LAS CRUCES – Have you applied for a mortgage loan lately? If so, did your lender ask if you’d like to pay points? Who likes to pay? Well, you might if you’re convinced that you’ll receive something of greater value in return. That’s the premise behind the concept of paying points.
A point is equal to 1 percent of your loan amount (i.e., one point on a $200,000 loan equals $2,000) and is an upfront payment to your lender, paid at closing. In exchange for each point paid, you’ll receive a reduction in your interest rate, resulting in a lower monthly payment and less interest paid over the life of the loan.
As a rule of thumb, the mortgage interest rate is reduced by around a quarter of a percent for every discount point paid. For example, paying four points could lower a mortgage rate by one percent. That’s just a rough guide, though. The actual amount of the discount varies by lender and can fluctuate in response to movements in the bond markets and the direction of interest rates.
One day a lender might drop the interest rate by a quarter-point in exchange for the payment of one discount point; the next day, the same rate reduction may cost more or less than it did the day before. Most lenders give buyers the option of paying anywhere from a quarter of a point to upwards of four points and more.
So how can you determine whether paying points is, indeed, advantageous? The key is to determine your break-even point.
Step one in making that determination requires that you estimate how long you intend to keep your mortgage. Yes, you may take out a 30-year mortgage, but will you really keep it for the full 30 years? Probably not. According to a recent survey by the National Association of Realtors, most buyers sell their homes and pay off their mortgages in 10 years. For this example, let’s assume that you intend to keep your mortgage for six years.
The next step is to determine how much your lender will reduce your interest rate in exchange for each point you pay. After some negotiating, let’s say that your lender offers you the typical “rule of thumb” discount of a quarter of a percentage point in exchange for paying one discount point.
Step three in determining your break-even point is to do the math. In our scenario, you would divide the 1 percent discount by the one-quarter of 1 percent reduction in your interest rate. The resulting number represents the point at which you will break even. In this example, the answer is 4 years (1 percent / 0.25 percent = 4).
Finally, compare the number of years you’ll keep the mortgage with the break-even point. If your plan is to sell your home or refinance your mortgage in two years and your break-even point is six years, you’ll lose money on the deal. On the other hand, if you keep your mortgage for more than six years, you win!
An even easier method of determining whether you should pay discount points is to ask your lender to prepare an analysis outlining your options. It should be a no-brainer for your loan officer to estimate the break-even points for any of the combinations of points-paid versus discounts-received he or she has to offer.
With a little due diligence on your part and a good lender in your corner, you should have an easy time determining which combination of rates and points, or whether paying points at all, will be beneficial to you.
Gary Sandler is a full-time Realtor and president of Gary Sandler Inc., Realtors in Las Cruces. He loves to answer questions and can be reached at 575-642-2292 or Gary@GarySandler.com.
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