Mortgage Closing Costs: What is Real and What is Junk?

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The easy, general rule is that legitimate expenses all have easily understood explanations in plain english, they are all for specific services, and if they are performed by third parties, there are associated invoices or receipts that you can see.



Let's haul out the Mortgage Loan Disclosure Statement, and go right down them line by line. Now, to be certain, it's the HUD 1 form that's really definitive, but if it's not on the earlier form it shouldn't be on the HUD 1.



Origination is not a junk fee. It can be excessive, but it is a real fee to pay a real service. Relating to this is Yield Spread on the HUD 1, which is what the lender will pay the broker for a loan on given terms. Origination plus yield spread plus line 808 (Mortgage Broker Commission) is what the loan provider makes if they are a broker. If they're a lender, they make a lot more, and they can hide it more easily. Yield Spread and Origination and Broker's Commission are disclosed on the HUD 1, while the price on the secondary market is not disclosed anywhere, and if you're talking to a direct lender, they don't have to disclose Origination or Yield Spread because there (usually) isn't any; they are paid directly off the premium the loan sells for in the secondary market. This is why I keep telling people to shop for loans based upon the terms to you. If you evaluate it on the basis of loan provider's compensation, a broker who has to disclose compensation of $4000 is going to look like a worse bargain that the direct lender who does not apparently make anything but turns around and sells your loan for a $25,000 premium. In this example, the broker's loan is likely to be about a point and a half to two points cheaper to you, but if you evaluate it on the basis of who has to tell you how much they make, you lose.



Loan Discount Fee is the fee you pay in order to get an interest rate lower than you would otherwise be offered. It is not junk, but you probably don't want to pay it, as most folks never recover the money they pay to get the lower rate via the lower payments and interest rate charges. I never pay discount points for anything except a 30 year fixed rate loan that I'm going to keep at least ten years.



Appraisal Fee is not junk. There is an appraiser who needs to get paid for doing the appraisal. Many times this gets marked PFC on the MLDS/GFE, to make it look like a given loan provider is cheaper than they are. Make no mistake, there's going to be a figure in the range of $400 associated with it eventually, but because it's performed by a third party, the loan provider can (and often does) pretend it doesn't exist as part of the charges until you have to pay it.



Credit Report is not junk. It's not free to run credit, you know.



Lender's Inspection Fee is usually (not always) junk. You're paying the appraiser. If you're smart, you're paying a building inspector before you buy, and the lender usually makes you do it even if you don't want to. Every once in a while, there's a home with a documented pest or structural problem that the owner wants to refinance, and that's where this comes in as non-junk.



Mortgage Broker Commission/Fee: Is all a part of how the broker gets paid. Around here it's origination and yield spread, but this could be part of what a broker gets paid. Origination plus Yield Spread plus this line is the total of what they get paid. If these are larger at closing than when you signed up, that's par for the course most places, unless they guaranteed their fees up front in writing. I do it. I know one other company that does it. Those who are members of Upfront Mortgage Brokers guarantee the total of the items that are their fees, but not the rest of the form. For anyone else, they can and most will change the numbers on these forms within very broad limits (and to illustrate with an example someone recently brought into my office, the difference between one quarter of a point and three points on a $450,000 loan is over $12,000).



Tax Service Fee is not junk, unfortunately.



Processing fee is not junk but it may be negotiable. When it's imposed by the lender, it's not. When it's imposed by the broker, it's to pay the loan processor, which may be negotiated sometimes. It is a real fee, however.



Underwriting fee is real. Lenders charge it to cover paying the underwriters.



Wire Transfer Fee is real, because it costs money to wire money. If you don't need it, don't get it.



Prepaid Interest (line 901) is definitely not junk. This is interest, exactly the same as you're going to pay every month of your loan.



Mortgage Insurance Premium is not junk but is avoidable.



Hazard Insurance premiums are not junk, either. This money is to put a policy of homeowner's insurance (or renew an existing policy) on the property.



County property taxes are not junk, either. Rats. If you buy during certain periods of the year (e.g. April through June in California), you'll need to reimburse your seller for property taxes they already paid.



VA Funding fee is charged by the VA on VA loans only. Not junk, but if it's not VA, it doesn't have this. As I remember, if you're 10% or more disabled this can get waived.



Reserves deposited with lender are not junk, either. They will be used to pay your fees as they become due.



Title charges: Settlement or Closing Escrow Fee is a real charge to pay the escrow company. Like Appraisal fee, this is often marked PFC, but something like $500 plus $1 per thousand dollars is common.



Document Preparation Fee is mostly real, and actually the lenders do most of it these days. When the title or escrow company need to do it, they will charge fairly steep rates (I've seen $200 for a single sheet document), but you are kind of a captive audience unless you discuss it beforehand.



Notary Fee is to pay the Notary. It's real. It often falls into the PFC trap, previously discussed for Appraisals and Escrow, but you really do need this stuff notarized. Sometimes you can save some money by finding a less expensive notary, but this can bring up other issues, like getting everyone to the same place at the same time.



Title Insurance is real. If it's a purchase, there will actually be two policies of title insurance purchased, one for the new owner and one for the lender. This insures against unknown defects in the title of your property, and yes, title claims happen every day. Lenders won't lend without one. Title insurance is another one of those third party fees that gets marked PFC so that less scrupulous loan officers can appear to be less expensive than their competition.



I'm going to mention subescrow fees here, even though they aren't preset onto the form, and are not only junk but also avoidable if your agent did their job. The title company charges them because they are usually asked to do work that is, properly speaking, the realm of the escrow company. But if you choose a title company and escrow firm with common ownership, they will likely be waived.



Government Recording and Transfer Charges are not junk. They are charged by the county, and they are not avoidable, nor should you want to. Recording fees and tax stamps (if applicable) are just part of the cost of doing business. Beware of one provider pretending it doesn't exist while another honestly discloses it.



Additional Settlement Charges. Pest Inspection is the only one on the form, and it is not junk. You want a pest inspection.



Now, you'll notice that of the permanently etched items on the form, there's not a lot of junk, but everybody keeps talking about high junk fees. What are these, and where are they?



Well, some of the things that people talk about as junk fees aren't junk fees. These are fees like Appraisal fee, escrow, credit report, notary, etcetera. These are, incidentally, half or more of the closing costs for most loans. They may have been hidden from you on the initial form, but they're not junk. They are essential parts of the process, and if you don't see explicit dollar values associated with them, somebody is trying to lie about their fees by not telling you about all of them.



Nonetheless things that really are junk fees are a real problem, but the reason they're not among those listed on the form is that the items listed on the form are mostly real. It's the extra stuff that gets written into the extra lines that you've got to watch out for. It is fine and legitimate for a loan officer to write "Total of lenders fees $995" or whatever it is. On the HUD 1, these should be broken out into separate charges, but this way the loan officer only has to remember one number. As long as they add up correctly, no harm and no foul, and it doesn't make any difference to you whether it's underwriting or spa visits for the CEO, it's part of doing business with that lender. What is probably not legitimate is to start writing all kinds of other fees. Miscellaneous fees. Packaging fees. Marketing fees. Legitimate Messenger fees should be something you know about because you need them at the time they happen. But the majority of messenger fees are the title/escrow company trying to get you to pay for daily courier runs that happen anyway. If you choose the right title/escrow combination, you should be able to avoid them in most cases.



It is also a common misconception that all junk fees are lenders junk fees. I don't impose junk fees on my clients, but even coming into situations other loan officers have left behind, title companies and escrow companies, in general, appear to impose about an equal amount in junk fees with most loan providers.



Caveat Emptor.

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on April 12, 2007 10:00 AM.

Real Loans for Real People April 11, 2007 was the previous entry in this blog.

Virtues of the US Real Estate Loan Market is the next entry in this blog.

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