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When it comes to comparing interest rates for a mortgage loan, homebuyers often have the option of choosing a loan with a lower interest rate by paying points. Simply put, a point is equal to 1 percent of the loan amount. For example, with a $100,000 loan, one point equals $1,000. Points are usually paid out-of-pocket by the buyer at closing.

Paying points may seem attractive, because a lower interest rate means smaller monthly payments. But is paying points always a good idea? The answer generally depends on how long you plan to stay in the house. Let’s look at an example:

Bob and Betty Smith are shopping for loan rates on a $150,000 home. Their bank has offered them a 30 year loan at 7.5 percent with no points. This works out to a monthly payment of $1,049.

However, their bank has also offered them a loan at 7 percent if they agree to pay 2 points (or $3,000). At this lower rate, their monthly payment drops to $998, or a savings of $51 per month.

By dividing the amount they paid for the points ($3,000) by the monthly savings ($51), we see that they will have to own the house for 59 months (or just under 5 years) before they will start to see savings as a result of paying points. If Bob and Betty plan to stay in the house for many years, then paying points could make good sense. But if they see themselves moving to another house in the near future, they’d be better off paying the higher interest and no points. (Note: for simplicity, the above example does not take into account the time value of money, which would slightly lengthen the break-even time.)

Can you deduct points on your income taxes?
In the United States, one side benefit of paying points on a mortgage loan is that they are fully tax deductible for the same tax year as your closing. However, this does not apply to points paid for a refinance loan. For refinances, the IRS requires you to spread out the deduction over the life of the loan. For example, if you paid $5,000 in points for a 30-year refinance loan, you can only deduct 1/30 of the $5,000 each year for 30 years. If you pay off the loan early, though, you can deduct the remaining amount that tax year. As to this page and all pages regarding tax situations, please check with your tax professional.

All About Adjustable-Rate Mortgages***

Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) differ from fixed-rate mortgages in that the interest rate and monthly payment can change over the life of the loan. ARMs also generally have lower introductory interest rates vs. fixed-rate mortgages. Before deciding on an ARM, key factors to consider include how long you plan to own the property, and how frequently your monthly payment may change.

Why choose an adjustable-rate mortgage?
The low initial interest rates offered by ARMs make them attractive during periods when interest rates are high, or when homeowners only plan to stay in their home for a relatively short period. Similarly, homebuyers may find it easier to qualify for an ARM than a traditional loan. However, ARMs are not for everyone. If you plan to stay in your home long-term or are hesitant about having loan payments that shift from year-to-year, then you may prefer the stability of a fixed-rate mortagage.

Components of adjustable-rate mortgages
Adjustable-rate mortgages have three primary components: an index, margin, and calculated interest rate.

Index
The interest rate for an ARM is based on an index that measures the lender’s ability to borrow money. While the specific index used may vary depending on the lender, some common indexes include U.S. Treasury Bills and the Federal Housing Finance Board’s Contract Mortgage Rate. One thing all indexes have in common, however, is that they cannot be controlled by the lender.

Margin
The margin (also called the “spread”) is a percentage added to the index in order to cover the lender’s administrative costs and profit. Though the index may rise and fall over time, the margin usually remains constant over the life of the loan.

Calculated interest rate
By adding the index and margin together, you arrive at the calculated interest rate, which is the rate the homeowner pays. It is also the rate to which any future rate adjustments will apply (rather than the “teaser rate,” explained below).
Adjustment periods and teaser rates
Because the interest rate for an ARM may change due to economic conditions, a key feature to ask your lender about is the adjustment period–or how often your interest rate may change. Many ARMS have one-year adjustment periods, which means the interest rate and monthly payment is recalculated (based on the index) every year. Depending on the lender, longer adjustment periods are also available.

An ARM can also have an initial adjustment period based on a “teaser rate,” which is an artificially low introductory interest rate offered by a lender to attract homebuyers. Usually, teaser rates are good for 6 months or a year, at which point the loan reverts back to the calculated interest rate. Remember, too, that most lender will not use the teaser rate to qualify you for the loan, but instead use a 7.5% interest rate (or calculated interest rate if it is lower).

Rate caps
To protect homebuyers from dramatic rises in the interest rate, most ARMs have “caps” that govern how much the interest rate may rise between adjustment periods, as well as how much the rate may rise (or fall) over the life of the loan. For example, an ARM may be said to have a 2% periodic cap, and a 6% lifetime cap. This means that the rate can rise no more than 2% during an adjustment period, and no more than 6% over the life of the loan. The lifetime cap almost always applies to the calculated interest rate and not the introductory teaser rate.

Payment caps and negative amortization
Some ARMs also have payment caps. These differ from rate caps by placing a ceiling on how much your payment may rise during an adjustment period. While this may sound like a good thing, it can sometimes lead to real trouble.

For example, if the interest rate rises during an adjustment period, the additional interest due on the loan payment may exceed the amount allowed by the payment cap–leading to negative amortization. This means the balance due on the loan is actually growing, even though the homeowner is still making the minimum monthly payment. Many lenders limit the amount of negative amortization that may occur before the loan must be restructured, but it’s always wise to speak with your lender about payment caps and how negative amortization will be handled.