Comparing mortgage loans is one of the most important things you can do when you're buying a home. The decisions you make will determine the size of your monthly payments, how much you pay upfront, and how much interest you'll pay over the life of the loan.
You might find it simpler to compare loans if you ask each lender a series of questions, including:
- What is the loan's interest rate?
- Will I be charged points?
- What are the closing costs and all other fees?
- What is the annual percentage rate, or APR – the rate you'll pay per year for all the costs associated with the loan?
- Is there a pre-payment penalty?
- How is the loan amortized, meaning how quickly is the principal paid off?
Find out the answers to these questions no matter what type of loan you're considering. Each can affect the overall cost of your loan.
If you are considering an adjustable-rate mortgage, or ARM, you can compare loans by asking:
- When does the rate adjust?
- How often does the rate adjust?
- Is there a cap limiting the amount by which the rate can adjust? What would my monthly payments be if my interest rate hit that cap?
- What is the index and margin that will determine my rate? How has the index changed over time?
ARMs are inherently more risky than fixed-rate mortgages because you're gambling on whether interest rates will go up or go down before your rate adjusts. Understanding the best- and worst-case scenarios can help you weigh the pros and cons as you compare loans.
But there's one other big question to consider before you get an ARM:
- How does the discount introductory rate compare with rates for 30-year fixed-rate loans?
If there's not much difference when you compare the two, the fixed-rate loan might be a safer bet. You won't save much in the short-term, and could save a lot over the long term. Plus, you reduce your risk if interest rates shoot up and you can't refinance before the rate adjustment.
Finally, to truly compare loans, you have to ask yourself some questions:
- How long do I expect to stay in my home?
- Are my job and income secure over the long term?
- Will I be able to afford higher payments in the future?
- How comfortable am I with risk?
In the end, the best loan is the one that works for your needs.
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