When should I refinance?
It is often said that you should refinance when mortgage rates are 2% lower than the rate you currently have on your loan. Refinancing may be a viable option even if the interest rate difference is less than 2%. A modest reduction in the loan rate can still trim your monthly payment. For example, the monthly payment (excluding taxes & insurance) would be about $770 on a $100,000 loan at 8.5%. If the rate were lowered to 7.5%, the monthly payment would be about $700, a savings of $70. The significance of such savings in any scenario will depend on your income, budget, loan amount and the change in interest rate. Your trusted lender can help calculate the different scenarios.
What are points?
Points are costs that need to be paid to a lender in order to receive mortgage financing under specified terms. A point is a percentage of the loan amount (one point = one percent of the loan). One point on a $100,000 loan would be $1,000. Discount points are fees that are used to lower the interest rate on a mortgage loan (you are discounting the interest rate by paying some of this interest up-front). Lenders may express other loan-related fees in terms of points. Some lenders may express their costs in terms of basis points (hundredths of a percent). 100 basis points = 1 point (or 1 percent of the loan amount).
Should I pay points to lower my interest?
If you plan on staying in the property for at least a few years, paying discount points to lower the loan's interest rate can be a good way to lower your required monthly loan payment (and possibly increase the loan amount that you can afford to borrow). If you only plan to stay in the property for a year or two, your monthly savings may not be enough to recoup the cost of the discount points that you paid up-front. Ask your lender how long it would take for your monthly savings to recoup the costs of the discount points.
What is an APR?
The annual percentage rate (APR) is an interest rate reflecting the cost of a mortgage as a yearly rate. This rate is likely to be higher than the stated note rate or advertised rate on the mortgage because it takes into account points and other credit costs. The APR allows homebuyers to compare different types of mortgages based on the annual cost for each loan. The APR is designed to measure the "true cost of a loan." It creates a level playing field for lenders. It prevents lenders from advertising a low rate and hiding fees.
The APR does not affect your monthly payments. Your monthly payments are strictly a function of the interest rate and the length of the loan.
Because different lenders calculate APRs differently, a loan with a lower APR is not necessarily a better rate. The best way to compare loans is to ask lenders to provide you with a good-faith estimate of their costs on the same type of program (e.g. 30-year fixed) at the same interest rate. You can then delete the fees that are independent of the loan such as homeowners insurance, title fees, escrow fees, attorney fees, etc. Now add up all the loan fees. The lender that has lower loan fees has a cheaper loan than the lender with higher loan fees.
The following fees are generally included in the APR:
• Points - both discount points and origination points
• Pre-paid interest. The interest paid from the date the loan closes to the end of the month.
• Loan-processing fee
• Underwriting fee
• Document-preparation fee
• Private mortgage insurance
The following fees are sometimes included in the APR:
• Loan-application fee
• Credit life insurance (insurance that pays off the mortgage in the event of a borrowers death)
The following fees are normally not included in the APR:
• Title or abstract fee
• Escrow fee
• Attorney fee
• Notary fee
• Document preparation (charged by the closing agent)
• Home-inspection fees
• Recording fee
• Transfer taxes
• Credit report
• Appraisal fee
What does it mean to lock the interest rate?
Due to the nature of interest rate movements, mortgage rates can change dramatically from the day you apply for a mortgage loan to the day you close the transaction. If interest rates rise sharply during the application process, it could make a borrower's mortgage payment larger than he/she previously thought. To protect against this uncertainty, a lender can allow the borrower to 'lock-in' the loan's interest rate, guaranteeing the borrower the prevailing loan rate for a specified period of time (often 30-60 days). A lender may or may not charge a fee for this service.
What is PMI?
If you make a down payment of less than 20% of the purchase price of the home, mortgage lenders generally require that you take out Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) that protects the lender in case you default on your mortgage. You may need to pay up to a year’s worth of premium for this coverage at closing, which can amount to as much as several hundred dollars. One obvious way to avoid this extra cost is to make a 20% down payment. There are also other ways to eliminate PMI such as 80-10-10 financing which is further described in this section.
What happens at closing?
At the closing, ownership of the newly purchased home is officially transferred from the seller to you. It may involve you, the seller, the real estate agent, your attorney, the lender's attorney, representatives from the title or escrow firm, and a variety of clerks, secretaries, and other staff. It is possible to have an attorney act on your behalf if you cannot attend the meeting (for example, if the house is in another state). Closing can take as little time as an hour to sign all the forms and transfer ownership or it can take several hours, depending on the contingency clauses in the purchase offer (and any escrow accounts that may need to be set up). Much of the paperwork involved in closing (or settlement) is done by attorneys and real estate professionals. You may be involved in some of the closing activities and not in others, depending on local customs and on the professionals with whom you are working. Before you close on the house, you should have a final inspection, or walk-through, to make sure any repairs you requested have been made and that items which were to remain with the house (drapes, light fixtures) are still there. In most states, the settlement is done by a title or escrow firm to which you forward all the materials and information along with the appropriate cashiers' checks, and the firm will make the necessary disbursements. The real estate agent or another representative of the title company will deliver the check to the seller and the house keys to you.
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