Never Choose A Loan (or a House) Based Upon Payment

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In all of my conversations on mortgages with prospects, there is one subject that comes up over and over and over again, and that is the subject of payment. "But that loan over there only has a payment of $1450! The payment you are quoting is $2700! The other guy has a better loan!" Then I tiredly have to tell them about negative amortization loans and what is really going on, and why my 6% thirty year fixed rate loan is a better loan.

Usually, they don't believe me. Over 80% of people are in denial when I'm done explaining how a negative amortization loan works. They so desperately want the Negative Amortization loan to be a real payment, and they trust the guy trying to sell it to them. After all, he told them all about his little girl's soccer game, or whatever irrelevancy he used (like all the good sales books tell him to) to make him seem like a trustworthy human being. So I'll tell them about what is usually my favorite loan, the 5/1 ARM, but with an interest only rider. "Now I shopped eighty lenders for real loans and real payments that you would actually qualify for. Of all those lenders, this 6% was the best thirty year fixed rate loan for no more than one total point. But I have got this other loan over here that another lender is willing to give you. It's at 5.375%, and the payment is interest only to start with, so you'll only be writing a check for about $2015. How does that sound?" They'll say it sounds better but not as good as that other loan that the other guy is offering. Then I'll tell them the downsides, "That's okay, because this loan's rate will adjust starting in five years, and at the same time, it'll start to amortize, meaning your payments will go up. If the index stays where it is now, it will jump to 7.25% that first month after five years, and your payment will be over $3250 in that sixty-first month. Furthermore, you'd have had to pay over three points discount to get that rate. So adding $10,000 extra to your balance, and suddenly having payments $1200 per month higher, is the price you pay for cutting your payment about $650 per month. What do you think the price is for cutting your payment by $1250?"

Well, as I've covered elsewhere, the price for a negative amortization loan in these circumstances, by whatever friendly sounding name they have for it, is a real rate two percent higher than you could have gotten, a balance that increases by about $70,000 over a five year period, and a prepayment penalty for the first three years, while your real rate isn't fixed even for one month, let alone 5 years.

Selling by payment is the number one trick of unscrupulous people. You go out car shopping, and someone says you can get a $20,000 car for $608 per month, while the lot down the street says you can get a $25,000 car for $303 dollars per month, that second car sounds fantastic, right? Never mind that the loan is based upon a ten year repayment, and the interest rate is two percent higher than the three year loan the first car was based upon. Never mind that the used car dealer is actually going to give you a payment of $339 after they soak you for $3000 in bogus fees simply because you are so happy you got this wonderful car for half the price, and you're so happy with that payment that you don't watch what they're doing as closely as you normally would, because, after all, you're getting this car for about half price! Except that you aren't.

Real estate, and real estate loans, are no different. You've got to be able to make that payment - the real payment, not that minimum payment. But if someone's quoting you a payment that much lower for the same thing, there is a reason. But it is amazing the number of people who would never fall for the low payment line of patter out on the used car lot when they're talking about a car will fall for it the nice plush office in real estate that some of that money they soaked their suckers for bought. Those few I can get to own up admit to thinking of the mortgage loan as something akin to rent, which is kind of like thinking of your car payment like you would think of bus fare. Hey, here comes a bus that's seventy-five cents cheaper than the express bus right here - but this other bus is jam-packed, you can't get off until the driver's shift is over, and it's going in the wrong direction!

Payment is not price. Most people know this, but they forget to apply it. The amounts at stake in real estate are usually many times the amount at stake in any other product aimed at consumers, and the chance of banks giving away that kind of money are correspondingly lower. The great rule that applies everywhere else applies equally strongly for real estate: Sales folk who try to sell by payment are trying to get you to pay too much, and not just for the item you are purchasing, but for the loan as well. I have helped folks who first bought their houses in the seventies for forty thousand dollars, and who now have four hundred thousand dollar mortgages on the same property. They have refinanced ten or twelve times (except for the two that added a grand total of $45,000 cash out, and the loans mostly had smaller payments, and each one added $20,000 to their balance in fees, and now they need to sell the house and they are walking away with $20,000 instead of $450,000 they would have had if they had simply been more careful and paid attention to hard dollars being spent instead of payment.

One thing to remember is that you can never go backwards in time with what you know today. What is important is not just the type of loan, but the interest rate and the cost it takes to get it. Mortgage loans are not free - all of the people whose help is required do not work for free and you - the borrower - are going to pay for every penny they make in one way or another.

Now, your greatest friend once you have own a home is inflation, particularly if you've got a fixed rate loan. You only borrowed $X. Just because they are now worth less does not increase the number of dollars you borrowed. If you have a fixed rate loan, or at least long enough to get through the period of inflation, you don't care that the interest rates on new loans are 14%. You've got this nice 6% loan locked in for as long as you care to keep it. Matter of fact, in situations like this, lenders will often offer you a much cheaper payoff if you will, in fact, pay it off. But four years of ten percent inflation and that $400,000 loan is worth about $273,000 by the standards of the day you took it out, and all the folks who were laughing at you because your monthly cost of housing went from $1650 rent to $3000 mortgage are now paying $2350 and getting none of the deductions you are, while your costs are fixed and theirs are still riding the escalator up, and if they want to step off now, that property with a $400,000 loan is now $5100 per month!

Nonetheless, choosing a loan based upon payment is financial suicide. If you cannot afford a real loan with a steady payment on the house you want, instead of a loan that messes you up for life, consider buying a less expensive house. Yes, everyone like house bling, and the more expensive of a house you buy, the more leverage works in your favor. But, as millions of folks are finding out the hard way right now, if you can't make the real payment on a real loan, you are at the mercy of the market, and the market has no mercy.

Caveat Emptor

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on April 19, 2008 7:00 AM.

Can You Get A Mortgage On a Condemned House? was the previous entry in this blog.

Paying Off Old Past Due Bills Without Hurting Your Credit is the next entry in this blog.

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