Why It May Be Costly to Reject Paying Points

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I hear it and read it all the time - advice that says to pre-emptively reject the possibility of paying points. People that talk to me about loan rates that tell me they will not consider any loan that requires paying points.

What they're thinking is that they don't want to pay origination. They don't want to pay for the person who gets their loan approved, figuring that the interest rate is enough for the bank. Here's a cold hard fact: Nobody does loans for free. The interest you are paying does not go to the bank who does your loan. It goes to the actual investor who furnishes the money. And here's the fallacy that completely guts the advice: What has become the most common system of loan origination, where the originator is separate from the investor, has become the most common system because it is cheaper for the consumers. Despite Congress' recent attempt to eliminate brokers as competition for big lenders, brokers are still far cheaper.

Once upon a time, all residential mortgages were done by lenders who intended to hold them for the life of the loan. There was no origination. There was no discount. The Rate was The Rate, and they would give you whatever rate they were offering everybody else that week - if you qualified - as they wanted to make a certain comparatively high margin on the money. If you didn't qualify for The Rate, there were alternatives but none of them was advantageous. In any case, The Rate wasn't that great, but there weren't many alternatives at all, and all the banks charged about the same Rate, and there was pretty much always a prepayment penalty of some sort because they had to be certain they'd make enough money via interest to pay their employees for doing the loan.

This started changing a very long time ago, with the advent of Fannie Mae (and its younger sibling, Freddie Mac). Nonetheless, the two GSEs didn't work in a way that made their role obvious to the consumer until about thirty to forty years ago. The fact that they bought mortgages, allowing lenders to loan what was essentially the same money over and over again meant that rates went down, but also as part of the same phenomenon that lenders were no longer making money from the interest rate of holding those mortgages. The upshot was that consumers now had a choice: In order to get the cheaper rates made possible by the GSEs, they had a choice: They could pay origination, or they could accept a higher rate, such that the lender who did their loan received either a bond premium or yield spread premium, which amounts to a different piece of the same thing. The advice not to pay points for a mortgage actually dates from this period, as holdouts equivalent to today's portfolio lenders came up with what was an advertising slogan that made it look like dealing with agency lenders was actually costing you more, when in reality agency lenders were saving consumers money over the longer term, albeit with slightly higher upfront costs. But when it's saving you as much as two percent per year over the portfolio lenders of yesteryear (who began charging points themselves because they could), it doesn't take long to see that paying a point of origination, or one percent of loan amount upfront in order to get a rate two percent lower with the agency lender was a much better deal than the alternative.

Once started, the advice to not pay points took on a life of its own. After all, what's not to like about not paying for something? But origination points pays for a real service, and if it saves you money in your particular context, then it is worth paying. But if you reject in blanket fashion the possibility of paying points, then you never consider the very real possibility that it might save you money. Nor, in the modern world, is not paying origination a real possibility. I can make my money in the form of points, I can make it via an explicit dollar figure charge that amounts to the same number of dollars, or I can jack up the rate and make the money when the secondary loan market pays me more than the face value of the bond because the interest rate is above that of similar mortgages. Note that there is no option that says "your lender doesn't make money for doing your loan." If your lender doesn't make money, they don't stay in business. I don't do free loans. Nobody does free loans. If I'm not going to make money anyway, I'd prefer to stay home and play with the dog and teach the girls about TANSTAFL, because plainly there are an awful lot of naive children somehow getting through the educational system without absorbing this critical concept. Pretty much everyone else in the loan industry needs to make a living also. Refuse to pay origination, and you're back in the old days of portfolio lenders - with a rate two percent or so above the agency lenders for the same loans.

Points actually come in two forms. As well as origination, there is discount. Origination is going to be paid on every loan. It can come from a figure in points you are being charged that amount to a certain number of dollars, it can come from an explicit number of dollars you are being charged (that amounts to the same number of dollars as the points do), or it can come from jacking the rate up so as to receive yield spread (which must be disclosed) or a secondary market bond premium (which does not). It literally does not matter to me how I make my money - it's still the same number of dollars - but it is going to be made or neither I nor anyone else is going to do your loan. Some companies charge more origination than others, but if they can deliver a loan that is likely to save you money overall, that higher origination is worth paying. Don't lose sight of the forest because you're obsessed with one particular tree, and origination is not the only way that loan providers make money. Not too long ago, I had someone bring me a HUD-1 form where the lender hid eight thousand dollars of unnecessary additional charges in plain sight where the borrower couldn't recognize it, in addition to the $1500 they claimed was all they were making via origination. Nor do all forms of origination have to be disclosed. Direct lenders and correspondent brokers do not have to disclose what they make when they sell the loan to the final investor and so advice telling you not to pay points or not to pay origination allows them the ability to cut out other loan providers, at least with the gullible, which is most of the public. Deciding which loan you take based upon what the lender is apparently making is a recipe for being completely conned. Evaluate the loan in terms of the bottom line to you.

I happen to think it's both fair and a good idea to charge origination in terms of points. When I set the rate and cost of your loan, I'm risking more for a bigger loan - and working harder, too. If I make a mistake in pricing the loan, I have to pay a figure in points in order to make it good. If your credit score suffers a sudden drop, the difference isn't a flat fee - it's a charge in points. If you don't get me information I need promptly, or the lenders are just so snowed under that we need to pay to extend the rate lock, that's a charge in points. The bigger the loan, the more work it is to get it accepted by the investor. Conforming loans are, by and large, the easiest - but that's not to say they're easy with the current paranoid lending environment. Non-conforming loan amounts these days are like pulling teeth without anesthesia and it gets worse from there. The points charge for origination may go down in steps for larger loans, but for everyone in the industry, you're going to find that the bigger the loan, they larger the number of absolute dollars the lender needs to make it worth their while. They can hide it, lie about it, or risk scaring children of legal age away by honestly disclosing it, but I promise you that you are going to pay it in the final analysis.

Discount is an explicit charge for getting a lowered rate. This figure is always expressed in points. I can translate it into dollars for you, but the actual charge is a certain percentage of the final loan amount. Paying discount is pretty much optional, and the answer to the question of whether you should (and how much) changes with the type of loan, your situation, how long you're planning or likely to keep a particular loan, and the tradeoffs between rate and cost available at any given point in time. Discount points can be thought of as negative yield spread or bond premium, and yield spread or bond premium can be thought of as negative discount points. You cannot have discount points on a loan with yield spread or one where the loan officer says they will make what they need to on the secondary market. What you are paying in such cases is origination, not discount.

In neither case is cutting points out of a loan a matter of negotiating skill. Cutting points down is a matter of effectively shopping your loan and asking the right questions of prospective loan providers and nailing them down as to exactly what they are really offering and paying attention to the answers. You're probably not going to see huge differences of three points for the same rate or a full percent lower on the same loan for the same cost unless you're comparing yourself to someone who doesn't shop their loan effectively, but saving half a point on a $400,000 loan at the same rate is $2000, and saving an eighth of a percent on the rate for the same cost is $500 per year for as long as you keep the loan. I don't know about you, but that's more than enough to motivate me to spend the necessary time and effort to shop for a better loan.

In any case, evaluate loans in terms of the bottom line to you, not by how much the provider makes or has to disclose that they make. How much it's going to be in points and closing costs to get the loan done in the first place, versus what it is going to cost you in interest charges every month. They're not going to yield a single unequivocal answer, but rather breakeven points, or "How long do I have to keep this loan in order to get back my initial investment via lowered monthly cost of interest?" When you're refinancing, a zero cost loan is the only thing that can be ahead from day one, but even an ardent fan of zero cost loans like myself is finding them hard to justify in the current market, because the rate cost tradeoff is so shallow on that part of the tradeoff curve. In plain English, when you break even on increased costs in six or eight months due to lowered cost of interest, it's very hard for me not to recommend you pay those slightly higher costs, knowing that the median time people keep loans is about 28 months, and they'll get their money back four times over in that period, and keep getting it back all over again every six or eight months they keep the loan.

By the way, if someone won't guarantee their costs, how are you going to get those figures that gives you the answer of which loan is most likely best for you? The lender knows, or should know, what they can really deliver. You don't, except for what they tell you. If you're not going to follow this model, you're in the same position as the woman who goes to the singles bar looking for Mr. Right. What she's going to find is Mr. Right Now, the sleaze ball who says anything to get her into bed with him and leaves her feeling dumped on and used. The parallels are exact. Nothing wrong with it if all you're looking for is a quick roll in the hay - but I've never heard of anybody who went loan shopping with the intention of getting screwed.

If you don't nail them down with a written guarantee, loan providers can and will lie, omit charges that you are going to pay, and just flat out pull promises out of their backside in order to get you to sign up for a loan. The new RESPA rules only a little more difficult to lie, and it you don't sign up for their loan in the first place, there is no way they're going to get paid for doing that loan.

What I hope you take away from this article is simple: The idea that it may be to your benefit to pay points on a loan, and rejecting the possibility only encourages prospective loan providers to lie about what loan they are really going to deliver. Instead, nail them down as to exactly what they're willing to offer, whether they're willing to guarantee it, and what the limitations upon that guarantee are. Once you have this information, you have the information necessary to decide whether paying points is in your best interest - because it might very well be.

Caveat Emptor

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on February 1, 2020 7:00 AM.

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