Calculating APR

photo by Scott Maxwell

OppLoans quoted me in How (and Why) to Calculate the APR for a Payday Loan. It reads, in part,

Sure, you may know that taking out a payday loan is generally a bad idea. You’ve heard a horror story or two about something called “rollover”, but if you’re in a jam, you might find yourself considering swinging by the local brick-and-mortar payday loan store or looking for an online payday loan. It’s just a one-time thing, you tell yourself.

It only gets worse from there… Once you start looking at the paperwork or speaking with the sales staff, you see that your payday loan will cost only $15 for every $100 that you borrow. That doesn’t sound that bad. But what’s this other number? This “APR” of 400%? The payday lender tells you not to worry about it. He says, “APR doesn’t matter.”

Well, let’s just interrupt this hypothetical to tell you this… When you’re borrowing money, the APR doesn’t just “matter”, it’s the single most important number you need to know.

APR stands for “annual percentage rate,” and it’s a way to measure how much a loan, credit card, or line of credit is going to cost you. APR is measured on a yearly basis and it is expressed as a percentage of the amount loaned. “By law, APR must include all fees charged by the lender to originate the loan,” says Casey Fleming (@TheLoanGuide), author of The Loan Guide: How to Get the Best Possible Mortgage.

But just because a loan or credit card includes a certain fee or charge, you shouldn’t assume that it’s always going to be included in the APR. Fleming points out that some fees, like title fees on a mortgage, are not considered part of the loan origination process and thus not included in APR calculations.

“Are DMV fees connected with a title loan? Some would say yes, but the law doesn’t specify that they must be included,” says Fleming.

According to David Reiss (@REFinBlog), a professor of law at Brooklyn Law School, “the APR adds in those additional costs and then spreads them out over the term of the loan. As a result, the APR is almost always higher than the interest rate—if it is not, that is a yellow flag that something is amiss with the APR.”

This is why it’s always a good idea to read your loan agreement and ask lots of questions when applying for a loan—any loan.

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Why is the APR for payday loans so high?

According to David Reiss, “The APR takes into account the payment schedule for each loan, so it will account for differences in amortization and the length of the repayment term among different loan products.”

Keep in mind, that the average term length for a payday loan is only 14 days. So when you’re using APR to measure the cost of a payday loan, you are essentially taking the cost of the loan for that two-week period, and you’re assuming that that cost would be applied again every two weeks.

There are a little over 26 two-week periods in a year, so the APR for a 14-day payday loan is basically the finance charges times 26. That’s why payday loans have such a high APR!

But if the average payday loan is only 14 days long, then why would someone want to use APR to measure it’s cost? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to use the stated interest rate? After all, no one who takes out a payday loan plans to have it outstanding over a full year…

Short-term loans with long-term consequences

But here’s the thing about payday loans: many people who use them end up trapped in a long-term cycle of debt. When it comes time for the loan to be repaid, the borrower discovers that they cannot afford to pay it off without negatively affecting the rest of their finances.

Given the choice to pay their loan off on time or fall beyond on their other expenses (for instance: rent, utilities, car payments, groceries), many people choose to roll their loan over or immediately take out a new loan to cover paying off the old one. When people do this, they are effectively increasing their cost of borrowing.

Remember when we said that payday loans don’t amortize? Well, that actually makes the loans costlier. Every time the loan is rolled over or reborrowed, interest is charged at the exact same rate as before. A new payment term means a new finance charge, which means more money spent to borrow the same amount of money.

“As the principal is paid down the cost of the interest declines,” says Casey Fleming. “If you are not making principal payments then your lifetime interest costs will be higher.”

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a whopping 80% of payday loans are the result of rollover or re-borrowing and the average payday loan customer takes out 10 payday loans a year.

Reiss says that “the best way to use APR is make an apples-to-apples comparison between two or more loans. If different loans have different fee structures, such as variations in upfront fees and interest rates, the APRs allow the borrower to compare the total cost of credit for each product.

So the next time you’re considering a payday loan, make sure you calculate its APR. When it comes to predatory payday lending, it’s important to crunch the numbers—before they crunch you!

Negotiating Real Estate Fees

office-negotiationPolicyGenius quoted me in 5 Mortgage Loan Fees and Rates You Should Always Negotiate. It opens,

When it comes to making major purchases or financial decisions, we always hear that mantra, “Everything is negotiable.” You can haggle with the salesman when shopping for a new car, or with the hiring manager at a new job over your starting salary. It’s even possible to negotiate your tuition rates as a college student.

But a lot of the costs associated with buying a house can be difficult to negotiate down, according to mortgage advisor and author Casey Fleming.

“Appraisal, underwriter and processor are chosen by the lender, and the variation in fees is quite small,” he says. “Escrow and title services are typically chosen by the real estate agent of the seller in most areas, so the buyer has little say in what those fees will be.”

There’s also not much way around paying private mortgage insurance — you’ll need no less than a 20% down payment to avoid it.

But, you don’t need to let the non-negotiable items prevent you from bargaining for a better deal on other house-hunting costs. Here are a few fees and costs worth negotiating:

Real estate broker’s fees and commissions

From the outset, consider negotiating your real estate broker’s fees, according to Prof. David Reiss of the Brooklyn Law School, who teaches real estate finance and community development. “If 6% is standard in your community, you can look for brokers who will sell your home for 5% or less,” he says. “Be careful how low to go though, because you want your broker to be motivated enough to sell your property.”

Reiss notes that to gain the most advantage in negotiating their fees, your broker’s listing agreement should outline all the services they’ll provide you regarding advertisements, showing, and the plan in place to buy or sell the property in question.

Mortgage Broker v. Loan Officer

photo by http://401kcalculator.org

MagnifyMoney.com quoted me in Mortgage Broker vs. Loan Officer: The Best Way to Shop for a Mortgage (must scroll down). It opens,

When you need to take out a loan to buy a home, you generally have two options. You can work with a lender’s loan officer or hire a mortgage broker. Loan officers and mortgage brokers are not the same thing, although the terms are often used interchangeably.

Loan officers work for a bank or a lender and will only be able to show you mortgage options from that financial institution. In contrast, mortgage brokers are individuals or firms that are licensed by a state to act as middlemen between you and multiple banks or mortgage lenders. Because brokers aren’t beholden to a particular lender, they can shop around and try to find you a loan with terms that best fit your circumstances.

Why should you consider working with a mortgage broker?

One of the biggest benefits to working with a mortgage broker is that they take over the job of shopping for a loan. You might be able to do this on your own, and in some cases, you could find a better loan than the broker, but it can be a time-consuming and complicated process.

A broker can help collect and organize the documents you need to apply for a mortgage, such as your proof of employment and income, tax returns, a list of your assets and debts, and credit reports and scores. The broker can then use the information to look for loans, compare rates and terms, and apply for mortgages on your behalf.

Casey Fleming, a mortgage adviser and author of “The Loan Guide: How to Get the Best Possible Mortgage,” says one of the big benefits is that brokers are generally “on your side,” while a loan officer represents the lender’s interest. Brokers are also incentivized to find you a loan that meets your needs and see the deal through closing because they don’t get paid until you close on the home.

Additionally, brokers might have access to lenders that don’t work directly with consumers, meaning you wouldn’t be able to get a loan from the lender even if you tried. And in some cases, brokers can leverage their relationship with a lender to get it to waive fees you’d otherwise have to pay.

Are there risks involved with using a mortgage broker?

While working with a broker could be a good idea, there are potential drawbacks to consider. “Not all brokers are created equal,” says Fleming. “Many have only a few sources for loans, and may not be able to find the best pricing.” There are also some mortgage lenders that don’t work with brokers and will only offer loans directly to consumers (through one of the lender’s loan officers).

Using a mortgage broker can also be expensive. Although you may find the services are worth paying for, consider the costs of using a broker:

Mortgage broker fees

Mortgage brokers are often paid in one of two ways. You may be able to choose how you’d like to pay the broker, or opt for both payment methods.

Some mortgage brokers will charge you a commission based on the loan you take out, often about 1% of the loan. For example, that’s a $3,000 fee on a $300,000 mortgage loan. You’ll pay this fee as part of your closing costs when you close on the home.

Other brokers may offer you a fee-free mortgage. However, what likely happens in this case is that the mortgage broker arranges a loan with a higher interest rate, leaving room for the lender to give the broker a cut. This route could cost you more over the lifetime of the loan but might be the better option if you want to minimize costs now.

Where to find a good mortgage broker

“Word of mouth is very useful when it comes to finding a good [mortgage broker],” according to Professor David Reiss, a real estate law professor at the Brooklyn Law School in Brooklyn, N.Y. You could ask friends or family members who’ve recently bought a home if they used a mortgage broker, as well as your real estate agent if he or she can recommend a broker.

However, don’t settle for the first recommendation you receive. The Federal Trade Commission recommends interviewing several brokers and trying to find one who’ll be a good fit for your home search.

Ask about their experience with buyers like you in the area, the fees they charge, and how many lenders they work with. “You want to know whether the mortgage broker can find competitive mortgage products, is well organized so that loans close in a timely manner, and whether it keeps away from bait-and-switch tactics that can be so difficult to deal with when buying a home,” says Reiss.

All About Mortgage Brokers

photo by Day Donaldson

Bankrate.com quoted me in Mortgage Broker — Everything You Need To Know. It opens,

When you need a mortgage to buy or refinance a home, there are 3 main ways to go about applying — through a traditional brick-and-mortar bank, an online lender or a mortgage broker (either in-person or online).

Many people first think about shopping for a mortgage where they already have their checking and savings accounts, which is often a major bank or a local credit union. And applying online with a traditional bank or online-only lender has become more common.

But while borrowers are probably the least familiar with using a mortgage broker, it comes with many benefits.

Here’s everything you need to know about using a mortgage broker. 

Working with a mortgage broker

A mortgage broker connects a borrower with a lender. While that makes them middlemen, there are several reasons why you should consider working with a broker instead of going straight to a lender.

For starters, brokers can shop dozens of lenders to get you the best pricing, says Casey Fleming, author of “The Loan Guide: How to Get the Best Possible Mortgage” and mortgage advisor with C2 Financial Corp. in San Jose, California.

Fleming says the price he charges for certain lenders or banks is very often better than the price a consumer could get by going directly to the same lender.

“When the lender outsources the loan origination and sales function to a broker, they offer to pay us what they would otherwise pay to cover their internal operations for the same function,” Fleming says.

“If we are willing to work for less than that—and that is usually the case—then the consumer’s price through a broker ends up being less than if they went directly to the lender,” he explains.

Further, “A broker is legally required to disclose his compensation in writing — a banker is not,”says Joe Parsons, senior loan officer with PFS Funding in Dublin, California, and author of the “Mortgage Insider blog.”

Variety is another benefit of brokers. It can help you find the right lender.

“Some may specialize in particular property types that others avoid. Some may have more flexibility with credit scores or down payment amounts than others,” says David Reiss, a law professor who specializes in real estate and consumer financial services at Brooklyn Law School in New York and the editor of REFinBlog.com.

In addition, brokers offer one-stop shopping, saving borrowers time and headaches.

“If you are turned down by a bank, you’re done — you have to walk away and begin again,” Fleming says. But “If you are turned down by one lender through a broker, the broker can take your file to another lender,” he adds. The borrower doesn’t need to do any extra work.

A broker’s expertise and relationships can also simplify the process of getting a loan.

Brokers have access to private lenders who can meet with you and assess whether or not you have the collateral, says Mike Arman, a retired longtime mortgage broker in Oak Hill, Florida.

Private lenders, which include nonbank mortgage companies and individuals, can make loans to borrowers in unconventional situations that banks can’t or won’t because of Dodd-Frank regulations or internal policy.

You may get a better price on a loan from a broker as well.

Under the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Loan Originator Compensation rule, brokers (but not bank lenders) must charge the same percentage on every deal, so they can’t raise their margin “just because” like a bank can, Fleming explains.

“The intent was to prevent originators from steering borrowers to high-cost loans in order to increase their commission,” Fleming notes.

You should also know that working with a broker won’t make your loan more expensive.

“The lender pays us, just like a cruise line pays a travel agent,” Fleming says.

Working with a traditional bank lender

Banks issue less than half of mortgages these days, according to the industry publication Inside Mortgage Finance. But working with a broker isn’t necessarily a slam dunk.

“A broker may claim that he offers more choices than a banker because he works with many lenders,” Parsons says. “In reality, most lenders offer pricing on their loans that is very similar.” Although, he notes, a broker may have available some niche lenders for unusual circumstances.

Reiss says that even if you’re working with a mortgage broker, it can be worthwhile to check out lenders on your own since no broker can work with every lender — there are simply too many. He suggests starting with lenders you already have a relationship with, but also looking at ads and reaching out directly to big banks, small banks and credit unions in your community.

It’s important to know your range of options, he notes.

For the same reason, you might want to shop around with a few different brokers.

Can Seniors Get Mortgages? Should They?

photo by Bill Branson

TheStreet.com quoted me in Can Seniors Get Home Mortgages? Should They? It reads, in part,

Senior citizens can and are getting approved for mortgages, and we are not talking reverse mortgages or home equity lines of credit, but – in many cases – 30-year fixed loans. Even when the borrower might be 85 and the actuarial probability of making it to the end of the loan term is nil.

The federal government is blunt: age cannot be used to discriminate against applicants for home loans. Capacity to repay is a factor – for seniors and every other borrower – but a lender cannot turn down an applicant just because he is 65…or 75…or 85. And loans are getting made.

Which raises the other question: is it wise for the borrower? Bankers can take care of themselves, but seniors need to ask: should I be borrowing a lot of money on a house at my age?

In Vancouver, Wash., Dick Kuiper – who said he is “approaching 70,” as is his wife – “just purchased a new home last year and got a 30 year mortgage at just under 3%, and we both believe this was a brilliant move.”

“We first made sure we made a large enough down payment so we would always have positive equity in the home,” Kuiper elaborates. “With that calculated, we looked at the alternatives, either pay in cash – which would naturally come out of our savings – or take out a mortgage. We looked at what we could get by putting the same amount of money into a retirement annuity with a downside guarantee. That annuity pays a minimum of 5% for life and currently is paying in the 8% to 9% range. Do the math. We’d be crazy to pay cash for the house.”

Kuiper’s right. For his wife and him, it made no sense to pay cash for a house – not when mortgage rates are breathtakingly low.

Case closed? Not at all.

Ash Toumayants, founder of financial advisors Strong Tower Associates in State College, Pa., said that in his experience few seniors ever want another mortgage in retirement after they settled up on their first one. “Most are excited when they pay it off and don’t want another one,” Toumayants says.

Another fact: to get a mortgage, a senior has to demonstrate to a lender a capacity to repay. Age cannot be used against a senior, but lack of cashflow can. And many seniors just have sizable trouble qualifying for a mortgage. “The trick is whether they have enough income to qualify or not,” said Casey Fleming, a mortgage expert in Northern California who said that he right now is working on a loan for an 85-year-old client.

Brian Koss, executive vice president of Mortgage Network, an independent mortgage lender in the eastern U.S., elaborated: “For seniors thinking about getting a mortgage, it’s all about income flow. If you have a consistent source of income, and a mortgage payment that fits that income, it makes sense. Something else to consider: if you have income, you have taxes and a need for a tax deduction. With a mortgage, you can write off the interest.”

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But then there is an ugly issue to confront. Is the senior arriving at this purchase decision on his own steam? Brooklyn Law professor David Reiss explained why that needs to be asked. “Seniors should discuss big financial moves with someone whose judgment they trust (and who does not stand to benefit from the decision). Elder financial abuse is rampant.”

Reiss added: “What has changed in their financial profile that is leading them to do this? Is someone – a relative, a new friend – egging them on or leading them through the process?” Reiss is right in the caution, and that’s a concern that has to be satisfied.

Reset Tsunami

Cyclone home

Newsday quoted me in When Home Equity Lines of Credit Reset when your plan resets. It reads,

A decade isn’t really a long time – just ask the millions of homeowners whose 10-year-old home equity lines of credit are resetting.

There are two types of HELOC resets: Variable interest rates can reset, and an interest-only repayment plan can reset to amortize. That means payments will switch to include principal and interest, explains David Reiss, a law professor specializing in real estate at Brooklyn Law School.

Many are in for a shock. If you’ve been making interest-only payments for 10 years, “the switch to amortizing over the compressed 20-year period [remaining on a 30-year loan] can lead to an increase of 100 percent or more,” says Peter Grabel of Luxury Mortgage Corp. in Stamford, Connecticut.

If your HELOC is resetting, know what to expect.

“You will no longer be able to draw on the equity line,” says Casey Fleming, author of “The Loan Guide: How to Get the Best Possible Mortgage.” You’ll have a specific time to pay off the loan.

Consider your goals: “What is your purpose for having a HELOC?” says Ray Rodriguez of TD Bank in Manhattan. That drives the options.

Plan for change: “Prepare for the end of the draw period. Find out what your new payment will be,” says Kevin Murphy of McGraw-Hill Federal Credit Union in Manhattan. Cut expenses to make up for the jump.

Explore options: Consider refinancing your debt into a longer-term fixed-rate loan, suggests Ben Sullivan of Palisades Hudson Financial Group in Scarsdale. Replace the HELOC with a new one, or combine your first mortgage with your HELOC into a new interest-only ARM. Talk to a mortgage counselor.