Down Payment At Purchase or Wait Until Later?
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do I make a big down payment on a home or should make a lump sum payment after the mortgage
It's very hard to construct a scenario where using it as "purchase money" doesn't come out ahead. Not to say it can't be done, but it's highly unusual.
Here's the basic rule: You're allowed tax deductibility of the acquisition indebtedness, amortized, plus up to a $100,000 Home Equity Loan. For many years, the universal practice has been to deduct all of the interest on a "cash out" loan even though it's not permitted by a strict reading of the rules. That is now changing, and the IRS has served notice that they are going to be scrutinizing mortgage indebtedness to compare it to acquisition indebtedness, and disallowing anything over what they figure is the amortized amount of purchase indebtedness. For example, if you originally bought your property for $120,000 in 1991, and your original loans totaled $108,000, sixteen years later you might persuade the IRS that your deductible balance is about $85,000, as ten percent loans were common then. But if your property is now worth $500,000 and you've "cashed out" to $400,000, the IRS is likely to prove supremely skeptical of that deduction.
The other reason not to use your down payment money for a down payment is to save it for repairs and upgrades. There's only so many places that the money might possibly come from, and your own pocket heads the list. Cash back from the seller not disclosed to the lender is fraud, and if you do disclose cash back to the lender, you've defeated the only rational purpose for it, because they will treat the purchase price as being the official price less the cash back. You're not legally getting any extra net cash from the seller. Period. If you put the money down and then try to refinance it out, the refinance becomes a "cash out" refinance - the least favorable of the three types of real estate loan. Unless the rates have gone down or your equity situation has improved, you'll get better rates on a purchase money loan, not to mention not spending the second set of closing costs for the refinance because you only did the purchase money loan. So if you need the money for repairs or to make the property livable, you're probably going to want to keep it in your checking account rather than using it as a down payment.
On the other hand, the search question postulates that you'll use the money to pay down what you owe, whether immediately at purchase or later on. After you put the money down, you'll have an improved equity situation, which means that you are likely to get a better price on the loan - a better rate-cost trade-off if you put the money down. Not guaranteed, but it is highly likely. If it's the difference between 100% financing and 99% financing, most lenders treat 99% financing the same as 100%. But if it's the difference between 100% financing and 95% financing, you're likely to get a better loan, or more likely a better set of two loans. Which means you either spent less in costs, got a better rate, or some trade-off of the two. Less money spent equals more money in your pocket, or more money for the down payment, which translates as more equity. Better rate means lowered cost of interest. The fact that it's on less money also means lowered minimum payments, although you shouldn't be shopping loans based upon payment. More importantly, you don't pay interest on money you don't owe. If your balance is $10,000 lower on a 6% loan, that's $600 less interest per year - $50 real savings per month.
If for some reason you want to pay extra, and you're holding on to the money so your minimum payment will be higher, don't. Most loans allow you to pay at least a certain amount extra, and if you're one of those unfortunates with a "first dollar" prepayment penalty, I have to ask, "Why?" There are sometimes reasons to accept a so called "80 percent" pre-payment penalty. There's never a reason to accept a "first dollar" penalty. Not to mention that your lump sum will get hit with the penalty anyway, where if you used it as a down payment, it wouldn't.
Finally, I should note that there are arguments against paying off your mortgage faster. Paying extra on your mortgage does sabotage the gain you get from leverage. You could typically take the money and invest elsewhere at a higher rate of return. Psychologically, however, there's a peace of mind to be had from not owing money, or not owing so much money. The only sane way to define wealth is by how long you could live a lifestyle comfortable to you if you stopped working right now, and if you don't owe as much money, that time frame that determines your real wealth is obviously longer.
The point is this: There are arguments to be made on both sides, and the circumstances can be altered by the specifics of your situation. My default conclusion remains that if your mind is made up that you're using a certain amount of money to reduce debt on the property, either from necessity or because you want to, then you might as well use it in the form of purchase money down payment.
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