Before You Refinance, Modify Your Loan … If You Can

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A colleague who was looking to refinance his mortgage to today’s record low interest rates, just told me that he opted instead for a “modification.”

No, he’s not behind on his monthly payments, nor even struggling to make them. He is current, and modifications on current loans have been around for years, though they are increasingly rare and consequently few people know about them.

My colleague’s bank, New Jersey-based First Niagara, allowed him to do the modification to a lower interest rate. Here’s the best part: My colleague had to pay just $500 for his 7/1 Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM) to go from 4 percent to 3.125 percent, which is an eighth of a percentage point above the going rate, but still a great move. No principal payment, no new underwriting, no nothing.

I called First Niagara and asked if they do mortgage recasts. The first agent said yes, but when I asked to be transferred to a mortgage specialist, and then identified myself as a reporter, I was disconnected … three times.

On the fourth try, I did finally get a nice agent, who called another department and said yes, they do modifications, but more often do “recasts,” in which case a sizeable principal payment is required. Hmmm. Then she said she had to leave a message for someone to give me more details. Still waiting.

Apparently mortgage recasts do exist.

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