Zero Cost Refinances

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Got a question asking if zero cost loans really exist. They do. I've done several dozen myself, for clients who listened to me about the nature of the market.

Let me define what a zero cost loan is. It is a loan with a higher rate deliberately chosen so as to get a high enough rebate, or Yield Spread, to cover not only the loan provider's margin, but all closing costs you would normally have had to pay as well. Prepaid interest is not a cost; it's paying money that you would have owed anyway in a slightly different manner. Ditto an impound account. That is your money, not a cost of the loan. We are talking zero cost here, which is an entirely different thing from paying out some money that you would have had to pay anyway. But no money gets added to your loan balance. You pay the appraisal (if required) when the appraiser comes out, but you get the cost refunded upon funding for a net zero out of pocket. True zero cost. This does entail accepting a higher rate, and therefore higher payments than you might otherwise have gotten, but if you only intend to keep the loan a relatively short period of time, you start ahead by doing this and there is not enough time for the lower payments to break even. For instance, a while back I had a par rate of 6.25% on a thirty year fixed loan, but providing your balance was at least a couple hundred thousand, I could do 6.625% for literally zero cost. If you were planning to sell in two years but your current rate was eight percent, as many people have nowadays, but their credit has improved now to where they qualify A paper, this saves them a lot of money for literally zero cost, so there are no "sunk costs" to "recover"; it's pure profit from day one. I happen to think that with rates as volatile as they have been the last few years, it makes a lot of sense to choose a zero cost loan. If rates go down half a percent six months or a year from now, you can go get a rate that much lower for zero cost then. If you paid two points to get the rate, it's going to cost you the same two points again to benefit by as much. Since it's not likely to get the average person two points of benefit over the average loan holding period, those two points are at least partially wasted.

Now this is not to say that you shouldn't be on your guard when someone talks about a zero cost refinance. What most lenders mean when they say "zero cost" is "No money out of your pocket." But thousands of dollars can still get added to your loan balance, where you not only pay them, you pay interest on them. Many lenders will talk about putting money in your pocket, when what they are doing is adding not only that money but all the costs and all the points to your loan balance, and people who have been doing this every two years wonder why their loan balance is ten times their original purchase price. I call these Stealth Cash Out Loans. There is no such thing as a free lunch. You paid for the cash out; you're going to be paying for the cash out for many years, just the same as you paid for your closing costs in the previous paragraph with a higher rate than you would otherwise have gotten. The difference is that money added to your balance tends to stick around for as long as you own property, whereas a higher rate is over as soon as you sell or refinance that particular property. If you choose a zero cost loan, your balance should transfer straight across; you are continuing to pay it down as soon as you write the first check on the new loan. Whereas if you chose a loan that adds thousands of dollars in closing costs etcetera to your balance, it's going to be years of payments before you're back where you started.

A true zero cost loan not only has no net "out of pocket" expenses, it has literally zero added to your mortgage balance. They do exist, mostly for well-qualified A paper borrowers, despite what certain skeptics might say, and for most people, they are something you should strongly consider, whether you're planning a purchase or a refinance.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on January 27, 2008 7:00 AM.

Loan Cosigners in Real Estate - A Lot of Risk For Not Much Gain was the previous entry in this blog.

"Should I Refinance?" - Consider Overall Cost of Money, Not Payment is the next entry in this blog.

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