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Mortgage: What are Points?

by North County San Diego Home Sales 01/13/2020

Photo by Precondo via Pixabay

Some mortgage companies offer loans with points. In a nutshell, paying points means paying down the interest rate. One point is equal to 1 percent of the mortgage amount. On a $200,000 mortgage, one point is $2,000. The percentage the interest rate lowers depends on the mortgage company and the market. For example, one point might be equal to a quarter of a percent interest. A loan with 4 percent interest and two points might go down to 3.5 percent interest.

Pros and Cons of Points

If you do pay points, you could get a tax break. Since tax laws are constantly changing, make sure you can claim points if part of your decision is based on the tax break. Other considerations include:

  • If your mortgage is an adjustable rate (ARM), some mortgage servicers only give you the discounted rate until the mortgage rate adjusts. Some may hold the discount rate over. For example, if you have an ARM that starts at 4 percent and you buy two points for a discount of ½ percent, you may lose that discount when the loan adjusts, especially if it changes to a higher interest rate. However, if the bank carries the discount over, the new rate might increase to 6 percent, but your one-half point discount would mean that your new rate would be 5.5 percent.

  • You need additional cash to buy points. If you plan on putting 20 percent down, but you want to purchase points and do not have more cash, you could be less than 20 percent down. However, compare the scenarios to determine which method is better in the long run. If you put less than 20 percent down, the mortgage servicer may charge you PMI, which would negate any savings.

  • You may save more by putting more down. If you put $40,000 down on a $200,000 mortgage, you are going to pay interest on $160,000. If you put less money down and buy points instead, your interest rate will drop, but you may end up paying more for the loan in the long run. Enter the numbers into a mortgage calculator to determine which way you save more.

Scenario

If your mortgage is $200,000 and you put $40,000 down, thus cutting the amount you finance to $160,000, and do not buy points, the total interest you will pay over the length of the loan will be about $115,000.

Using the same scenario, you instead put $36,000 down and buy two points. This drops your interest rate to 3.5 percent from 4 percent. You will save about $16,700 over the life of the mortgage. And, you would have to stay in your house without refinancing for 49 months to break even on your savings. In this case, your $4,000 ends up saving you a net of $13,500 on interest (savings minus the $4,000 it cost you to save).

Before you agree to points or a larger down payment, discuss the scenarios with your accountant or tax attorney to determine which method is best for your situation. If you have to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI), buying points could end up costing you.

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