What Are Mortgage Points? Upfront Fees That Could Save You Money

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What are mortgage points? The interest rate your mortgage lender offers you when you buy or refinance a house is not necessarily the rate you have to stick with. In fact, you can lower your mortgage rate by shelling out at closing for something called mortgage points. But what are mortgage points and how can they save you some serious cash (like, thousands of dollars over the years you make monthly payments)? Read on for the answers from loan experts.

What are mortgage points?

There are two types of mortgage points:

  • Discount points: These points, also known as prepaid points, lower your interest rate but increase your closing costs, because payment for them is due at closing. Discount points are a kind of prepaid interest you “buy” from your lender, based on your loan amount, for a lower mortgage rate.
  • Origination points: These points are charged to recover some costs of the mortgage origination process. This would include compensating your loan officer, notary fees, preparation costs, and inspection fees.

One mortgage origination or discount point typically costs 1% of the loan amount. For example, 1 point on a $250,000 mortgage would equal $2,500.

How do mortgage points lower your interest rate?

The primary purpose of buying discount points from the lender is to reduce your interest rate on your mortgage, and thus lower your monthly payment.

You can pay points during the home-buying process, or when you refinance your home. One point usually reduces the borrower’s interest rate between 0.125% to 0.25%, depending on the lender’s terms, although 0.25% is typical.

For example, if you took out a 30-year, $400,000 loan at an interest rate of 5%, you would pay $2,147 in mortgage payments a month (not including taxes, insurance, or anything else). Paying 2 mortgage points to the lender at 0.25% per point would lower the interest rate to 4.5% and drop the monthly payment to $2,027. You would also need to foot the upfront cost of $8,000 to buy discount points at closing.

Should you buy mortgage points?

Buying points from a lender makes the most sense for borrowers who plan on living in their house and making monthly mortgage payments for many years, either for the life of the loan or close to it.

Consider how long you think you’ll stay in your house and keep your home loan. Generally, if you buy points, you want to stay longer to break even and recoup the money it took to buy the points on the loan. If you sell the house or pay off the loan too soon, you won’t reach the break-even point, and you can lose money.

Let’s go back to the above example of the 30-year, $400,000 loan. The 2 mortgage discount points for $8,000 at closing saves you $120 in monthly payments. It would take about 5.5 years to reach the break-even point of $8,000, before you could start to save money.

However, it would also save you $43,394 in interest over the life of the loan. Deduct that $8,000 in point-buying costs from money saved in interest and you will have actually saved a total of $35,394. Of course, that’s if you see out the life of the loan. If you sell after six or seven years and pay off your mortgage, buying those points from the mortgage lender wasn’t worth it. Know your future plans and move forward accordingly.

You should also consider how much money you have to use for a down payment at the time of closing. If you are looking to pay the least amount possible in mortgage closing costs, and you can’t afford out-of-pocket points on your loan, you may need to opt for a zero-point loan program.

Tax breaks and mortgage points

Because discount points are a form of interest you pay on your loan, they’re usually tax-deductible as mortgage interest for the year you buy your home. However, origination points that are basically document fees for your mortgage are not deductible.

If you’re considering buying discount points, consult your tax adviser to determine if you qualify for these mortgage deductions.

When you refinance your home and pay for mortgage discount points, you amortize the cost of the points over the years you have the loan. If you sell the house or pay off the loan, you can deduct any remaining points in the last year you have the mortgage.

Generally, the bigger the mortgage, interest rate, and mortgage length, the more money discount points will save you. Buying points on mortgages with only a few years left, or on those with already very low mortgage rates, could yield monthly savings of only a few bucks and never reach a break-even point for your closing costs, so be sure to do the math before you finalize any mortgage decision.

Article by Craig Donofrio