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When Should You Pay Points on a Mortgage?

Mortgage points are fees that you pay your mortgage lender up-front in order to reduce the interest rate on your loan and your monthly payments. A single mortgage point equals 1% of your mortgage amount. So if you take out a $200,000 mortgage, a point equals $2,000. So if you can afford to make these payments now, you can reduce what you’ll pay in the long-run. But it’s not the right move for everyone. As you decide if paying mortgage points makes sense for you, you may also want to find a financial advisor who can guide you in making the home-buying process easy and rewarding.

What Are Mortgage Points?

Before you know if and when to buy mortgage points, you need to understand what they are and how they work.

Mortgage points essentially are special payments that you make at the closing of your mortgage in exchange for a lower interest rate and monthly payments on your loan. That’s why buying points is often referred to as “buying down the rate.” The move can lower what you pay your mortgage lender in the long-run, and it can also get you closer to owning your own home outright sooner.

In the housing world, there are two types of mortgage points.

Discount points: These are basically mortgage points as described above. The more points you buy, the more your rate falls. Lenders set their own mortgage point framework. So the depth of how far you can dip your rate ultimately depends on your lender’s terms, the type of loan and the overall housing market. But you can expect to lower yours by one-eighth to one-quarter of a percent.

Origination Points: These cover the expenses your lender made for getting your loan processed. The amount of interest you can shave off with discount points can vary, but you can typically negotiate the terms with your lender. These are part of overall closing costs.

Should I Buy Mortgage Points?

If you can’t afford to make large up-front payments at the closing of your mortgage application, you may want to keep the current interest rate and refinance your mortgage at a later date. Refinancing a mortgage is basically taking out a new loan to pay off your first mortgage, but you shop for a better interest rate and terms on the new one. This makes sense if you’ve made timely payments on your old mortgage, have paid off a decent amount of your principal, and improved your credit score since you first obtained the initial mortgage.

But if you have some money in reserves and you can afford to make up-front payments, buying mortgage points may suit you. In general, buying mortgage points is most beneficial when you intend to stay in your home for a long time and if you can afford large mortgage point payments.

If this is the case for you, it helps to first crunch the numbers to see if mortgage points are truly worth it.

Calculating Mortgage Points

Picture this scenario. You take out a 30-year-fixed-rate mortgage for $200,000 with an interest rate at 5.5%. Your monthly payment with no points translates to $1,136.

Now, say you buy two mortgage points (1% of the loan amount each) for $4,000. As a result, your interest rate dips to 5%. You end up saving $62 a month because your new monthly payment drops to $1,074.

To figure out when you’d get that money back and start saving, divide the amount you paid your points for by the amount of monthly savings ($4,000/$62). The result is 64.5 months. So if you stay in your home longer than this, you save money in the long run.

But keep in mind our example covers only the principal and interest of your loan. It doesn’t account for factors like property taxes. To get a real picture of how your monthly payments break down, use our mortgage calculator.

As you can see, there are some short-term benefits to paying more now. But there are other reasons why some people find mortgage points attractive. We’ll explore these.

Cash Flow

If you are buying a home and have some extra cash to add to your down payment, you can consider buying down the rate. This would lower your payments going forward. This is also a good strategy if the seller is willing to pay some closing costs. Often, the process counts points under the seller-paid costs. And if you pay them yourself, mortgage points usually end up tax deductible.

In many refinance cases, closing costs are rolled into the new loan. If you have enough home equity to absorb higher costs, you can pay mortgage points. Then you can finance them into the loan and lower your monthly payment without paying out of pocket.

To cut down on your closings costs, you can use negative mortgage points instead of positive ones. As a result, however, you’ll be paying more interest.

Long-Term Savings

When Should You Pay Points on a Mortgage?

If you plan to keep your home for a while, it would be smart to pay points to lower your rate. Paying $2,000 may seem like a steep charge to lower your rate and payment by a small amount. But, if you save $20 on your monthly payment, you will recoup the cost in a little more than eight years.

If you expect to make payments on a 30-year loan all the way to maturity, paying points can be a wise financial move.

Securing a Low Rate

The lower the rate you can secure upfront, the less likely you are to want to refinance in the future. Even if you pay no points, every time you refinance, you will incur charges. In a low-rate environment, paying points to get the absolute best rate makes sense. You will never want to refinance that loan again.

But when rates are higher, it would actually be better not to buy down the rate. If rates drop in the future, you may have a chance to refinance before you would have fully taken advantage of the points you paid originally.

What’s the Deal With Origination Fees?

When Should You Pay Points on a Mortgage?

Why do so many lenders quote an origination fee? To get a true “no point” loan, they must disclose a 1% fee and then give a corresponding 1% rebate. Wouldn’t it make more sense to quote a loan “at par” and let the borrower buy down the rate if they so choose?

The reason lenders do it this way is the new disclosure laws that came about with the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill in 2010. If the lender does not disclose a certain fee in the beginning, it cannot add that fee on later. If a lender discloses a loan estimate before locking in the loan terms, failure to disclose an origination fee (or points) will bind the lender to those terms.

This may sound like a good thing. If rates rise during the loan process, it can force you to take a higher rate. Suppose you applied for a loan when the rate was 4.5%. When you are ready to lock in, the rate is worse. Your loan officer says you can get 4.625% or 4.5% with a cost of a quarter of a point (0.25%).

But if no points or origination charges show up on your loan estimate, the lender wouldn’t be able to offer you this second option. You would be forced to take the higher rate.

Tips for Calculating Your Mortgage Payment

  • Be proactive and get a handle on your credit report and credit score. Both are significant factors in determining if you can get approved for a loan and for how much, which plays into your interest rate and how much you’ll pay each month. There are plenty of free services online that will give you an idea of where you stand. You’re also entitled to a free credit report from the major bureaus each year.
  • To make sure you’re set up for success, we highly recommend speaking with a financial advisor. Our SmartAsset financial advisor matching tool can link you with up to three financial advisors in your area in just a few minutes. All you have to do is answer some questions about your financial situation. Then you can check out their profiles, interview them on the phone or in person and choose who to work with in the future.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/ziquiu, ©iStock.com/Kameleon007, ©iStock.com/bonnie jacobs

Gregory Erich Phillips Gregory Erich Phillips has more than a dozen years of experience in the mortgage industry. He is an active mortgage loan officer and an expert resource on topics including economics, home financing and real estate trends.
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