A mortgage isn't free -- there are fees associated with getting the loan. Those closing costs usually total thousands of dollars. Besides writing a check to pay those fees at the closing table, there's another way to pay them when you refinance your mortgage: by adding them to the loan amount. The result is called a no-closing-cost refinance. Many lenders offer them.
However, you'll probably have to accept a higher interest rate over the life of the loan.
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"There's 2 ways people achieve no-closing-cost mortgages," says Bob Walters, chief economist at mortgage lender Quicken Loans based in Detroit. "The mortgage company will flat-out waive them, which doesn't happen that often. Or, they will present the rate (with) closing costs and if you don't want to pay, you'll take a slightly higher rate."
For example, you may be offered a mortgage at a rate of 3.75% and pay closing costs. Or, you can take a no-closing-costs mortgage at a higher 4.125 % rate.
When it pays off
Closing costs include services such as the loan origination, appraisal and title search fees and title insurance premiums. These costs vary from state to state, but on average the costs have been rising.
According to Bankrate's most recent Closing Costs Survey, the origination and third-party fees on a $200,000 mortgage cost an average of $1,847 in 2015. That's not cheap, but it was down $142 from the previous year.
No-closing-cost mortgages are attractive to borrowers who don't have the cash to pay fees upfront. Waiving the closing costs may be the ticket to getting a mortgage for a new home or a refinance.
If you don't plan to stay in your home for more than 5 years, a no-closing-cost mortgage also makes sense. With a traditional mortgage, it could take more than 5 years to recoup the closing costs.
The slightly higher mortgage rate associated with a no-closing-cost mortgage is still likely to be less expensive over 5 years than what you would pay upfront in closing costs.
"You have to look at the break-even," says Cameron Findlay, chief operating officer for Roseville, California-based Paramount Equity Mortgage.
"Say, for example, you had a loan for a while at 6.5% and are only looking at being in the house for another 4 years. Then, you are probably a good candidate. You don't want to put money down if you are going to be there for 4 years."
Paying a slightly higher interest rate to forgo closing costs may also make sense if you need the cash to do renovations on your home.
When it doesn't pay
Do you plan to stay in your home more than 5 years? If so, a no-closing-cost loan likely will end up costing you more than a loan with closing costs. That's true whether you're taking out a mortgage for a new purchase or refinancing an existing loan.
Typically, you'll break even on your closing costs in a few years. Going with a no-closing-cost loan saddles you with a higher interest rate over the rest of the home loan. That could end up costing you a lot more than the upfront fees if you keep the mortgage for a long time.
Take the hypothetical example of 2 choices for a $150,000 loan. One has a rate of 3.75% with $3,500 in closing costs; the other has a rate of 4.25%, with no closing costs.
Going with the higher-rate, no-closing-cost option runs $43.24 a month more, or $15,567 more over 30 years. In this scenario, it takes 6 years and 9 months to break even and recoup the closing costs via the lower monthly house payments.
"It's not something that every lender will offer, but it doesn't hurt to ask about that option," says Frank Nothaft, the chief economist at CoreLogic, a firm that analyzes real estate and other financial data. "It's up to consumers to decide if the trade-off makes sense."
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