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Numerous closing costs come with any mortgage. There's a fee for an appraisal and a fee for a credit report... and the lender has its fees, too. And don't forget about the attorney fee, title insurance and escrow charges. Closing costs can vary from state to state and province to province, but you really don't have much choice of whether you want a survey or if title insurance is right for you. There will be a variety of services performed and records searched by different companies, and none of these come free of charge.

But there is one closing cost that you can control: discount points or, more simply, points.

A discount point reduces the interest rate on your mortgage. One point is equal to 1 percent of your loan amount, so on a $200,000 loan one point equals $2,000.

Why do some lenders charge points? In reality, all lenders pretty much have the same rates; it's just that sometimes a lender will advertise a rate with a point or a rate without a point. But the decision to pay a point is yours alone.

A point will typically reduce your interest rate by a quarter of a percent on a 30-year mortgage. If your lender offers a 6.5 percent rate with no points, then you may also get 6.25 percent with one point. So how do you decide?

It's simple. Just take the difference in monthly savings gained with the lower rate and divide that into the point. The result equals how many months it will take to "recover" the amount

you paid in points. Let's look at an example.

A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage of $200,000 at a 6.5 percent interest rate would mean a monthly principal and interest payment of $1,264.14. By paying an additional $2,000 in the

form of a point, your rate would drop to 6.25 percent and the resulting payment would drop to $1,231.43; saving you $32.71 each month. When you divide that $32.71 monthly savings into $2,000 you get 61.14, or about 61 months. Your recovery

period is slightly over five years. That's a little long in my opinion and I've never been a big fan of paying points. Instead, I'd encourage you to take that same amount and pay down your principal.

Remember: The quarter percent difference in interest rates when paying a point is an imprecise, general mortgage rule of thumb. Whichever rate you get, be sure to divide the savings into the points paid to see how long it will take to recoup the difference.

“What do you think about rates … should I lock in now or wait to see if they fall further?” Think I’ve been asked that a time or two over the past 18 years? You better believe it.  It’s a good question—one that goes through every single buyer’s head at some stage. 

A quoted interest rate is no good unless you’ve confirmed, in writing, that your loan is indeed “locked,” or guaranteed for a designated period of time. You need to be proactive with your locked rate as well and don’t assume that your loan officer already locked you in. In fact, your loan officer shouldn’t lock in your rate without your specific instructions. If it was locked in and rates went down you’d be pretty mad, wouldn’t you?

While neither real estate agents nor loan officers are in the business of predicting the future, it’s still possible to make a prudent choice in the face of uncertainty. Would you rather lock in your rate and watch rates fall or not lock in your rate and see rates go up?

If you decided to lock and rates go down, you’ve secured the market rate that you were happy with. But if rates went up and you didn’t lock, you’d be paying for that mistake for the rest of the loan.

There is an even worse possible scenario: After not locking in your rate, rates shoot up and you no longer qualify for the loan. So it’s important to ask yourself:  “Which way would I rather be wrong?”

If you are comfortable with the rate you’ve been quoted, talk to your real estate agent about the possible consequences of waiting to lock it in.

Written by David Reed, author of Mortgage 101 and Mortgage Confidential.

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