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Frequently Asked Questions

When I should refinance?

It is often said that you should refinance when mortgage rates are 2% lower than the rate you currently have on your loan. However, it really depends on your financial goals. Refinancing may be a viable option even if the interest rate difference is 1% or less. 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 pay points to lower my interest rate?

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 APR calculations are affected by the various different fees charged by lenders, 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
  • Escrow fee

The following fees are normally not included in the APR:

  • Title or abstract fee
  • Borrower Attorney fee
  • 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 credit scoring?

Credit scoring is a system creditors use to help determine whether to give you credit. Information about you and your credit experiences, such as your bill-paying history, the number and type of accounts you have, late payments, collection actions, outstanding debt, and the age of your accounts, is collected from your credit application and your credit report. Using a statistical program, creditors compare this information to the credit performance of consumers with similar profiles. A credit scoring system awards points for each factor that helps predict who is most likely to repay a debt. A total number of points — a credit score — helps predict how creditworthy you are, that is, how likely it is that you will repay a loan and make the payments when due.

Because your credit report is an important part of many credit scoring systems, it is very important to make sure it’s accurate before you submit a credit application. To get copies of your report, contact the three major credit reporting agencies:

Equifax: (800) 685-1111
Experian (formerly TRW): (888) EXPERIAN (397-3742)
Trans Union: (800) 916-8800
These agencies may charge you up to $9.00 for your credit report.

You are entitled to receive one free credit report every 12 months from each of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. This free credit report can be requested through the following website: https://www.annualcreditreport.com

What can I do to improve my score?

Credit scoring models are complex and often vary among creditors and for different types of credit. If one factor changes, your score may change — but improvement generally depends on how that factor relates to other factors considered by the model. Only the creditor can explain what might improve your score under the particular model used to evaluate your credit application.

Nevertheless, scoring models generally evaluate the following types of information in your credit report:

  • Have you paid your bills on time? Payment history typically is a significant factor. It is likely that your score will be affected negatively if you have paid bills late, had an account referred to collections, or declared bankruptcy, if that history is reflected on your credit report.
  • What is your outstanding debt? Many scoring models evaluate the amount of debt you have compared to your credit limits. If the amount you owe is close to your credit limit, that is likely to have a negative effect on your score.
  • How long is your credit history? Generally, models consider the length of your credit track record. An insufficient credit history may have an effect on your score, but that can be offset by other factors, such as timely payments and low balances.
  • Have you applied for new credit recently? Many scoring models consider whether you have applied for credit recently by looking at “inquiries” on your credit report when you apply for credit. If you have applied for too many new accounts recently, that may negatively affect your score. However, not all inquiries are counted. Inquiries by creditors who are monitoring your account or looking at credit reports to make “prescreened” credit offers are not counted.
  • How many and what types of credit accounts do you have? Although it is generally good to have established credit accounts, too many credit card accounts may have a negative effect on your score. In addition, many models consider the type of credit accounts you have. For example, under some scoring models, loans from finance companies may negatively affect your credit score.

Scoring models may be based on more than just information in your credit report. For example, the model may consider information from your credit application as well: your job or occupation, length of employment, or whether you own a home.

To improve your credit score under most models, concentrate on paying your bills on time, paying down outstanding balances, and not taking on new debt. It’s likely to take some time to improve your score significantly.

What is an Appraisal ?

Appraisal is a document that gives an estimate of a property’s fair market value. An appraisal is generally required by a lender before loan approval to ensure that the mortgage loan amount is not more than the value of the property. The appraisal is performed by an “appraiser” who is typically a state-licensed individual trained to render expert opinions concerning property values. In an appraisal, consideration is given to the property, its location, amenities as well as its physical conditions.

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 is 80-10-10 financing?

Surprising as it may seem, some folks with hefty incomes find that it’s mighty tough for them to save enough money to make a 20% cash down payment on their dream homes. Using conventional financing, such buyers must purchase Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) which increases the cost of home ownership and, ironically, makes it even more difficult to qualify for the mortgage. However, if you’re a dues-paying member of the cash-challenged class, don’t despair. Given that your income is sufficiently high, it’s eminently possible to avoid getting stuck with PMI. That is why 80-10-10 financing was invented. It is called 80-10-10 because a savings and loan association, bank, or other institutional lender provides a traditional 80% first mortgage, you get a 10% second mortgage, and make a cash down payment equal to 10% of the home’s purchase price. By using this method, you are no longer obligated to take out PMI on your property.

The same principle applies if you can only afford to make a 5% down, 80-15-5 financing is also available. However, because a smaller cash down payment increases the lender’s risk of default, do not be surprised when you are asked to pay higher loan fees and a higher mortgage interest rate for 80-15-5 than you pay for 80-10-10.

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, 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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