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Your Savings and Down Payment

Your First Step Toward Buying a Home

When preparing to buy a home, the first thing many homebuyers do is look at "homes for sale" ads in newspapers, magazines and listings on the internet. Some potential buyers read "how-to" articles like this one. The next thing you should do - before you call on an ad, before you talk to a Realtor, before you shop for interest rates - is look at your savings.

Why?

Because determining how much money you have available for down payment and closing costs affects almost every aspect of buying a home - including how you write your purchase offer, the loan programs you qualify for, and shopping for interest rates.

Mortgage Programs

If you only have enough available for a minimum down payment, your choices of loan program will be limited to only a few types of mortgages. If someone is giving you a gift for all or part of the down payment, your options are also limited. If you have enough for the down payment, but need the lender or seller to cover all or part of your closing costs, this further limits your options. If you borrow all or a portion of the down payment from your 401K or retirement plan, different loan programs have different rules on how you qualify.

Of course, if you have enough for a large down payment, then you have lots of choices.

Your loan choices include such varied programs as conventional fixed rate loans, adjustable rate mortgages, buydowns, VA, FHA, graduated payment mortgages and all the varieties of each.

Shopping Rates

A very important reason you need to have at least some idea of your down payment is for shopping interest rates. Some loan programs charge a slightly higher interest rate for minimal down payments. Plus, the interest rates for different loan programs are not the same. For example, conventional, VA, and FHA all offer fixed rate loans. However, the rates vary from one program to another.

If you shop lenders by phone, the loan officer will be able to tell which programs fit and quote you rates accordingly. However, if you are shopping on the internet, you have to have some idea of your loan program on your own.

Writing Your Offer

Another reason you need to have a clue about your down payment is because it affects how you write your offer to purchase a home. Not only are you required to put your down payment information in the offer, but different loan programs have different rules which also affect how you write your offer. This is especially important when dealing with FHA and VA loans.

If you are asking the seller to pay all or part of your closing costs, you have to be certain your loan program allows what you are asking. For smaller down payments, lenders allow the seller to pay less closing costs than for larger down payments. Some loan programs will allow a seller to pay certain types of costs, but not others.

Finally, your down payment also affects your ability to qualify for a loan. When you make a small down payment, lenders are fairly strict about having you conform to their underwriting guidelines. For larger down payments, they will tend to make allowances or exceptions to the rules.

Conclusion

As you can see, the down payment affects every choice you make when you buy a home. Although you should look at ads, familiarize yourself with neighborhoods, learn about prices, and read as much as you can - when you get ready to take action - the first thing you should do is figure out how much money you have available for the purchase


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The Bi-Weekly Mortgage - Who Needs It?

Have you received an advertisement offering to save you thousands of dollars on your thirty-year mortgage and cut years off your payments? With email "spam" becoming more pervasive as everyone tries to "get rich quick" on the internet, these ads are popping up with troublesome regularity.

The ads promote the "Bi-Weekly Mortgage" and for the most part, do not come from a mortgage lender. Exclamation points punctuate practically every claim:

    No closing costs!

    No refinancing!

    No points!

    No credit check!

    No appraisal!

    Save thousands!

    Cut years off your mortgage!


To achieve these wonderful savings all you have to do is allow half of your mortgage payment to be deducted from your checking account every two weeks. It's easy. Of course, there is a small "set-up fee" and usually a "transaction fee" with every automatic deduction.

Essentially, the ads are truthful in almost every respect.
They just want to charge you money for something you can do on your own for free.

The Basics:

Normally, you make twelve mortgage payments a year. Since there are fifty-two weeks in a year, a bi-weekly mortgage equals 26 half-payments a year. The equivalent would be making thirteen mortgage payments a year instead of twelve. By applying that extra payment directly to the loan balance as a principal reduction, your loan amortizes more quickly, requiring fewer payments.

You save money. The ads are true.

How it Actually Works:

You cannot simply mail in half a payment every two weeks to your mortgage lender. Since they do not accept partial payments for legal and accounting reasons, the mortgage company would just mail your half-payment back to you.

Instead, the bi-weekly mortgage company is an intermediary between you and your mortgage lender. They automatically debit your checking account every two weeks for half of your mortgage payment, then place your funds into a trust account. Basically, this is just a holding account for your money. In another two weeks, there is another automatic deduction from your checking account, and so on. When your mortgage payment is due, your funds are withdrawn from the trust account and forwarded to your mortgage lender.

Since you are placing funds into the trust account faster than your mortgage payments are due, you eventually accumulate enough money to make an "extra" payment. The way the cycle works, this occurs once a year. The extra payment is applied directly to your principal balance, which causes your loan to amortize faster, pay off more quickly and save you thousands of dollars.

Potential Problems with the Trust Account

Because your funds are held in the trust account until your mortgage payment is due, there are potential dangers. Not only are your funds held in this account, but so are the funds of everyone else enrolled in the bi-weekly program. That is a lot of money.

Most likely, there will be no problems.

However, if there are accounting errors, mismanagement, or even fraud, your mortgage payment might not get made. The first hint of a problem will probably be a phone call or letter from your mortgage lender, but not until after your payment is already late. Since responsibility for making the payment rests with you and not the bi-weekly payment company, you may find yourself digging into your personal savings to make the payment directly -- even though the bi-weekly payment company has already collected your funds.

Later you can work out the trust account problem with your bi-weekly payment company.

The Cost of the Bi-Weekly Mortgage

There is usually a set-up fee that runs between $195 and $350, depending on how much sales commission is paid to the individual or company setting up the account for you. You also pay a transaction fee each time there is an automatic deduction from your checking account and sometimes also when the payment is made to your mortgage lender. There may also be a periodic "maintenance fee."

Meanwhile, whoever controls the trust account is earning interest on your money.

Savings of the Bi-Weekly Mortgage

By making principal reductions using the bi-weekly mortgage program, your mortgage will amortize more quickly, saving you money. How quickly your loan pays off depends on your interest rate and when you begin making the bi-weekly payments.
On a $100,000 loan at today's interest rate of eight percent, your first principal reduction would probably be a year from now. Assuming the principal reduction is equal to one monthly payment ($733.76), you would save $43,852 over the life of the loan and pay it off almost seven years early.

However, you have to deduct from those savings any amounts you paid in set-up, transaction, and maintenance fees.

No-Cost Alternatives to the Bi-Weekly Mortgage

Instead of hiring a company to manage your bi-weekly payment, you could accomplish essentially the same thing on your own for free. Just take your monthly payment, divide it by twelve, and add that amount to your monthly mortgage payment. Be sure to earmark it as a principal reduction.

The first way you save is that you do not have to pay any fees to anyone. It's free.

In addition to not paying fees -- using the same example as above -- your total savings on the mortgage would be $45,904. Plus the loan would be paid off three months quicker than with the bi-weekly mortgage. The reason you save more is because you are making a principal reduction each month, instead of waiting for funds to accumulate so that you can make one principal reduction a year.

Self-Discipline?

The bi-weekly mortgage companies claim that homeowners are not disciplined enough to follow through with principal reduction plans on their own. They suggest the reason for setting up the bi-weekly mortgage enforces discipline upon you, and by doing so, they save you money.

However, in this internet age, banking on line and automatic deductions are readily available. You can set up your own automatic deductions including the additional principal reduction and have it go directly to your mortgage lender. Since the deduction occurs automatically, just like with the bi-weekly mortgages, self-discipline is not a problem. Once again, you don't have to pay anyone to do it for you and you save even more money.

Conclusion

The bi-weekly mortgage plans do not really do anything except move your money around and charge you for it. Plus, even though the danger is negligible, you must trust someone else to hold your money for you. If you can do the very same thing for free, plus save yourself even more money by doing it on your own, why pay someone else?

The bi-weekly mortgage plan - who needs it?

If your goal is principal reduction and saving money, then it is a good plan. If you do it on your own instead of paying someone else to do it for you, then it is a great plan.

 

 

Which ARM is the Best Alternative?

How would you like a mortgage loan where you did not have to make the whole payment if you did not want to? Or would you like a loan with an interest rate about one percent below a thirty-year fixed rate mortgage and pay zero points? Or a loan where you did not have to document your income, savings history, or source of down payment? How would you like a mortgage payment of only 2.95 percent? You can have all that with the 11th District Cost of Funds (COFI) Adjustable Rate Mortgage.

Sound too good to be true? Sound like a bunch of hype?

Each statement above is true. However, it is also only part of the story and loan officers do not always tell you the whole story when promoting this loan. Then other loan officer try to scare you away from the adjustable rate mortgages. However, once you become aware of all the details of the loan, it is an excellent way to buy the house of your dreams, especially when fixed rates begin to go up.

ARMs in General

Adjustable rate mortgages all have certain similar features. They have an adjustment period, an index, a margin, and a rate cap. The adjustment period is simply how often the rate changes. Some change monthly, some change every six months, and some only adjust once a year. Indexes are simply an easily monitored interest rate that moves up and down over time. Adjustable rate mortgages have different indexes. The margin is the difference between your interest rate and the index. The margin does not change during the term of the loan.

So if you have an adjustable rate mortgage and you wanted to calculate your interest rate on your own, all you have to do is look up the index in the paper or on the internet, add the margin, and you have your rate.

Indexes and the 11th District

The "Prime Rate" you hear about in the news is one interest rate index, although it is very rare that mortgages are tied to this index. It is more common to find adjustable rate mortgages tied to different treasury bill indexes, the average interest rate paid on certificates of deposit, the London Inter-Bank Offered Rate (LIBOR), and the 11th District Cost of Funds. Currently, the Cost of Funds Index is the lowest of these indexes, though this is not always true.

To simplify, the 11th District Cost of Funds (COFI) is the weighted average of interest rates paid out on savings deposits by banking institutions in the the 11th district of the Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLB), which is located in San Francisco. The 11th District includes the states of California, Nevada, and Arizona.

The COFI index moves slower than the other indexes, making it more stable. It also lags behind actual changes in the interest rate market. For example, when rates begin to go up, the COFI index may continue to decline for a couple of months before it also begins to rise. However, when interest rates start to decline, the COFI index may continue to go up for another couple of months, too. It lags behind the market.

The Margin and Interest Rates

The margin on the COFI ARM can be on either side of 2.5%. For example the COFI index as of July 31, 1998 is 4.504%. With a margin of 2.44%, your interest rate would be 6.944%. During this same time, thirty year fixed rate loans on conforming mortgages are close to eight percent. Fixed rates on jumbo loans (above $240,000) are higher.

Monthly Adjustments Sound Scary, but...

Although you can get a COFI ARM with an adjustable period of six months, you can get a lower margin if you go for the monthly adjustment period. Since the margin plus the index equals your interest rate, the lower margin is an advantage and most people choose the monthly adjustment.

Monthly adjustments sound scary to the uninitiated, but keep in mind that this is a slow moving index. Most other ARMS have an annual cap of two percent a year. Since 1981, when the FHLB began tracking the index, the most it has moved during any calendar year is 1.6%. So why get a higher margin just to get a rate cap that you probably will not use anyway?

The "life-of-loan" cap for the COFI ARM is usually 11.95%. The most recent year that this cap could have been reached was 1985. Plus, most experts do not expect a return to the interest rates of the early 1980's when interest rates were pushed up artificially to combat the inflation of the 1970's.

Make Only Part of Your Payment?

This is the really interesting feature of the loan. You do not have to make the whole payment. Each month you get a bill that has at least three payment options. One choice is the full payment at the current interest rate. A second choice allows you to pay only the interest that is due on the loan that particular month, but does not pay anything towards the principal. Finally, the third option gives you the choice to pay even less than that and is called the "minimum payment."

The minimum payment when you start your loan can be calculated as low as 2.95 percent. Keep in mind that this is not the note rate on your loan, but just a way to calculate your minimum payment.

Deferred Interest and Amortization

Of course, if you only make the minimum payment each month, you are not paying all of the interest that is currently due that month. You are deferring some of the interest that is currently due on the loan and you will pay it later. The lender keeps track of this deferred interest by adding it to the loan and the loan balance gets larger. Neither you nor the lender wants this to continue forever, so your minimum payment increases a bit each year.

The payment cap on the loan is 7.5%, which also has nothing to do with the interest rate. All it means is the most your minimum payment can increase from one year to the next is seven and a half percent. For example, if your minimum payment is $1000 this year, next year the most it could be is $1075. This continues each year until your payment is approximately equal to the payment at the full note rate.

Just in case, there are fail-safes built into the loan. If you continue making the only the minimum payment and your current balance ever reaches 110 percent of the beginning balance, the loan is re-amortized to make sure you pay it off in thirty years (or forty years, whichever option you chose). Every five years the loan is re-amortized to make sure it pays off within the term of the loan.

Stated Income and Other Features

Many COFI lenders allow homebuyers with good credit to apply without documenting their income, assets, or source of down payment. Of course, you have to make a twenty or twenty-five percent down payment on your home purchase. This is helpful for self-employed borrowers or those who have jobs where it is difficult to document their income. Plus, some people just do not like the bother of supplying W2 forms, tax returns and pay-stubs. Anyway, it makes for a quick and easy loan approval.

Sub-Prime COFI ARMs

Some people have less than perfect credit and they are used to being charged outrageous rates for past problems. Some COFI lenders offer this same loan but have a slightly higher starting payment and a higher margin. The end result is that your interest rate would be about one percent higher. As of August 18, 1999, that would be around eight percent on this loan instead of seven percent.

Who Should Get This Loan?

In my personal experience, most people who get the COFI ARM are purchasing a home between $300,000 and $650,000, but it is not limited to that. It is a real favorite of those working in the financial industry and those with higher incomes. One reason they like it is because they consider any deferred interest to be an extended loan at a very attractive rate. By making the minimum payment, they do other things with the money.

Homebuyers whose income has peaks and valleys, such as self-employed or commissioned salespeople also like the loan, because it provides flexibility in the monthly payment. During a slow month they can make the minimum payment if they choose.
Another reason borrowers like the loan is because it allows for tax planning. The borrower can defer interest payments and at the end of the year, analyze their tax situation. If it serves their tax interests, they can make a lump sum payment toward any interest that has been deferred and deduct it for tax purposes.

Skipping the Starter Home or Move-Up Home

If you're buying a home with the intention of living in it for only a few years before you move up to a bigger home, the COFI ARM makes sense, too. With this loan and its low start payment you can often qualify for a larger home than you can when applying for a fixed rate loan. This allows you to skip the intermediate purchase and move up immediately to the home you really want, which makes more sense and saves you money.

If you buy a home, then sell it to move up to a bigger home, you are going to have to pay Realtor's commissions and closing costs. On a $300,000 house, this would be around $25,000. If you skip buying that home and buy the home you really want, you save that money. Plus, you save money in another way. Say you live in your intermediate purchase for five years, then move up and buy another home with another thirty year mortgage. That is thirty-five years of home loans. If you buy your ideal home now, you save five years of mortgage payments. Depending on your loan amount, that can be a lot of cash.

Conclusion

So, when rates start going up this is an attractive alternative to fixed rates. It even makes sense for some borrowers when rates are low. Something we also did not mention is that most COFI lenders also give you a fourth option on your monthly mortgage statement which allows you to pay it off quicker.

The No-Cost Thirty Year Fixed Rate Mortgage

There really is no such thing as a "no-cost" mortgage loan. There are always costs, such as appraisal fees, escrow fees, title insurance fees, document fees, processing fees, flood certification fees, recording fees, notary fees, tax service fees, wire fees, and so on, depending on whether the loan is a purchase or a refinance. The term "no-cost" actually means that your lender is paying the costs of the loan. All a "no cost" loan means is that there is no cost to you, the borrower.

Except that you pay a higher interest rate.

Understand How Loans Are Priced

A variation of the no-cost loan is the "no points" loan, or even the "no points, no lender fees" loan. On these loans you pay all the costs associated with buying a house or refinancing, but you do not have to pay the lender associated fees or points. However, since lenders and loan officers do not do anything for free, the profit has to come from somewhere.

So where does it come from?

First, you have to understand how loans are priced and how mortgage lenders and loan officers earn income. Each morning mortgage companies create rate sheets for loan officers. The rates usually change slightly from day to day. In volatile markets they change several times a day. On the rate sheet, there are many different programs, including the thirty year fixed rate.

There will be one column which will lists several different interest rates and another column that lists the "cost" for that particular rate. For example:


          Rate          Cost(points)

          ======       =============


          6.250%           2.000

          6.375%           1.500

          6.500%           1.000

          6.625%           0.500

          6.750%           0.000

          6.875%          (0.500)

          7.000%          (1.000)

          7.125%          (1.500)

          7.250%          (2.000)


In the above example, 6.75% has a "par" price, which means it has a zero cost. The lower in rate you go, the higher the cost, or "points." A point is equal to one percent of the loan amount. The parentheses in the cost column for the higher interest rates indicates a negative number. For example, (1.500) equals -1.500, which means instead of having a cost associated with the loan, the lender is willing to pay out money for those interest rates. This is called "premium" or "rebate" pricing.

-- Zero Cost Loans --

How Mortgage Companies and Loan Officers Make Money

The above rate sheet is not a rate sheet designed for public review. In fact, most lenders have a policy that the public cannot see their internal rate sheet. This rate sheet is designed for loan officers and the cost column is the loan officer's cost, not the cost to the borrower. When the loan officer quotes you an interest rate, he will add on a certain amount, usually one to one and a half points. Most companies leave it up to the loan officer's discretion how much to add on to the base cost. However, they usually require at least a minimum add-on, which is usually one point.

The loan officer's commission depends on his "split" with the company and can vary. He receives a portion of the add-on and the rest goes to the company.

If we assume the loan officer is adding on one point, and you were willing to pay one point for your loan, then your rate would be (according to this rate sheet) 6.75%. You would pay one percentage point and receive an interest rate of six and three-quarters. If you wanted a lower rate and were willing to pay two points, you could get six and a half percent. If you wanted a "no points" loan, then your rate would be seven percent.
The loan officer and the mortgage company would split the one point rebate, listed as (1.000) on the rate sheet.

See how it works?

In addition to the cost noted on the rate sheet above, lenders have certain other fees they like to collect, too. These can include document fees, processing fees, underwriting fees, warehouse fees, flood certification fees, wire transfer fees, tax service fees, and so on. Usually, you will not be charged all of these fees, it is just that different lenders call them different things. Some of them are legitimate costs to the lender and some of them are simply fees designed to generate additional income to the mortgage company. They are customary in today's mortgage market and can vary from around $600 to $1300. In addition, there will usually be an appraisal fee and a credit report fee. Appraisals and credit reports are usually contracted out to independent companies even though these are considered to be lender fees.

Note that it is common for companies who charge higher fees to have a slightly lower interest rate and companies that charge lower fees will usually have a slightly higher interest rate. So if you shop entirely based on fees, you may actually spend more money in the long run because your interest rate may be higher.

The point is that if you want a "no points - no lender fees" loan, then on our rate sheet above, you may get an interest rate of 7.125%. That is because the loan officer has to bump the interest rate even further than on a "no points" loan in order to cover his own company's fees.

If you want a "no cost" loan, then the loan officer has to bump your interest rate even further. That is because all of the costs on your purchase or refinance do not come from the lender. The escrow or settlement company involved in your transaction will charge a fee which must be paid. The lender will require title insurance and the title insurance company charges a fee for providing this insurance. If your new lender requires information from your homeowner's association (if you have one) then the homeowner's association will most likely charge a fee for providing those documents. If you are refinancing, your current lender will usually charge at least two fees: a "demand" fee, and a "reconveyance" fee. The demand fee is charged simply for providing payoff information. The reconveyance fee is charged because your current lender prepares a document which releases your property as collateral for their outstanding loan. This document is called a reconveyance.

These charges will add about another point to how much the loan officer must collect in premium pricing in order to cover the costs associated with your refinance or purchase. For a zero cost loan, he will normally need to collect somewhere in the neighborhood of two and a half points. Because points are a percentage of your loan amount and most of the costs are fixed, it takes fewer points to provide zero costs on higher loan amounts. On smaller loan amounts it takes more. One percent of $200,000 is two thousand dollars and one percent of $100,000 is only $1000, so you can see how it is easier to cover costs on larger loans.

Does it makes sense to do a zero cost loan?

On a $200,000 thirty year fixed rate loan, the difference in monthly mortgage payments will be about $87, using the example rate sheet on the first page. Over thirty years, it works out that you will pay more than $30,000 extra for getting a zero cost loan. So if you intend to remain in the home for a long period of time it just doesn't make sense.

Suppose you intend to stay for only five years? On a purchase, using the $200,000 example, if you stayed longer than fifty-five months, it would make more sense to pay your own costs and get the lower interest rate. If you kept the loan for a shorter time, then it makes more sense to pay zero costs and get a higher interest rate.

Except for one thing.

If you knew you were only going to be staying in the home for five years you would probably not want a thirty year fixed rate, anyway. You would get a loan which has a fixed payment for the first five years, then convert to an adjustable or whatever fixed rates are five years from now. These loans have an interest rate almost a half percent lower than thirty year fixed rate loans. Since it is practically impossible to do a zero cost loan on this type of loan, you would have to compare a zero cost thirty year fixed rate loan to paying points on a loan with a fixed payment for five years.

The difference in payments would be about $150. The two and a half point rebate equals $5000. Working out the math, if you stayed in the home longer than thirty-three months, it would make more sense to pay the points and get the loan with the five year fixed rate.

Finally, carry the discussion one step further. Suppose you know you are going to be in the new loan for less than three years? Doesn't it make sense to get a "zero cost" loan then?

No.

Then you get an adjustable rate loan. As long as the start rate is two percent lower than the current fixed rate, you cannot lose. The first year you will save a lot of money. The second year you will probably break even. The third year, you will probably give up some of the savings from the first year, but not all of them.

"Zero cost" loans just don't make sense for homebuyers.
But they sound really good in an advertisement.

Exceptions:

  • On a FHA Streamline Refinance Without an Appraisal (not a purchase - which is what the article talks about), it makes sense to do a zero cost loan. This is mostly because the new loan has to be exactly the same amount as the existing balance of the current loan.
  • If the homebuyer only has enough money for down payment and none to cover closing costs, PLUS no arrangement can be made for the seller to pay closing costs, then zero costs may make sense (however, I would still recommend negotiating terms with the homeseller - be willing to pay a higher price in exchange for the seller paying your costs)
Land Contract

An alternative to a non-conforming loan is the use of a land contract, which is allowed in some states. A land contract is an agreement between a buyer and a seller, where the buyer agrees to make periodic payments to the seller. The title to the property only transfers to the land contract buyer on fulfillment of the land contract obligations.

A land contract can be helpful for those who need time to establish or improve their credit rating. There are only small closing costs, and payment can help establish a good mortgage payment record. This can help establish an overall good credit rating, and it is possible for the buyer to later refinance the land contract with a conforming loan.

On the other hand, there are risks associated with land contracts. Land contract purchases are not necessarily recorded in the public record, and there are no guarantees that the seller will be able to transfer a clear title to the buyer upon fulfillment of the land contract. There also is no lender assuring that the purchase price for the property is justified, and no inspection of the property's condition.

Another alternative to a non-conforming loan is assuming the seller's mortgage. By assuming a mortgage, if the mortgage is assumable, it is possible to save on closing costs, and may allow you to obtain a favorable interest rate.


FASY REAL ESTATE - "Your SECOND home is our FIRST priority!"  

   609.398.8000       fax: 609.398.5084       cell: 609.602.4493


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