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Chrisman's Corner: A Primer on Shopping for a Mortgage Based on Price

Despite the government’s best efforts, JMAC’s brokers report that their borrowers still are occasionally puzzled by mortgage rates and pricing. They are not as simple as comparing the price of a gallon of regular unleaded gas. (But when gas companies advertise their additives for higher grades, things become more complicated.) But is there an easy way to discuss rates?

Our more experienced brokers advise that when a borrower shops for a home loan, they want to know about mortgage rates and should look at the “APR” or annual percentage rate. The APR includes both the annual interest rate as well as some — but maybe not all — non-interest charges paid at closing. The APR will be higher than the nominal interest rate because it includes additional costs. Most loan quotes include both the interest rate and points (the cost of doing the loan, often considered the up-front compensation to the lender). Points are paid up-front, in cash (or a higher loan amount) at closing. If the borrower expects to be a short-term owner then maybe the loan with a higher rate and fewer points is better; if the borrower expects to be a long-term owner then paying points and having a lower fixed-rate can be very attractive.

Experts and those in the industry usually prefer “par pricing” – par is a price of 100.00 (nothing paid, and nothing to be paid). In this situation all loan quotes show the interest rate with zero points. Now it’s very easy to compare rates. An FHA mortgage at 4.4 percent and an FHA mortgage at 4.6 percent are the same financial product with different costs. Why would a borrower pay more?

So JMAC’s brokers tell clients that they should ask lenders for a mortgage quote at par; that is, an interest rate with no points. Par pricing remains the easiest way to compare similar loan products, say a conventional loan from ABC Mortgage versus a conventional loan from XYZ Mortgage. The loans are the same, so the only issue is which lender can offer a better price.