Here are some reasons to consider refinancing your mortgage:

To obtain a lower fixed rate. If you took out a fixed-rate mortgage several years ago and interest rates have since dropped, refinancing may lower your payments considerably. A $150,000 mortgage with a 30-year term and a rate of 8 percent, for example, carries a monthly payment of $1,100. The same mortgage at 6 percent will have a payment of less than $900 a month.

To switch to a fixed rate or an adjustable rate mortgage. Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) offer lower interest rates initially, but some homeowners find the fluctuations stressful. If rates are on the way up, you might consider locking in at a fixed rate and consistent monthly payment. On the other hand, if you want to reduce your monthly payments and are comfortable with the interest rate changes of an ARM, it could save you money to refinance to an ARM.

To reduce your monthly payments. Refinancing for a longer term will lower the amount you have to pay each month. You will end up paying more in interest charges over the life of your loan, but if you’re having difficulty making your current payments, this strategy could provide some relief.

To turn home equity into cash. You may want to take out a new mortgage with a larger principal, in order to turn some of your home equity into cash for a major expense. This is called cash-out refinancing. The advantage of taking out a loan secured by your home is that you can get a lower rate of interest than you can with an unsecured loan or credit card. However, if the interest rate offered for your refinanced mortgage is higher than your current rate, a home equity loan or line of credit might be a better choice.

Is refinancing right for you?

To determine whether refinancing makes financial sense for you, consider these issues:

How long you plan to be in your home. If you expect to move in a year or two, you may never realize the potential savings you’d get from refinancing. As a rule of thumb, the longer you plan to stay in your current home, the more sense it makes to refinance.

The prepayment penalty on your current mortgage. Many mortgages carry a penalty if you pay them off early. The amount varies, but it is usually a small percentage of the outstanding balance, or several months’ worth of interest payments.

The costs of the new mortgage. When you take out a new loan, your lender may charge a number of fees including application, appraisal, origination and insurance fees, plus title search, insurance and legal costs that can add up to thousands of dollars. Lenders may also charge discount points, which are paid upfront to secure a lower interest rate.