Tag Archives: mortgages

Fannie, Freddie and Ginnie

First time buyers will probably get confused when people start talking about Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Ginnie Mae. Who the heck are these people, and why do they they have a say in what house you can buy? Today’s article is a quick (and vastly oversimplified) overview of who they are and why they exist.

They aren't actually people. You cannot invite them to parties or weddings.

They aren’t actually people. You cannot invite them to parties or weddings.

The story begins back in 1938, at the height of the Great Depression. FDR and his team were trying to come up with ways to encourage the money to start moving around again. They wanted to get people to buy houses, but they had several problems to solve along the way.

Problem: Government-Mandated Limits on Bank Lending

When people don’t have any cash, they need to borrow a lot of money to buy a house. Money doesn’t grow on trees, though, not even trees in the backs of banks. The amount of money a bank can lend is capped at a number that’s in ratio to the amount of money people have deposited there. The exact ratio varies depending on the economy, but there is always a limit. They cannot lend out infinite amounts of money. Back in the 1930’s, with everybody short on funds, the banks were also out of money to lend. Nothing was coming in, so nothing could go out. (more…)

Three Little Pigs Get a Windfall (Or, Mortgage Discount Points FTW)

Once upon a time there were three little pigs. (I’m surprised I haven’t done this in the past year.) The pigs have a grand adventure in store for them involving building supplies and poached wolf, but for today we’re starting at the beginning of their story, and that means it’s math time.

Yay math time!

Yay math time!

They were each sent out into the world to make their fortunes. When it came time to buy housing, their mother gave each of them a surprise gift of $5000 in addition to the money they’d already saved.

Now, let’s say that they’d each saved up the same amount of cash, had similar credit scores, and all bought $300k townhouses in the same development using FHA loans with 3.5% down. (I know that isn’t how the story goes, but I’m not talking about construction materials today.) However, each one chooses to do something different with their $5000 gift from their mother.

Pig #1: $5000 on new appliances.

The youngest pig spent the extra $5000 on new appliances for his kitchen. He got a new Fridge ($1300), a new stove ($1300), and a new washer and dryer ($1200 each). Ten years later when he sells the property he’ll have spent $154837 in debt service on his mortgage. His appliances would be close to the end of their useful lifespans, so they won’t contribute much to the value of his home. In fact, he might have to replace them all again in order to sell the property.

Maybe he got something awesome like this modular stacking refrigerator.

Maybe he got something awesome like this modular stacking refrigerator.

Pig #2: $5000 towards the down payment.

The middle pig was quite content with the appliances that the developer provided, so he chose to add $5000 to his down payment. This lowered the amount that he had to borrow from the bank. When he sells his property ten years later, he’ll have paid $152163 in debt service. This means he’ll have saved $2674 over his younger brother. He’ll still have to replace the appliances before he moves out, but he’ll at least have saved a nice bit towards the cost.

I should note here that given the same 3.44% interest rates on their loans (which happens to be the current national average), it doesn’t matter what the down payment was nor what the cost of the property was. Over 10 years, the savings will always be $2674 if you add $5000 to the down payment.

Ok, so it's a pug, not a pig. Still, if you saved $2674 you'd be saying "neener neener" to your brother too.

Ok, so it’s a pug, not a pig. Still, if you saved $2674 you’d be saying “neener neener” to your brother too.

Pig #3: $5000 towards 1.5 Discount points.

We’ve talked about mortgage discount points before. Basically, for a fee equal to 1% (one “point”) of your loan paid up front, your interest rate lowers by a specific amount, usually 0.25%.

The eldest pig used the $5000 to purchase 1.5 discount points on his mortgage, lowering his rate by 0.375%. His brothers got loans at 3.44%, but he came in at a cushy 3.065%. Over the next ten years he will spend $147686 on his loan, saving $7151 compared to his youngest brother. This means he’ll actually make a profit on his mother’s gift! (Thanks, Mom.) He’ll also have accrued $3055 more in equity on his townhome than his younger brother, meaning he can replace the appliances and still walk away with a nice $5000 in savings.

Needless to say, the eldest pig made the smart move here.

You bet it feels good, little piggy.

You bet it feels good, little piggy.

The moral of the story is that cash at closing can be spent in many different ways, and that bulking up your down payment is not always the best way to go. First time buyers rarely think about mortgage discount points. In fact, residential buyers often don’t consider points at all, unless they are required to pay them in order to get a loan in the first place. However, if you have the cash to spare and today’s already ridiculously low rates aren’t good enough for you, spending some extra dough to push the rate down even further can have a very good effect on your bottom line. Of course, your mileage may vary and you should always run the numbers yourself after a hearty conversation with your lender.

We also learn that an extra $5000 can go a very long way. When saving cash to purchase a home, every bit helps.

See you Monday.

Mistakes on a Plane (or, When Pigs Fly)

Some travel errors could have a far bigger effect on your life than this movie ever did.(image via Wikipedia!)

Some travel errors could have a far bigger effect on your home purchase than this movie ever did.
(image via Wikipedia!)

So as my regular readers know, (Hi Mom! Hi Dad!) I recently took a vacation to California. A splendid time was had by all and I’m feeling nice and refreshed. However, I did have to spend quite a bit of time in airports and on planes, and couldn’t help but notice all of the potential hazards that await a prospective home buyer who’s trying to save for a down payment and get a loan. Since I know a lot of you will soon be traveling through the holidays, I figured a few warnings might be of use so that you don’t return from your trip to a nasty surprise.

Protect your savings (more…)

Six Homes, One Payment

It’s been a while since I’ve gone and done some real math for you guys. Let’s fix that. It’s easy to look at the sale price of a home and have that be the deciding factor on what sort of house you buy. However, your monthly payment is what will dictate if you can stay in that house once its yours. Today we’re going to calculate the average affordable monthly payment for a Chicago homeowner, and look at six different types of homes they could afford with wildly different purchase prices.

Step 1: Establish the monthly payment.

We’ve used the American Housing Survey (AHS) data from 2009 before. It’s a little dated at this point but it’s the only trustworthy survey that has numbers for the City of Chicago. Within that survey we discover that the median income for a Chicago Homeowner’s Household was $56,200 per month. Divide that by twelve months and you get a monthly income of $4683.

Many lenders use 33% as the percentage of your income that should go towards housing costs. For today, we’ll consider those housing costs to include your mortgage, your property taxes, your homeowner’s insurance, assessments, and utility bills. 33 percent of $4683 is just over $1545, which is the number we’ll shoot for.

Step 2: Determine some scenarios.

For this exercise I wanted six different scenarios, all for the same monthly payment. I chose three single family home options and three condo/co-op options.

  • A 5 bedroom single family home in Austin
  • A 3 bedroom single family home in Lakeview
  • A 3 bedroom LEED-certified single family home in North Center
  • A 1 bedroom condo in a high rise building with doorman & pool in the Gold Coast
  • A 2 bedroom condo in a vintage courtyard building in Lincoln Park
  • A 2 bedroom condo in a small co-op in Lakeview

Step 3: Source some utility, insurance and property tax rates.

For utility rates I went back to the same AHS data. I discovered that on the low end a homeowner would pay about $115. The median was about $350 and the high end would be way up around $700 per month for a big drafty house with a deluxe cable package and super fat internet bandwidth.

For the monthly insurance I used a ballpark figure that insurance would be the sale price divided by 3500.

Property tax numbers were sourced from actual listed 2011 taxes for properties similar to the ones I’m describing that have sold within the past four months in Chicago.

For all purchases I’m assuming an interest rate of 3.5% (the current national average on BankRate.com) except for the co-op, as those tend to be tougher to fund. For the co-op I’m using an interest rate of 3.625%. I’m also assuming a down payment of 20% of the purchase price. If you’d like to play with the interest rate, down payment and other financing aspects, you can check out the mortgage scenario calculator I wrote a few months ago.

The monthly homeownership cost consists of many smaller pieces.

Step 4: I do math for you.

The first scenario is the big single family home in Austin. This area has low property taxes but high insurance rates. Since it’s a big, old house the utility usage is about as high as it can possibly get.

5 bedroom Single Family Home in Austin
Monthly Property Tax Escrow $125.00
Monthly Homeowner’s Insurance Premium $80.87
Monthly Utilities (Heat, Power, Stove, Water, Cable) $700.00
Monthly Mortgage Principal & Interest $636.29
Total Monthly Payment  $1,542.16
Initial Loan Balance  $139,521.58
Maximum Home Price  $174,401.98

The next scenario is for a smaller single family home in Lakeview. Property taxes are much higher here than they are out in Austin, as are list prices. However, the insurance premiums would be a little lower here and for the smaller house it would cost much less in terms of utility bills.

3 bedroom Single Family Home in Lakeview
Monthly Property Tax Escrow $750.00
Monthly Homeowner’s Insurance Premium $32.88
Monthly Utilities (Heat, Power, Stove, Water, Cable) $350.00
Monthly Mortgage Principal & Interest $405.00
Total Monthly Payment $1537.88
Initial Loan Balance $90,191.47
Maximum Home Price $112,739.34

So, moving in from Austin to Lakeview means you can afford $61,000 less house if you want to keep your monthly payment consistent. Now, what if we scaled back our neighborhood choice to something nice but not outrageous in terms of property tax, and cut back those utility bills with a LEED-certified Green home?

3 bedroom LEED Certified Single Family Home in North Center
Monthly Property Tax Escrow $350.00
Monthly Homeowner’s Insurance Premium $80.57
Monthly Utilities (Heat, Power, Stove, Water, Cable) $115.00
Monthly Mortgage Principal & Interest $992.43
Total Monthly Payment $1538.00
Initial Loan Balance $220,982.46
Maximum Home Price $276,228.08

So moving just a few blocks north from Lakeview to NorthCenter and focusing your search on green homes can more than double how far your monthly budget will stretch for the same size house. Pretty cool.

Now what about condos and co-ops? Our first condo is a little one bedroom in a building full of amenities. Let’s figure that the building has a full-time doorman, an exercise room, party room, roof deck, elevators, business center, receiving room and a dry-cleaners on site. These buildings tend to include most of your utilities, and the insurance premiums are really low. The assessments, however can be quite pricey. The number I’ve chosen for assessments in this case is far from the lowest in the Gold Coast area, but leaves at least a little room for a mortgage payment on top.

1 bedroom Condo in Amenity High Rise, Gold Coast
Monthly Property Tax Escrow $183.33
Monthly Homeowner’s Insurance Premium $25.78
Monthly Utilities (Power, Cable) $115.00
Monthly Condo Assessment $900.00
Monthly Mortgage Principal & Interest $320.89
Total Monthly Payment $1,541.61
Initial Loan Balance $70,705.66
Maximum Home Price $88,382.08

Wow. What a difference those assessments made. But not all condo buildings have ridiculously expensive monthly dues. In fact, the median condo assessment in Chicago according to the AHS was $325. A big condo in a smaller development will have higher property taxes, but much lower condo fees.

2 bedroom condo in small development in Lincoln Park
Monthly Property Tax Escrow $487.38
Monthly Homeowner’s Insurance Premium $41.33
Monthly Utilities (Heat, Power, Stove, Cable) $350.00
Monthly Condo Assessment $150.00
Monthly Mortgage Principal & Interest $517.03
Total Monthly Payment $1545.75
Initial Loan Balance $113,371.02
Maximum Home Price $141,713.78

So. Suddenly another $50k to spend. Kinda neat, don’t you think?

Now, I’ve been neglecting co-ops and one of my clients yelled at me for doing so lately, so I’m going to make a point to include them more. So, our last option is a co-op. Because the co-op pays taxes as a single entity, your property taxes in this case would be rolled into your monthly payment. However, since many major lenders won’t finance purchases in co-ops you’d have to settle for a higher interest rate than normal on your loan. Your insurance premiums would also be higher, as many insurers avoid writing policies on co-ops. In this case I’ve chosen a real co-op that includes heat, water and cable in the monthly membership fee. I should note though that the listed amount of $548.80 is on the lower end for a co-op monthly payment.

2 bedroom in Modestly Priced Lakeview Co-Op
Monthly Property Tax Escrow $0.00
Monthly Homeowner’s Insurance Premium $80.57
Monthly Utilities (Power, Stove Gas) $115.00
Monthly Co-op Membership, Incl. Taxes & Remaining Utilities $548.80
Monthly Mortgage Principal & Interest $781.00
Total Monthly Payment $1527.47
Initial Loan Balance $171,252.66
Maximum Home Price $214,065.83

So Why Do We Focus on Price?

So with six wildly different prices all leading to the same monthly payment, why do we talk about price at all? Well, while there’s a massive gap between the low end and the high end of buying power outlined above, we do need to consider what’s realistic in the areas I specified. While the last two condo prices are within range of a short sale, the other four are pretty much non-existent in the neighborhoods I chose unless you’re a cash buyer working the foreclosure market. You can muck about with the assorted components of the monthly payment all you like, but if you can’t afford to purchase the property in the first place it’s all academic.

The point of all of this isn’t to say that the price should be totally neglected. Rather, it hopefully will serve to give you an understanding of how lifestyle choices can affect your buying power. After all, if you knew that your choice to live in a high rise was going to knock $125.6k off of your price point, would you still want all of those amenities? If going for a new, green home could more than double the amount of house you can afford, would you still want that lovely old Victorian?

On the other hand, if you’re comparing the monthly cost of owning a home with the cost of renting, it is worthwhile to consider the whole scenario. The monthly rent for most of these properties would be between $1800 and $2400 per month and you’d still have to pay utilities on top.

This Friday we’ll have a guest post for the landlords. I’ll see you guys Monday.

Assessing the Association

I was recently talking with a first time buyer about the assorted contingencies that she’ll have to fall back on if she puts in an offer on a property. For those of you not accustomed to real estate lingo, contingencies can be thought of as “escape routes” – they’re reasons you can use to get out of your purchase contract. If you’re working off of a standard Chicago area housing contract to purchase a condo, you’ll usually be able to use the following reasons to get out of your purchase contract:

  • Inspection contingency (Major problems with the property found by a licensed home inspector)
  • Lawyer review contingency (Problems in the purchase contract language)
  • Home sale contingency (If you have to sell your current home first before you can buy a new one)
  • Loan contingency (No loan, no property.)
  • Condo association contingency (Problems with the bylaws or financial status of the condo association.)

Plane image adapted from a United Airlines safety card. Thank you for flying CondoAir.

I mentioned that buyers often do not see the bylaws, financial statements and meeting minutes of a condo association until just a few days before closing.

“Isn’t that really late in the game to be finding out that kind of information?” she asked. “Shouldn’t you know the financial health of the association before you make an offer?”

(more…)

9 Experts Every Home Buyer Should Have On Their Team – Part II

Real Estate wasn’t the first industry to require a 9-person team.

On Wednesday I covered the first five experts that most buyers will need to have lined up before they start looking for a home. They were the credit counselor, the lender, the Realtor, the wingman and the handyman. Between those five you should be able to get from day one of your search to a signed contract to purchase a home. However, it’s a long way from a signed contract to the day you move in, and there’s still a lot of ground to cover. Let’s look at who’s involved in the second half of your purchase.

6. Attorney

Once you sign a purchase contract, your Realtor can’t touch it anymore. Unless your Realtor is also a licensed attorney, they are not allowed to write legal documentation or provide you with legal advice. Therefore, once you and the seller sign on the dotted line it’s all in the hands of your lawyer and your lender. Your Realtor may be able to nudge them along in order to meet certain deadlines, but he/she cannot take any direct action from that point forward.

Your attorney is your lifeline if things go south once you’re under contract. They will be the ones to help you terminate the deal if something is discovered in the inspection or in the condo documentation that you don’t want to deal with. They’ll review the agreement and look for any weird clauses. Postal workers and meter readers generally have the right to walk on your land, but some homes allow other people to cross their borders. Your attorney will make sure nobody else has a claim to the property and notify you as to who has a right to enter your property after you buy it.

7. Inspector

You don’t have to have your home inspected before you buy it. Personally, unless you’re planning on tearing the property down and rebuilding, I really recommend that you get an inspection. Housing inspectors can alert you to appliances that are about to fail, structural issues that could cost you a lot of money, and identify signs of pest infestations. They are also able to alert you to potential fire hazards and environmental issues that could endanger you and your family.

Even – or, I should say especially – in the case of an “as-is” purchase where the seller will not do anything to resolve issues with the property, it’s still important to know what you will need to pay to repair early on in the game.

8. Insurance Agent

If you’re buying a single family in Chicago you will need to provide proof of a homeowner’s insurance policy in order to close. If you’re buying any type of property with a loan you will need to have insurance. If you’re planning to escrow your property tax payments instead of paying them direct to the county twice a year, your lender may require you to escrow your insurance payments too.

Buyers considering properties in multiple neighborhoods may want to consult with an insurance agent before you make an offer. Some policies may be affected quite drastically by such elements as the age and construction material of the property, its proximity to a fire station, and the crime rates in the immediate vicinity. If you’re buying at the top end of your monthly budget, the cost of your insurance premiums is definitely a valid concern.

Either way, once you’re under contract you don’t want to forget that you need to purchase insurance before you get to the closing table, and provide proof of purchase to your lender.

9. Movers

I have seen any number of high end buyers spend months fussing and fuming over their choice of home, and then hire any old moving company off of Craigslist to handle their furniture. Your movers will determine if your first day in your new home is a pleasant or miserable. Take some time to shop around. If you’re moving into a condo building make sure that you check on the building’s moving policies. Do they require entry through the rear? Is there a service elevator? Do they allow weekend moves? How about time of day, do you have to reserve an elevator? Can you move in after 5pm? Will your movers have to carry your stuff up the stairs? Outdoors? Where can they park the truck? Is there an alley?

You definitely want to find movers who are insured, experienced, and familiar with Chicago. I’ve seen moves delayed when drivers didn’t realize how low the CTA and Metra bridges are on the north side. I’ve seen movers get frustrated with trying to get sofas up a stairwell and abandon them halfway up. I have also seen a truly effective team that cleared 3/4 of a two bedroom apartment while I was showing it. Buyers who’ve just purchased a new home are usually not in a position to pick up a whole bunch of new furniture as well. Make sure your crew can handle your stuff properly.

The Economic Implications

This belongs here because I say it does.

I would be remiss to not end this two-article essay with a little social commentary. As many as 9 people may need to lend their expertise in order to get you into your new house. I didn’t even touch on some of the high end specialists like interior designers and feng shui consultants. Many of the experts who work in these fields are independent contractors or entrepreneurs. Couple this with all of the people who are assisting the seller – agents, attorneys, staging experts, photographers and more – and you begin to see why the housing market and the economy are so tightly linked.

Regardless of how your politics fall, the single most important way you can affect the economy is to get involved in the housing market. Even a small purchase helps to boost the smallest business owners in a way that very few other purchases can do. The only other two things you can do to cause an equally large effect on so many incomes are to get married or have a child – I have to say, homeownership has the lowest entry cost and the easiest exit strategy of the three options.

Did I miss someone? Do you think I went overboard with my team recommendations? Let me know if the comments. I’ll be back on Monday with a return to investigating eviction statistics in Chicago.

9 Experts Every Home Buyer Should Have On Their Team – Part I

Real Estate wasn’t the first industry to require a 9-person team.

First time buyers tend to focus entirely on their choice of Realtor when it comes to choosing the associates that you’ll work with over the course of the purchase and moving process. It’s their general hope that a Realtor will be sufficiently well-connected to hook them up with all the other experts that they will need to get the job done right. This is potentially true.

However, no Realtor can know every expert in every area, and very few can know precisely what issues will arise during the course of your particular search. While your Realtor may be able to make some very solid recommendations for these 10 roles, your personality type and learning style may demand someone outside of their sphere. As is always the case here at StrawStickStone, I recommend doing some research on your own to find the team members that are best at making you feel comfortable with the process.

1. Credit Counselor.

If you’re like most of the renters out there, your credit is not in the best condition. You’ll need a credit score in the high 600 range to even be considered for a loan, and in the low to mid 700’s to get a prime interest rate. According to Andrew Ross, the NYU professor who recently wrote the controversial “Are Student Loans Immoral” for Newsweek’s DailyBeast.com, 41% of the college class of 2005 is already delinquent or in default on their student loans. These former students are now in their late 20’s, what used to be prime position for becoming first time buyers. They will need help.

(more…)

Making It Your Own vs Just Owning

Today: Extreme home decorating, TRON style! (Just kidding. Well, about the TRON bit, at least.)

I used to work in Chicago’s ample theatre scene for several years before I got into real estate. In fact, theatre is what brought me out here – I started my Chicago tenure with a year-long stage management internship at Steppenwolf in the late 90’s. The best introduction to this article that I can think of involves reaches back to those days for the story of a set designer who was pretty well known in Chicago for her adventurous scenery endeavors.

Normally when a set designer first visits a performance space he or she will take measurements of the existing dimensions so that they can create a set that will fit on the existing stage. This is logical. The designer I’m speaking of would walk into the theatre with her plans already fixed in her mind and start her assessment of the space with “okay, first off we’ll need to knock out the back wall of the building.” Most of the time she was quite serious about this opening volley and would have to be negotiated down to something that left the masonry reasonably intact.

Oddly enough, her sets wound up being the most creative and best suited to the scripts they surrounded than any of the others I’ve seen to date.

So what does this have to do with the real estate market?

(more…)

Landlords in Distress

This boarded up foreclosure in West Garfield Park probably meant more evictions than a week of landlord-tenant cases at the county courthouse. (Photo by Garin Flowers/ Medill News)

A few months ago I did a series of articles on the statistics of Chicago Evictions. However, those articles focused only on tenants with past due balances, omitting the other primary source of evictions. It isn’t always the tenant who falls behind. A landlord in debt to her mortgage lender can put every tenant in her building at risk of eviction if she falls behind on her loan payments. Today I’m investigating landlords to see if there’s any specific risk profile that is a worst-case-scenario for foreclosure, and if landlords are any better than their tenants at making payments on time.

The answers, if you’re curious, are Yes and No.

(more…)

The StrawStickStone Mortgage Scenario Analysis Calculator

This is my new favorite entry EVER.

Let's Play!

I've spent the past week explaining why it's so important to do serious comparison shopping and saving up before you apply for a loan. On Monday we investigated how you could save up to 35% over the life of your loan by working with discount points and down payments. On Wednesday I used a salad dressing analogy to explain APR and how it affects your bottom line. For today I've gone back to my nerdy coding roots and have made a pretty hefty calculator so you can play with the numbers yourself.

(more…)

Balsamic Vinaigrette, Buttermilk Ranch & Your Mortgage.

So I was at McDonald’s today. (Bring it on, indignant foodie brigade! You’ll pry my french fries out of my cold, greasy, dead hands.) I was confronted at the palais de graisses saturées with the “Under 400 calorie” menu that they’ve rolled out to go with the 2012 London Olympics. A copy is below in case you’ve not sullied yourself with such things lately.

The McDonald’s “Under 400 Calorie” menu. This will make sense in a moment. Click to super-size me.

It was the salads that caught my eye. Maybe not for dinner, but for the purposes of explaining this article. Because salads – or rather, salad dressings – make a wonderful analogy for explaining APR and interest rates.

Salads are Kind of Complicated.

So, you get your basic side salad and it’s 20 calories. You nibble, you gain very little weight, you feel full, end of story. But a salad of just iceberg lettuce, cucumber slices and a couple of cherry tomatoes won’t get you featured in Time Out Magazine. People start getting creative. The good folks over at “Cooking Light” explain in a nifty slideshow how a restaurant salad can quickly rack up over 1500 calories, not to mention the fat & sodium involved. The more stuff you put on your salad, the more time you’ll have to spend at the gym later to work it off. But it’s so easy when you’re ordering the salad to say, “OK, I can have these croutons now, it’s no big deal.”

We’ve been doing this for so long that it’s become a cliché – “a minute on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.”

If you’re working with a weight loss deadline – say, swimsuit season or trying to squeeze into a fancy halloween costume – suddenly the amount of exercise you’ll have to do to neutralize the ranch dressing gets compressed into a far shorter time period. 500 extra calories is a lot harder to work off in a week than slowly over a few months. You start giving some thought to your order. Hold off on the croutons, swap out the buttermilk ranch dressing for a low-cal balsamic vinaigrette.

From Our Lettuce to Your Cabbage.

So when you go to buy money from a bank or a mortgage broker, you’re faced with a situation very similar to ordering a salad. Every lender will offer you a different base interest rate – that’s like every restaurant offering you a different combination of vegetables on a bare, undressed salad. Some banks will be small local ones, others big national ones, just like some salads are organic & locally grown while others are covered in pesticide & imported from Mexico. It’s your choice as to which way you want to go.

Beyond the basic lettuce, though, there’s all of the extras consider. When dealing with salad, you’re talking about dressings, croutons, and maybe those tasty little sesame sticks. In the case of the other green stuff – borrowed money – it’s all of the lender’s assorted fees & commissions. And in the lending world, all of that stuff found in the difference between the interest rate and the APR.

Lenders charge to give you a loan. They are selling money. They have to turn a profit. They may say it’s a “no-fee” loan up front to get you talking to them, but the fees may actually be wrapped up in your monthly payments instead. The government has recently started requiring restaurants to disclose the calorie content of their dishes. Similarly, the Truth in Lending act requires lenders to disclose any hidden fees that you will be required to pay, either at closing or folded in.

I’ll give you an example.

This image brought to you by lots of pounding on Excel very late at night.

That chart above explains it nicely. But there’s a problem. See, the APR they disclose to you is based on the thought that you’ll be in the place for the entire life of the loan. Most people are not planning on staying in their home for 30 years even though they get a 30 year mortgage. So while it’s all well and good that the banks are disclosing their APRs to us, it doesn’t really matter if you’re planning on taking off much earlier.

Shorter-Term Loans are Kinda Complicated, Too.

Remember when I started talking about dieting on a deadline up above? That’s coming back now. Just like that 1500 calorie salad is a lot more of a challenge if you’re trying to drop 20 pounds in a short time, the actual APR that you would be taking on will be much higher than the quoted amount of you’re planning on paying off the loan in, say, 7 years.

You’re still borrowing $50k plus $2k in finance charges. You’re still going to have to work off those extra calories – the finance fee salad dressing, if you will – but you’ll have less time to do it. Remember, you still have a loan for $50,000 at 3% interest. But with the finance fees included you’re suddenly paying off the balance plus the fees in a shorter amount of time. $2000 spread out over 84 months is a lot tougher than $2000 over 360 months.

Let’s take a look at what the real APR would be for someone who leaves after 7 years. I’ve done another handy chart below.

If you’re planning on staying for a short time, the quoted APR that the bank has to give you will not mean a whole lot. This chart explains why.

In Monday’s article, the savings from paying discount points and a higher down payment at closing increased with a longer stay in the property, from 9% after 5 years to 35% over the life of the loan. This is also true for APR. The longer you stay, more fully distributed those fees will become, and the closer your real-life APR will get to the numbers quoted by your lender. It will take you less time to get to your break-even point.

Wrapping it Up to Go.

It’s best if you can find a mortgage broker with no difference between the actual interest rate and the APR. However, if the best interest rates you get are quoted by lenders that are going to charge you fees, make sure you calculate your own actual APR or talk with your Realtor, accountant or a neutral and mathematically gifted individual to figure out if the cost in fees will be more than the difference in quoted rates.

Let’s look at another handy chart to help explain what I mean.

Don’t get all excited about a low interest rate if you’re going to be paying through the nose in financing fees. Give some thought to how long you’re planning on keeping the property before you start shopping for a loan.

So next time you see APR don’t be confused and don’t mentally check out of the conversation. Lenders are going to rely on you being both a) confused by the term and b) too ashamed to ask what it means. For a high-cost lender to voluntarily explain APR to you in a clear manner would be shooting themselves in the foot. Just remember when the term comes up that it’s like figuring out what to get on your salad. High APR is like high-fat dressing. The best thing for your financial health is to stay away from the extras and find the most basic, low-fat loan you possibly can.

(Aren’t you proud of me? I made it all the way through that without a single “bacon bits” pun!)