Like some low-flying aircraft doing daredevil stunts, the mortgage rate has been buzzing so close to the ground you might have the impulse to duck for cover. Or, if you're savvy, you might try to grab it before it takes flight again.

"We've seen a tremendous increase in inquiries," says Bryan Smith, a mortgage broker with Quality Financial Solutions in Commack. And for the financially fit, those inquiries can result in a closed deal with a great interest rate in as little as four weeks, he says. "Let's say you're a great candidate - nice equity, good income - the rates are phenomenal." Qualified borrowers - those with plenty of equity - could even refinance their second mortgage, he says.

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But some inquiries never make it past the initial phone call. Getting that implausibly low rate - the average 30-year fixed rate as of Aug. 12 is 4.44 percent, according to Freddie Mac - has proved to be a tricky for those who need it most. Here's what's standing in their way - and what experts say might help.

PROBLEM: Inflated expectations

The latest rate you see in advertisements and the media is not necessarily the rate you'll be offered. "That is a conventional rate, but you need to have pristine credit to get that," says Joan LaFemina, manager of homeowner services for the Community Development Corporation of Long Island in Centereach, a HUD-certified housing agency. In fact, the reasons you're trying to refinance might be the very things that will keep you from getting the best rate, she says. "It's never just one thing. It's a combination of factors" - namely credit, debt, income and home value.

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What might help: Better financial literacy

Do your homework: Shop around, get at least three quotes and insist on seeing a good-faith estimate - an itemized list brokers and lenders are required to provide, disclosing all the estimated costs associated with the loan, says LaFemina.

Even if you don't qualify for that Cadillac rate, do the math to see if a refinance still might work for you. "There's one starting rule of thumb," says LaFemina. "If you can save even two percentage points on your mortgage - if someone is at eight and they can get six - it might make sense." Be sure to factor in things like how long it will take to recoup your closing costs, she advises. "People look at the immediate savings, but you have to look at the long-term."


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