Mortgage Rate, Points, and Closing Costs

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Everybody knows that you want the lowest rate, and everybody knows that you don't want to pay any money you don't have to, in order to get it. However, not everybody makes the connection that it is always a tradeoff between the two. At any given point in time, each home lender has its own set of tradeoffs in place.

There are two components to the costs of a loan: Closing costs and points. Points have to do with the cost of the money. Closing costs relate to the work that has to be performed in order to get the loan done. These are not junk fees, although junk fees do happen.

Let us consider for a moment the home loan. You want to buy a home for your family, but don't have enough cash. Without somebody willing to loan you the difference, you cannot buy. You check with your family, your friends, your neighbors and they're all tapped out (or say they are). But there's a bank over there willing to loan it if you meet their terms.

The banks are not being altruists, of course. They're making a good chunk of change for doing so. But you would not believe the amount of complaints I hear out sympathetically about how this evil horrible bank is charging all this money and making people jump through all these hoops to get this money ("They want a pay stub! Actually they want two pay stubs! What is the problem with these nazis?"). Fact is that this bank is doing you a favor, risking hundreds of thousands of dollars on you so that you can own a home for your family. They are doing something for you that all of your friends and family were unwilling or unable to do: loan you the money to buy a home. I'd say that puts them pretty high on my "nifty list", not "Nazis", but it's your life. When you think about it, they're doing you a favor by making certain you can afford the payments on the loan (It's more than many agents and many loan officers will do), as well as insuring that if something goes wrong and you can't afford the loan, they'll get most of their money back. Real Estate is not sold on a whim. Just after the market peaked, another agent in my office had a listing of an $800,000 home. The family involved makes about $60,000 a year. Their interest alone was 76% of their gross pay, never mind property taxes and insurance. An unscrupulous agent sold them the house based upon the ability to flip it whenever they wanted, and found them a similar loan agent to get them a negative amortization loan so they've got about fifteen hundred dollars a month being added to their mortgage and they still can't make the payment. But real estate is not like stock; you can't sell it at will. The market cooled just a little bit. They lost their entire investment before they even came to us, and they came to our office to get it sold before worse things happened, and we did everything that could be done, and still nobody wanted to buy it until the price was reduced.

There's a lot of this out there. You would likely be amazed at the loans a competent loan officer can still qualify people for, and that if you understood what you were getting into, you'd drag them into the sunlight and run a wooden stake through their hearts before running away, instead of believing them to be your friend. I'd have gotten an extra client a week, at least, if I didn't sit down with the people to find out what they can really afford before I showed them the $800,000 house that's going to get me paid a Huge Pile Of Money, when I really should be telling them about 2 or 3 bedroom condominiums, or even telling them to continue renting. It's hard to get a client enthusiastic about a 900 square foot 2 bedroom condo when someone else is showing them a 5 bedroom 2800 square foot House! With It's Own Yard! No Shared Walls! and telling them they Know Someone Who Can Get The Loan! Well, I could have gotten them the loan, too, if they really wanted it, but it really doesn't help them if they can't make the payments. The world will catch up to those other agents and loan officers, and I put a certain value on the good opinion of the man in the glass.

Getting back to the issue of closing costs, there is work that has to be done before you get your loan. The people who do that work are entitled to be paid. You don't work for free. They're not going to work for free. As I have covered elsewhere, realistic closing costs without junk fees are about $3400, and can easily be higher. The bank is not just going to absorb these costs because they're going to make money off the loan. They have money, and if you want them to loan it to you, you need to meet their conditions.

Each home loan, whether the lender intends to sell it or not, has a value on the secondary market. They also cost the lender a certain amount (they have to pay for all money they lend, whether by borrowing or by opportunity cost). Based upon these two facts, the lender sets a level of discount points or rebate for each rate for each type of loan. When you pay discount points, you are actually paying the lender money in order to buy a rate that you would not otherwise be able to get. When there is a rebate, it means that the lender will pay out money for a loan done on those terms. A rebate can be thought of as a negative discount, and vice versa. Whatever the level it is set at by the lender, there's going to be an additional margin so that the broker or loan officer can get paid, even if the loan officer is an employee of that lender. This margin is not necessarily smaller by going direct to a lender - actually a broker usually has a better margin than that lender's own loan officers. As I say elsewhere, the supermarket banks often have their best rates posted, and I'm usually getting someone a better loan (lower cost/rate tradeoff) with the same lender.

But within a given type of loan, the lender always sets the loan discount higher for the lowest rate. The lower the rate, the higher the discount and the higher the rate the lower the discount. Choose the lowest rate, and pay not only closing costs but the highest discount as well. Whether it's coming out of your checkbook or being added to your mortgage, you are still paying it. Choose a somewhat higher rate, and there will be no discount points, just closing costs. There's a name for this rate where there's no points but no rebate; it's called par. Rates below par involve discount points, rates above par will get you some or all of your closing costs paid by the bank or broker.

Many people will want the lowest rate; after all that has the lowest payment. But it is (or should be) the client's choice, not a choice made for them by the loan officer. It's actually easier to qualify for lower rates, because the payment is lower. However these lower rates can be costly, because the fact is that the median mortgage age in this country is about two years, and fewer than 5% of all loans are more than 5 years old. This means there's a 50% chance you've refinanced (or sold and bought a new home) within two years, and over 95% within 5 years. The exact numbers vary over time, but I see no reason for these consumer habits to change. Furthermore, I'm a consumer, and so are you. There are people who bought a place and paid off their 30 year loan and now own the property free and clear, but they are rare these days. Much more common is the person who bought their house in the 1970s, has refinanced ten or twelve or fourteen times, and now owes ten times the original purchase price. More common yet is the person who's on the third, fourth, or fifth house since then. You might be one of the first group, or you might not be, pretend you are, and be hurting only yourself. It's likely to be a costly illusion.

Let's look at three different 30-year fixed rate loans. All of them start from needing $270,000 in loan money. Rates are lower now than when I first wrote this, but the comparison of results is still valid.

Loan 1 gets a 5.5% rate, but has to pay two points to get it, so his loan balance starts at $270,000 plus $3400 plus two points, or $278,980. He paid $8980 to get his loan. Loan 2 gets a 6% rate at par, and his loan balance starts at $273,400, because he only had to pay $3400 to get the loan. Finally, Loan 3 chooses a 6.5% loan where all closing costs are paid for him by the bank or broker. His loan balance starts at $270,000.

Your first month interest with Loan 1 is $1278.66, and principal paid is 305.36, on a payment of $1584.02. Loan 2 pays $1367.00 interest and $272.17 principal with a loan payment of $1639.17. Loan 3 is going to pay interest of $1462.50, principal of $244.08, and have a total payment of $1706.58. So far, it's looking like Loan 1 is the best of all possible loans, right? But look two years down the line when 50 percent of these people have refinanced or sold:



Loan
Interest paid
Principal Paid
Balance
Interest difference
Balance difference
Net $
Loan 1
$30288.21
$7728.21
$271251.79
$-2130.05
$+4773.36
$-2643.31
Loan 2
$32418.26
$6921.84
$266478.16
$0
$0
$0
Loan 3
$34720.18
$6237.83
$263762.17
$2301.92
$-2715.99
$+414.07

Remember, the original balance was $270,000. Loan 1 has paid $2130 less in interest the Loan 2, while Loan 3 has paid $2301.92 more. Furthermore, Loan 1 has paid down $7728 in principal, while Loan 2 has only paid down $6921 and Loan 3 still less at $6237. It's really looking like Loan 1 was the best choice.

But remember, 50% of all loans have refinanced or sold within two years. When you refinance or sell, the benefits you paid money to get stop. But the costs to get those benefits are sunk on the front end, and you're not getting them back. Look at the balance of Loan 1. The person who chose this still owes $271,251 - $1251 than they did before they chose the loan in the first place. Furthermore, his balance is $4773 higher than loan 2, and even though he paid $2130 less in interest, he's still $2643 worse off. Furthermore, whether he refinances or sells and rolls the proceeds over into a new property, the new loan is going to be for $4773 more money than Loan 2's new loan. Assume everybody got a really fantastic new loan at 5%. Loan 1 is going to have to pay $238 more per year to start with in interest expense for his new loan, simply because his remaining balance on the old loan was higher. Loan 3 is in even better shape than Loan 2. He's paid $2301.92 more in interest, but his balance is $2715.99 lower, for a net benefit over loan 2 of $414, not to mention that his interest costs on his new loan will be almost $136 lower simply because his starting balance is lower.

Now let's look 5 years out, when over 95% of the people will have sold or refinanced.



Loan
Interest paid
Principal Paid
Balance
Interest difference
balance difference
net $
Loan 1
$74007.65
$21033.41
$257946.59
$-5353.23
$+3535.98
$+1817.25
Loan 2
$79360.88
$18989.39
$254410.61
$0
$0
$0
Loan 3
$85144.66
$17250.36
$252749.63
$+5783.79
$-1600.98
$-4122.80

At this point, Loan 1 has saved $5353 in interest relative to Loan 2, while Loan 3 has spent $5783 more. Loan 1 has cut his balance difference to $3535 more than Loan 2, so he looks like he's ahead! Furthermore, Loan 3 is really lagging, having paid $5783 more in interest although the difference in balance is only $1660 to his good.

Well, loan 2 is ahead of loan 3 pretty much permanently at this point. Assuming all three refinance or sell and buy a new property with a 5% loan right now, Loan 3 is only going to get back $83 per year of the $4122.80 he's down relative to Loan 2. Especially considered on a time value of money, that's permanent. But despite Loan 1 being ahead of Loan 2 right now, Loan 2 will get back almost $177 per year. Ten years on, assuming a ver low 5% rate, loan 2 is back to even, and most of us are going to be property holders the rest of our lives. Consider also that 95% of the people who chose loan 1 NEVER got this far - they never broke even in the first place.

The point I'm trying to get across is that money you roll into your balance hangs around a very long time. And you're sinking potentially many thousands of dollars into a bet that most people lose. Yes, if you keep the loan long enough, the lower rates (at least for thirty year fixed rate loans) will pretty much always pay for themselves, several times over in many cases. The other point I'm trying to make is that most people don't keep their loan long enough for the benefits to pay for their costs to get those benefits.

As a final consideration, consider what happens if one year later interest rates are one-half percent lower. I can get Loan 3 the same loan that Loan 2 has for zero cost. He's got the same interest rate as Loan 2, whom I can't help right now, but a lower balance - neither one of his loans cost him anything. And it has happened that the rates dropped down to where I could get someone 5.5% on a thirty year fixed rate loan for zero - lender pays me enough to pay all the closing costs. Net to them, zip. Suppose rates do this again. I call Loan 2 and Loan 3, and now they've both got 5.5 %, but this doesn't help Loan 1. Now Loan 2 has the same as Loan 1, while only adding $3400 to his balance to get it, as opposed to Loan 1 adding nearly $9000, and Loan 3 has the same loan without adding a dime to his balance. Who's in the best position?

Caveat Emptor


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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on April 16, 2013 7:00 AM.

Can They Force You To Pay Off Your Car or Other Debts In Order To Get A Loan? was the previous entry in this blog.

Fixed rate, Balloon, ARM and Hybrid Loans is the next entry in this blog.

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