ARM to an FRM
  • The VA website says, “Veterans are strongly urged to contact several lenders because terms may vary” so shop around for the best deal.

However, the VA’s program differs from the FHA one in some important respects:

  • You are generally entitled to roll up any closing costs and VA funding fee within the amount you borrow
  • However, you may find a lender that’s offering a “no-cost” deal, though that normally comes with a slightly higher mortgage rate, which is why “no cost” is in quotation marks
  • Although you can’t do a cash-out refinance using the streamlined process, you can borrow an extra $6,000 providing you spend it on energy-efficiency home improvements

HARP refinances

A new streamlined version of the Home Affordable Refinance Program is due to be launched in October 2017. In the meantime, the existing program has been extended to fill the gap.

The big hurdle with HARP is that it applies only to mortgages guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But keep reading, because many homeowners don’t know their loan is guaranteed by one of those, they don’t realize their original lender may have sold on their mortgage in a secondary market. In fact, it doesn’t matter from whom you originally borrowed or what logos are on your mortgage statements, you can only tell whether yours qualifies for HARP by checking. You can do so by using the online look-up tools on Fannie’s website and Freddie’s website – and you must use BOTH to be sure. Another requirement is that your mortgage was originated on or before May 31, 2009.

HARP exists to help those who have little or no “equity” in their homes. Equity is the difference between the amount you owe on your mortgage today and the current market value of your home. So if your home’s worth $100,000 and your mortgage balance is $120,000 you have negative equity, which is often called being “underwater” or “upside down.” In that case, your loan-to-value (LTV) ratio is 120 percent, because you determine your LTV by dividing your mortgage balance by your home’s value by your mortgage balance and moving the decimal point a couple of places to the right.

That’s not a problem with HARP. In fact, you won’t be eligible if your LTV is lower than 80 percent. And, there’s no fixed cap on how high your LTV can be. So even if you owe twice as much or more on your mortgage than your home is worth, you may still qualify.

But first you have to meet some further eligibility criteria:

  • You must be current on your mortgage
  • You can have been late on a mortgage payment only one in the last 12 months
  • You can’t have been more than 30 days late on a mortgage payment in the last six months
  • The real property that’s mortgaged can be your primary residence, a second home or an investment property
  • As with most other streamline refinance programs, you shouldn’t have to undergo credit checks or pay to have your home appraised

As the official HARP website suggests, “Even if you applied for HARP refinancing before and were declined, look into it again. With expanded requirements, more people are now eligible.”

USDA streamlined assist refinance loans

Like other streamlined programs, this United States Department of Agriculture offering allows you to refinance your loan with minimum cost, fuss and bother. You won’t need an appraisal (unless you’ve received subsidy during your loan term), provide a credit report or undergo a debt-to-income calculation. And you can roll up the guarantee fee and other eligible closing costs in your new mortgage.

However, there are some eligibility criteria:

  • You must be an existing USDA direct or guaranteed rural homebuyer
  • You must have been current on your mortgage payments for the last 12 months
  • When you add up your monthly payments for mortgage principal and interest, real estate taxes and homeowners insurance, your refinance must save you at least $50 net on the total of these.
  • Your new mortgage rate must be lower than your existing one
  • You can still apply, even if the home on which the mortgage is secured has been re-designated, and is no longer in an area that is categorized as eligible under other USDA programs
  • All the borrowers named on the original note must remain on the new one, but you can add new ones

As the official HARP website suggests, “Even if you applied for HARP refinancing before and were declined, look into it again. With expanded requirements, more people are now eligible.”

Photo of author

Author D Laidler

I am David, economist, originally from Britain, and studied in Germany and Canada. I am now living in the United States. I have a house in Ontario, but I actually never go.  I wrote some books about sovereign debt, and mortgage loans. I am currently retired and dedicate most of my time to fishing. There were many topics in personal finances that have currently changed and other that I have never published before. So now in Business Finance, I found the opportunity to do so. Please let me know in the comments section which are your thoughts. Thank you and have a happy reading.

Thank you for visiting

Leave a Comment