General Mortgage Refinance FAQs
In this section, you will find answers to the most frequent questions we receive about mortgages, interest rates, and other information related to the mortgage process. If you have a question we do not address, please ask us directly! Please check our Mortgage Terms Glossary for commonly used mortgage terminology.
When should I refinance my mortgage?
What are points?
Should I pay points to lower my interest rate?
What is an APR?
What does it mean to lock the interest rate?
It is often said that you should refinance when mortgage rates are 1/2% 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 1/2%. 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.
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).
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.
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 home buyers 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.
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 APR does not affect your monthly payments. Your monthly payments are strictly a function of the interest rate and the length of the loan.
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 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
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.