What’s a Basis Point and How Will It Impact My Mortgage?

Gentle Readers,

You’ll recall that I want to buy a small place of my own, but that I have a lot of learning to do in the meantime. I understand how mortgages work in general, but a term I didn’t fully understand is Basis Point.

Mortgages are simple.

They are loans that are supported by collateral, ie the building you live in. You don’t make the proper payments, and your home can be returned to the mortgage lender. Your right to “your” home is conditional while there is a mortgage outstanding. Not a good look for you since you would prefer to remain living in the home. The lender makes money off of the loan itself through origination fees and interest payments. The lower the mortgage rate, the lower the cost of the loan for you. There are other parts of the mortgage, ie taxes and insurance, but I’m not going to write about those today.

There are a range of available down payments that are based on percentages of the total house and land value. It used to be standard for a buyer to pay in cash 20% of the value of the home. That standard is less likely these days. Some down payments are 3.5% of the home’s value or lower. I hope to do a 10% down payment for a home that is less than $170,000. My down payment would be $17,000 plus or minus some fees and my mortgage would be for $153,000. When I look at Bankrate’s Mortgage Calculator for those terms with today’s interest rates (3.39%), I would expect to pay $677.68 monthly for 360 months. Roughly equivalent to my current rent, which is why it is the top end of what I’d like to pay. I would actually prefer to pay much less.

Most lenders and buyers will agree to a 15 or 30 year term. That means, if you pay the stated amount every month for 30 years, the mortgage and associated payments will be completely paid off. You’ll actually own the home and not have the risk of a foreclosure from the lender. You will have satisfied the condition of the loan.

The interest rate on your mortgage determines how much you will pay in the long run. A higher interest rate means that the cost of borrowing that money will be greater for you. People with less than stellar credit are penalized by these higher interest rates, because lenders consider them less likely to fulfill their payment obligations. This means you have some control over how much you pay for your house. If you increase your credit score, you will look like less of a risk to lenders.  The less-risky version of you will have a lower interest rate and pay less.

All of that makes sense to me.

Basis Points are strange to me.

I know they exist, but I don’t understand what they have to do with my life. When I googled Basis Point, I got the following result:

“In addition to the interest rate, the lender could also charge you points and additional loan costs. Each point is one percent of the financed amount and is financed along with the principal.”

And also this definition:

“A basis point is a unit of measure used in finance to describe the percentage change  in the value or rate of a financial instrument . One basis point is equivalent to 0.01% (1/100th of a percent) or 0.0001 in decimal form. In most cases, it refers to changes in interest rates and bond yields.”

Why are mortgages stated this way? Why have an interest rate of 3.375% plus the ability to buy basis points? Why not just state the entire interest rate in one blow? It seems unnecessarily complicated to me.

One example I found explains that a way average consumers encounter basis points is during the lock-in period for a mortgage with your loan officer. She guarantees a certain rate at closing, which will be sometime in the near future, but not today. You are charged 50 basis points to lock in the rate. That is you are charged one-half of 1 percent of your mortgage loan balance to guarantee the interest rate you agreed upon. To me, it looks like an interest rate of 3.50% with fifty basis points ends up being a interest rate of 4.0.%. Am I wrong?

It also looks like a basis point can be known as a discount point. A discount point is a way to pay for a lower interest rate. I don’t really understand how this is different from a higher down payment, even with the following explanation.

“Discount points are a form of prepaid interest by which you pay the bank an upfront fee in exchange for it lowering the rate. The amount you can cut your loan’s rate will vary depending on how many points you pay and on how your bank underwrites it, but assuming that paying one point, or 1 percent of the loan’s balance, will lower the rate by 25 basis points.”

What do you wish you understood about basis points before securing your first mortgage? Is my understanding, or lack of understanding, off?