With interest rates at or near record lows, many borrowers are seeing little reason to pay points when buying or refinancing a home. Some are even opting for what’s known as “negative points,” agreeing to a slightly higher rate to help pay closing costs.
Making sense of the story
- Paying points enables a borrower to “buy down” the interest rate on a mortgage in exchange for an upfront fee. The trend away from points partly reflects borrower sentiment that rates are already low enough, according to industry experts.
- A point equals 1 percent of the loan amount, so paying one point on a $250,000 refinancing costs an extra $2,500 at closing, in addition to other mortgage fees, taxes, and escrow amounts. Paying a point usually reduces the interest rate by 0.25 points over its term, so for instance, instead of 4 percent, the rate is 3.75 percent.
- The average number of points paid in 2011, according to a Freddie Mac survey, was 0.7 percentage points, less than half the levels people paid in the 1990s. The average has been 0.7 percent for three years, after it hit a low of 0.4 percent in 2007; in 1995 it averaged 1.8 percent, according to Freddie Mac data.
- The primary advantages of paying points are a lower rate and monthly payment. To decide if paying points is worthwhile, borrowers should consider two key decisions: How long they plan to live in the home, and how much they can afford in close costs.
- Many mortgage professionals suggest following this rule: If the borrower plans to live in the home for at least five years, paying points will help the homeowner to reap savings.
- Some borrowers are even going for negative points, which is also called a lender rebate or points in reverse. In exchange for accepting a higher interest rate, the lender agrees to give the borrower a credit, which is usually used for closing costs.