When should I 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 I pay points to lower my interest rate?
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 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.
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.