Current Mortgage Rates: Richmond, VA
2.750% (2.807% APR) 30yrs
2.125% (2.130% APR) 15yrs
as of 09/23/21
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The housing sector today is not providing the economic stimulus we had come to
expect during periods of economic recovery. A major reason is that the
underwriting rules and practices that determine whether or not an applicant
qualifies for a home mortgage are much stricter today than they were before the
financial crisis.

In part, the tightening reflects changes in the market environment that make
mortgage loans generally more risky than they were before the crisis. The major
factor was the nationwide decline in house prices between 2006 and 2009, the
first such decline since the 1930s. The very liberal terms that prevailed prior
to the crisis were based on a widespread belief that such declines were a thing
of the past. When price changes are always positive, it is very difficult to make
a bad mortgage loan. Now that the market understands that house prices can
decline, mortgages are considered riskier.

A second factor has been the post-crisis practice of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac
to require lenders originating loans for sale to the agencies to buy them back
if they default too quickly. This has caused many lenders to impose
underwriting rules (referred to as "overlays") that are more restrictive than
required by law and regulation.

Some schemes for paying off a mortgage early, such as biweeklies and bimonthlies, are offered by lenders while others are entirely within the control of the borrower. This article is about two schemes of the second type that keep popping up in my mailbox. Scheme 1 is all smoke and mirrors, and I doubt that any borrowers who understand exactly how it works will adopt it. Scheme 2 has much more substance, but borrowers who understand exactly how it works will probably also find a way to modify it to better match their unique needs and capacities.

Scheme 1: Making a Large Payment Right After Closing

In scheme 1, you take out a larger loan than you actually need, and make a large payment to principal immediately after the loan closes. This will shorten the term and reduce your interest payments.

For example, assuming you need a 4% 30-year loan of $280,000 to purchase your house, you borrow $300,000 and immediately after the closing you repay $20,000, reducing the balance to $280,000. Your loan will pay off in 317 months instead of 360, and you will pay $27,214 less interest than if you had borrowed $280,000 initially.

For over 40 years, the centerpiece mortgage disclosure mandated by Truth in Lending (TIL) has been the Annual Percentage Rate or APR. Recently, administration of TIL has shifted from the Federal Reserve to the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which has developed a new disclosure form called the Loan Estimate. Beginning August 2015 this form will replace both the TIL and a sister disclosure called the Good Faith Estimate. While the Loan Estimate eliminates some junk from the two disclosures it replaces, it carries over the APR from the TIL without significant change. The APR thus retains its role as the centerpiece of mandatory disclosures.

The appeal of the APR is that it is a single measure of credit cost that includes both the interest rate and upfront loan fees charged by the lender. If loan fees are zero, the APR equals the interest rate. The higher are the loan fees, the larger is the APR relative to the rate.

The purpose of the APR is to provide a single measure that borrowers can use to compare loans of different types and features, and loans offered by different loan providers. Unfortunately, however, the APR has so many limitations that the list of borrowers who cannot use it effectively is much longer than the list of those who can.

"My wife and I are looking to purchase a $450,000 home, and I am wondering whether I should apply for the mortgage we will need as an individual, or jointly with my wife? I make $84,000 a year and have a credit score of about 800. She makes $48,000 and has a credit score of about 680."

Congratulations on considering this question before you start house shopping. The extra time could come in handy, as I'll explain shortly.

However, you haven't given me enough information to answer your question. In addition to your incomes and credit scores, I need to know your financial assets and debt payments, held individually and jointly. Also, give me your best guess as to how long you will have the new house.

"I have about $25,000 of financial assets in my name and no debts, she has $32,000 and no debts. Figure we will be here for 7 years."

A standard fully-amortizing mortgage pays off the balance over the term. With a 30-year term, this requires 360 monthly payments, while a 15-year term requires 180 payments. Many lenders, however, offer special loan repayment programs that promise to pay off the balance before term, without imposing much of an added burden on the borrower. This article looks at the most common of these schemes, as well as an alternative that borrowers can adopt on their own.

Bimonthly Payment Plans

On a bimonthly payment plan, the borrower's monthly payment in split into two pieces of equal size, one due on the 15th of the month and the other on the first. While the borrower makes 24 payments a year instead of 12, they add to the same total. However, the lender credits the half payment on the 15th to the balance on the 15th, which reduces the interest due on the first.

While the reduction in interest shortens the period to payoff, the impact is small. On 30-year mortgages with rates of 6% or less, payoff occurs after 719 half payments, shaving just one-half of a month off the term. On a 7% mortgage, payoff occurs after 718 half payments, accelerating payoff by one month.

There isn't anything wrong with the bimonthly mortgage, provided that paying twice a month is convenient and you don't give up anything of value to get it. Readers have reported to me that loan officers touting the bimonthly have told them that the term would be reduced to 23 or 24 years, which is nonsense.

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