What Are Loan Points?


Buyers of Palos Verdes homes often ask what a loan point is.  My clients who are refinancing also have the same question.  Here is a very concise explanation provided by a Bank of America loan officer:

What exactly are “points”?  What tax benefits accrue from “points”?  What is the “APR” and in what ways is it important?  And what are the benefits to home sellers who may consider paying a buyer’s “points”?  We look at the basics here, urging you to take your specific questions to your tax advisor, while hoping to help you better formulate those questions.

Traditionally, a “percent” is often expressed as one or more “points.”  Thus, if you pay two percent of the loan amount to originate a loan, you are paying two “points.”  It realy isn’t any more exotic than that.

If the loan is a mortgage, the total origination fee will be a combination of points and fees for services, like the appraisal fee, the escrow fee, the recording fee, and other costs.  If the mortgage is for the purpose of buying a home, known as a “purchase money loan,” then the points are deductible on your tax return for the year in which the home was purchased.  The other fees are not deductible.

Further, points paid on a refinanced mortgage are not fully deductible in the year of the transaction.  Instead, the deduction is spread (or amortized) equally over the full life of the loan.

This raises an important question.  What happens when you refinance a mortgage that has already been refinanced; that is, what happens when you refinance a second or third time?  The points paid for the prior refinanced loan become deductible in the year of the newly refinanced loan.

Points are considered prepaid interest.  They are one part of the overall interest you pay on your loan.  That is why we can deduct them against our ordinary income on our personal tax returns (remembering that the deduction schedule is different, depending on whether the loan is a new purchase money mortgage or a refinanced loan).

Understanding what points actually are and the basics of how they work can open up a world of possiblities.  Consider this: if the stated interest rate on a mortgage is surprisingly low, the lower interest rate may often be counter balanced by higher points.  Thus, one loan may bear an interest rate of 5.5% and another 5.625%.  The first loan obviously looks better than the second – until you look closely at the origination points.  Often the first loan requires slightly higher points, and the difference in the life-of-loan interest costs for each loan could be minimal as a result.

In order to make certain that consumers are aware of the expense that higher points can add to a loan, the government long ago required lenders to provide an “APR” calculation on loan settlement papers.  The Annual Percentage Rate (APR) blends the interest cost of the points and other fees into the potential life-of-loan interest payment, and then provides a new, “adjusted” interest rate that takes into consideration the loan points and associated fees.  This sounds confusing because, frankly, it is.  At best, it provides a way of comparing two loans and seeing which will cost more in the long run.

What makes far more sense is the fact that you can often pay higher points in order to pay down your loan’s interest rate, and make your monthly payment smaller.  You will want to discuss such possibilities with your Mortgage Loan Officer, tax advisor and financial advisor.  You may also want to look at the life-of-loan savings you can create with an accelerated pay-down of your mortgage, adding to each month’s principal payment and thus, if it is a fixed-rate loan, decreasing both the number of years in which you make loan payments or, if it is an adjustable rate mortgage, potentially lowering the monthly payment when the loan adjusts.  In either case, you an lower the life-of-loan interest that you pay.  (Keep in mind that an amortization schedule simply adjusts each payment so that is pays all of the interest owed on the loan balance if paid in monthly payments.  Lower the loan balance by making larger payments to the principal balance of the loan, and you will owe, and pay less interest towards the principal.)

Also worthy of discussion, when you are selling your home, is the possibility of helping the buyer by paying the points on his or her purchase money loan.  Not only is the seller allowed to do this, but the tax deduction for those points can be taken by the homebuyer, which provides a large value incentive for them.  The home not only meets the home buyer’s needs, it also costs less to purchase and decreases the buyer’s tax liability.  Again, be sure to discuss these options with your tax and financial advisors.

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