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.

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