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With mortgage interest rates falling below 10 percent in a number of cities, homeowners with hefty monthly payments may be hoping to refinance.

Unfortunately, rates aren't low enough to make refinancing pay in most cases if your current interest rate is between 10 percent and 11 percent.But perhaps you have a second mortgage with an interest rate of 12 percent or 13 percent and want to get rid of it. Or you may have an adjustable rate mortgage that makes you nervous.

Generally, mortgage experts say it pays to refinance if you can recoup your costs within two or three years. You can figure out your own situation by plugging numbers into the following formula.

- First, figure out what you're paying now in principal and interest each month. Don't include the payments for taxes and insurance even if you send those in as part of the mortgage payment each month. You can figure out what part of the payment is taxes and insurance from the escrow papers you get annually from the lender.

- Look up your remaining mortgage balance. That will also be on the escrow papers.

- Calculate what your monthly payment would be if you refinanced at the lowest rate now available for a 30-year mortgage. Here's how. If a local lender is offering a mortgage with an interest rate of 9.5 percent, multiply every $1,000 on your mortgage balance by $8.41. In other words, if your outstanding balance is $95,000, multiply 95 by $8.41. You get $798, which would be your monthly principal and interest payments on a $95,000 mortgage at 9.5 percent interest. The multiplier for an interest rate of 9.75 percent is $8.60. For an interest rate of 10 percent it is $8.78.

- Subtract your "new" payment from your old one. The result is your savings figure.

- Now, multiply your current mortgage balance by 4 percent. This is about how much it will cost you to refinance, although in some cases the costs could be as low as 3 percent.

- Divide your refinancing cost by your savings figure. The result will be a two-digit figure and a fraction. Round to the nearest whole number. That's how many months it will take you to recoup your financing costs.

- If the number is higher than 36, it's probably not a good idea to refinance because it will be more than three years before you realize any savings.

Here's how the formula might work:

When Ann and Tony Hawkins bought their house, they assumed an FHA-insured mortgage from the owner for $83,000. It had a 9.5 percent interest rate and their monthly principal and interest payments are $698.

The owner also agreed to take back a second mortgage of $43,000 for five years at an interest rate of 12 percent. Monthly payments on this loan are $442 a month.

So the Hawkins are paying a total of $1,140 in principal and interest each month. Their outstanding mortgage balance - on the first and second mortgages combined - is $126,000.

They find a lender offering 30-year fixed rate mortgages for 9.75 percent interest. Multiplying every $1,000 in their outstanding mortgage balance - 126 - by the multiplier for 9.75 percent - 8.6 - they get $1,083. That would be their new monthly payment if they refinanced.

Next, they subtract the new figure - $1,083 - from the old - $1,140. The savings figure is $57 a month.

Then, they figure out about how much it will cost them to refinance, multiplying their outstanding mortgage balance - $126,000 - by 4 percent. Refinancing costs would be about $5,040.

When the Hawkins divide their refinancing costs - $5,040 - by the monthly savings figure - $57 - they discover it would take 88 months, or more than seven years, to recoup their refinancing costs. Unless they must pay off the second mortgage soon, refinancing is not for them.

If, however, the Hawkins were paying 12 percent interest on their entire $126,000 mortgage, it would make sense to refinance. They would save $213 a month with a new mortgage at 9.75 percent and recoup their costs in just two years.