Why Cost Is As Important As Rate For Mortgage Loans

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When I wrote explaining why borrowers should consider a 5/1 ARM, because the tradeoff between rate and cost is lower for that loan, and most people don't keep their loans 5 years anyway, so having a likely need to refinance 5 years out is not an additional cost for most people with mortgages.

Costs for a loan break into two categories: The cost to get the loan done ("closing costs"). This pays for everything that needs to happen so that the loan gets done. These costs may vary from place to place, but they are absolutely mandatory - they are going to get paid. For instance, on a $400,000 refinance with full escrow, my clients are going to pay $2945 in closing costs, when you really include everything. Many lenders will try to pretend some or all of the closing costs don't exist in order to get people to sign up, but they do. I can save some money with virtual escrow in some cases, but $2945 is real. The proof is that I can put it in writing and guarantee not to go over. Lenders don't want to do this, but if they're not willing to put it in writing that they'll pay anything over that, the reason is because they know it's going to be more when it comes down to it at the end of the loan.

The other cost is the cost for the rate. There is always a tradeoff between rate and cost. If you want the lower rate, it is going to cost you more money. If you are willing to accept a higher rate, you can save money on the cost for the rate, to the point where it can reduce or eliminate the closing costs you're going to have to pay. Zero Cost Real Estate Loans exist - I've done dozens. I love them because they save my clients money.

NOTE: Since I wrote this Congress has changed the law to discriminate against brokers by making Yield Spread legally a cost of the loan, despite the fact that it adds zero to the amount the consumer pays and in fact can mean that what the loan actually costs the consumer is reduced. So technically, a broker can no longer deliver a zero cost loan. However, we can deliver a loan where you don't actually pay any money - either out of pocket or through increased loan balance. A matter of semantics and sounds to your average cynical but uneducated consumer like I'm weaseling in order to hose them later. If not for the law meant to confuse matters, it would be easier and more straightforward for consumers to understand. Thank Barney Frank and Christopher Dodd for "protecting" you.

You can lump the loan provider's profit in with the costs for the rate, as origination points, or in with the cost of the loan, as an origination fee, and pay it via Yield spread (if you're a broker) or even (in the case of a direct lender or correspondent) hide it in the fact that you're going to make a huge profit selling that loan on the secondary market, but I guarantee you it's going to get paid somehow. Nobody does loans for free, for the same reason you wouldn't work if you didn't get paid.

These costs are going to get paid. End of discussion. The costs are slightly different in states with different laws, but necessary costs are going to get paid. They can get paid out of pocket or they can get paid by rolling them into your loan balance but they are going to get paid. Most people don't understand loan costs which aren't paid by cash, and think that they are somehow "free", but that is not the case. Not only did you pay it, but it increases the dollar cost of any points you may pay, you're going to pay interest on it, and (less importantly) it's going to increase your payment amount.

The genesis of this whole thing was a guy I thought I had talked into a 5/1 ARM when I originally wrote this (rates are lower now). I went through this whole process of explaining why the rate/cost tradeoff for a 30 year fixed rate loan was not going to help him, and then a couple days later, he called me saying he'd found a thirty year fixed rate loan at 5.5, saving him three quarters of a percent on the interest rate and almost $400 on the payment. Remember that at the time, I had 5.5 available as well (rates are lower at this update). So I'm going to keep that exact same table:

30F Rate30F Cost5/1 rate5/1 Cost
5.5%2.65.25%1.5
5.875%1.85.5%0.9
6.25%0.25.875%0

The problem with the rate of 5.5% is that for a $600,000 loan, those closing costs are going up to $3475 (lender and third party costs are higher above the conforming limit) in order to get the loan done, and at the time, based upon current loan amount, 2.6 points would cost $16,100 and change. But he had gone to a loan officer who did his math as if that $19,585 (my loan quote at that time for that rate - I suspect the competitor's was higher) was going to magically disappear like one of a David Copperfield's illusions. He calculated payments and savings as if there were no costs - based upon the current balance and new interest rate and amortization period. Of course, this makes it look like the client was saving a lot of money $382 off the payment and three quarters of a percent off the rate, give him a whole new thirty years to pay off the loan, and pretend the costs of the loan aren't going to happen to get the guy to sign up. You'd think that somebody who reads this website every day would know better, but that does not appear to have been the case. In point of fact, the competing loan officer still has not told the guy how much his closing costs are or how much that 5.5% rate is going to cost him through him. I'll bet it's more than I would charge, but I don't know.

Psychologically speaking, what the competing loan officer is doing is smart. Because there's incomplete information available to the prospect, and I'm straightforwardly admitting how much it's going to cost (which is a lot, as most people who aren't billionaires or politicians think about money), an indefinite, uncertain number sounds like it might be less, even though it won't end up that way. Furthermore, by pretending costs don't exist, he has raised the possibility in the client's mind that there won't be any, because most people don't know how much lenders can legally lowball. There will be costs,and I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is that I have honestly represented mine. If this other loan officer could really deliver that loan at a cost lower than I can, there would be no reason for him to prevaricate, obfuscate, or attempt to confuse the issue. I've written before about how you can't compare loans without specific numbers, and there is no doubt in my mind that this other loan officer knows what those numbers really are - he just doesn't want to share that information, and the way our public consciousness about loans works, he can most often get away with it. It's still scummy behavior, and takes advantages of loopholes in the disclosure laws to practice bait and switch, knowing that when the deception comes to light (at closing) most people won't notice, and most of those who do notice will want to be done so badly they'll sign on the dotted line anyway.

Now what's really going to happen in 99% plus of all cases is that the costs are going to get rolled into the balance of the loan. The client certainly isn't going to be prepared to pay them "out of pocket" if they're not expecting those costs. So here's what happens: The client ends up with a new loan balance of $619,585 (Probably higher, because they're likely to roll the prepaid interest in as well, and quite likely the money to seed the impound account, but I'll limit myself to actual costs). In fact, the difference in payment drops to $290 when you consider cost, and $115 of that difference is directly attributable to starting over on the loan period, stretching out the repayment period to an entirely new thirty year schedule of payments (even though he was only two years in), completely debunking any serious consideration of payment as a reason to refinance. But lets compare cost of money, in the form upfront costs ($19,585 to get the new loan, versus zero to keep the loan he's got) and ongoing interest charges ($3125 per month on the existing loan, versus $2840 per month on the new loan). In this case, you're essentially spending nearly $20,000 in order to save $285 per month on interest. Straight line division has that taking sixty-nine months to break even. Actual computation of the progress of the respective loans cuts a month off that, to sixty eight months. As compared to a national mean time between refinances of 28 months, and this particular prospect is currently looking to refinance after less than that. In good conscience, I cannot recommend a loan where it's going to take him almost six years to break even, and by not considering the costs involved in getting that rate, he's setting himself up to waste probably half or more of the nearly $20,000 it's going to cost him to get that loan.

In fact, if this prospect were to refinance again in 28 months (once again, national median time), he would have spent $19,585 in order to save himself $7847. That doesn't sound like a good deal to me, and it shouldn't sound like a good deal to you. But here's the real kicker: The balance of the loan he refinances in two years is $19,250 higher. Let's assume it takes a low rate, rather than a cash out refinance to lure him into refinancing again, so he gets a 5% loan to refinance again. The extra $19,250 he owes will continue to cost him money, even thought the benefits of the refinance he is considering end when he refinances again or sells the property. At 5% for a putative future loan, that $19,250 extra he owes will cost him $962.50 per year extra on the new loan. Even if he sells in order to buy something else, that's $19,250 the client needs to borrow, and pay interest on, that he otherwise would not. Even if the client waits a full five years to refinance again, he's only saved roughly $16,400 in interest, and the additional balance owed on the new loan has actually increased slightly, to $19,280 (Remember, he's two years into the existing loan, hence $115 of phantom payment savings which keeps reducing his balance if he keeps paying it)

Failing to consider the fact that most people are not going to keep their new loan as long as they think they will is the gift that keeps on giving - to lenders. I run across people in their forties and fifties who have done this, all unsuspecting, half a dozen times or more, running up eighty to a hundred thousand dollars in debt for nothing but the cost of refinancing, and at 6% interest, that's $4800 to $6000 per year they're spending in interest on that debt. A more careful analysis says that the calculus of refinancing should emphasize finding a rate that helps you for a lower cost, but that's not the way lenders get paid the secondary market premium, and that's not the way that loan officers get paid to do lots of loans. Therefore, if you find someone who will go over these numbers with you and tell you it's not a good idea to refinance when it isn't, that loan officer is quite a valuable treasure because they're going to keep you from wasting all that money to no good purpose. (Here's one guy who will for my California readers)

A good rule of thumb is that if a zero cost loan won't put you into a better situation, it is unlikely that paying costs and points to get the rate down is really going to help you either. You are unlikely to recover those costs and points before you sell or refinance your property. If a loan that's free doesn't buy you a better loan than you've got, then the current tradeoff between rate and cost isn't favorable to refinance. There may be reasons to do so anyway - cash out, ARM adjustment, etcetera, but chances are against you getting a rate that is enough better to justify the cost. When you consider how often most people refinance or even actually sell and move, it's hard to make a case for anything other than low cost loans and hybrid ARMs. I understand the people who want the security of a fixed rate loan and a low fixed rate - especially with the loan qualification standards as fussy as they currently are. But that rate, especially, is likely to come with a cost that they will never recover before they voluntarily let the lender off the hook. Good mortgage advice takes this into account, with the net result that the folks don't end up in debt to the tune of $80,000 to $100,000 extra, and spending thousands of dollars per year just on interest for money they shouldn't owe in the first place. No, they never wrote a check for it, but it's money they spent, and if they had needed to write a check for it, they probably wouldn't have spent the money in the first place. Kind of like having a credit card with a balance owing of $80,000 or more, just for the unrecovered costs of refinancing, but people don't realize it because it's not broken out of the total cost and balance of their mortgage, and nobody educates them as to where they would be if they hadn't made these mistakes. I try to teach my clients what they need to know to avoid that situation, so they don't find themselves victimized by it.

Caveat Emptor

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on January 27, 2013 9:00 AM.

For Sale By Owner Issues was the previous entry in this blog.

Is The Good Faith Deposit At Risk? is the next entry in this blog.

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