Refinancing can be almost as confusing as your first mortgage application. The decision to refinance your home is dependent on many things, including: how long you plan to be in the house, how much lower the interest rate will be on your new loan, the closing costs for the new loan, your equity position in the home, and whether you plan to do a cash-out refinancing.
With a plain-vanilla refinancing you're trying to take advantage of lower interest rates to lower your monthly payments. If you have enough equity in your home you may even have a side benefit of being able to stop paying Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI). To take advantage of a lower rate you'll have to close on a new loan and pay the closing costs associated with that loan. That's true even if you opt for a no-cash or low-cash closing. With a no-cash or low-cash closing, the costs still are there, they just are paid for either with a higher interest rate or are included in the principal balance of the loan. If you don't plan on being in the house very long, then the lower payments associated with the refinancing won't cover these closing costs.
With cash-out refinancing, you refinance your mortgage for more than you currently owe, then pocket the difference. Here's an example: Let's say you still owe $80,000 on a $150,000 house, and you want a lower interest rate. You also want $20,000 cash, maybe to spend on your kid's first semester at Princeton or to Refinance debt consolidation. You can refinance the mortgage for $100,000. That way, you get a better rate on the $80,000 that you owe on the house, and you get a check for $20,000 to spend as you wish.
Cash-out refinancing differs from a home equity loan in a couple of ways. First, a home equity loan is a separate loan on top of your first mortgage; a cash-out refinance is a replacement of your first mortgage. Second, the interest rate on a cash-out refinancing is usually, but not always, lowers than the interest rate on a home equity loan.