How Mortgages Work

The Origination Fee

The origination fee is how lenders make money up front on your mortgage loan. Origination fees are calculated as a percentage of the total loan, usually between 0.5 and 1 percent on U.S. mortgages [source: Investopedia]. Going back to our APR example, let's say that the second lender charges a 3 percent origination fee, plus an application fee and other costs totaling $3,820 at closing. That brings the new loan amount down to $96,180, which yields an APR of 7.39 percent. So there you have it: Although the second lender advertised no points, it ended up with a higher APR because of its steep origination fee.

The take home message is simple: Don't just look at the interest rate. Ask for the APR and compare it with other lenders. Also, make sure you know which fees are being included in the APR calculation. Typically, these include origination fees, points, buydown fees, prepaid mortgage interest, mortgage insurance premiums, application fees and underwriting costs. But note that some fees are charged by all lenders and are non-negotiable, such as title insurance and appraisals.

Luckily, you don't have to calculate the APR on your own. The lender will give it to you when it gives you the Federal Truth in Lending Disclosure; you just have to understand its importance.

Here are some other things to take into account when you examine the APR:

  • The more you borrow, the less impact all of those fees will have on the APR, since the APR is calculated based on the total loan amount.
  • The length of time you're actually in the home before you sell or refinance directly influences the effective interest rate you ultimately get. For example, if you move or refinance after three years instead of 30, after having paid two points at the loan closing, your effective interest rate for the loan is much higher than if you stay for the full loan term.

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