When you take out a mortgage, you have to lock in your interest rate. It’s a big decision as it affects your mortgage payment and the total cost of your loan. In the process, your lender may offer you the option to pay discount points. Before you jump at the chance, you should understand what they are and how they affect your loan.
What are Discount Points?
A discount point is a fee you pay upfront (at the closing) to lower your interest rate. You may hear lenders say that you are ‘buying down your interest rate.’ You can consider it prepaid interest. Rather than the lender charging you a higher interest rate, they charge you a fee upfront. You pay the interest ahead of time in order to get the lower interest rate.
How Much do Discount Points Lower your Rate?
The question everyone wants to know is how much they will save. This does vary by lender. In general, lenders lower your interest rate by 0.25% for every point you pay. One point equals one percent of the loan amount. If you borrow $200,000, one point equals $2,000 and is paid at the closing.
Again, the exact amount varies by lender. Always ask the details about the discount points. Ask to see both interest rates – the rate without points and the rate with points so that you can make an informed decision. Some lenders may offer the option to pay a full point, half a point, or even one and a half points. Every situation is different.
What do Points do For You?
If you pay discount points, it lowers your interest rate for the life of the loan. As long as you keep the same loan, you keep that rate. You don’t have to pay any fees in the future, either. It’s a one-time fee. Lenders charge it to collect the interest they otherwise would have earned on your loan over its lifetime. The lender comes out the same in the end – it’s you that sees the difference.
Is it Worth it?
This is what you should really focus on – is it worth it to pay points? Looking at it from the surface, who wouldn’t want to lower their interest rate, right? But sometimes it doesn’t make sense to do so.
You should figure out your break-even point. This is the point that you pay back the money paid for the points and start reaping the savings of the lower interest rate. Here’s how it works.
Figure out how much you’ll save on your monthly payment by paying the discount points. Let’s say the difference in payments is $100. Next, determine the exact cost of the points. Let’s say the points cost you $2,000. It would take you 20 months to pay back the money paid for the points:
$2,000/$100 = 20 months
This is your break-even point or the point that you start reaping the savings of the new, lower payment. Use that break-even point to decide if paying the points is worth it.
Think about how long you’ll be in the home. Let’s say you plan to move in three or four years. It may not make sense to pay the fee upfront just to save $100 for a few months or even two years. If you know that this is your ‘forever’ home and you don’t plan to refinance in the near future, paying the points makes sense. You’ll save $1,200 per year on the interest. Add that up over 10 or 20 years and you’ll save a lot of money.
If you aren’t sure of your plans, you may want to skip the discount points, or keep them as low as possible. For example, maybe you split the difference with the lender. Rather than paying a full point, you pay a half of a point and lower your interest rate slightly. This way you still save money and it’s not the end of the world if you end up moving or refinancing in the near future.
Of course, before you pay points, assess your financial situation. Will it hurt you to pay those points upfront? If you need the money for your down payment, closing costs, or just to get into the home comfortably, don’t pay it. You can use the money now and pay the loan down as you can. You can always make extra principal payments toward your loan in the future, which ultimately decreases the total amount of interest that you pay over the life of the loan.
Whether or not you pay discount points is a personal decision. Compare all of your options not just from one lender, but several. This way you can choose the loan that makes the financial sense now and well into the future. Remember, buying a house is one of the largest investments you’ll make in a lifetime.