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7 ways to reduce mortgage rates

Whether it's to make more money available for home renovations now or family trips down the road, reducing your mortgage rate can be a great way to save money. Here are seven ways you may be able to decrease your rate and reduce mortgage payments, both at signing and during your loan term.

1. Shop around

When looking for mortgages, be sure to contact several different lenders. Mortgage bankers, regional banks, national banks and local credit unions may all offer distinct loan products, each with their own rates and fees. Some lenders cater to new homeowners, while others are better for refinancing.

Compare your choices carefully and take your personal situation into account when choosing a lender. Even if your real estate agent gives some suggestions, do your research to make sure you’re getting the right deal for your needs. Since loan rates can change frequently, you should contact different lenders on the same day and around the same time to truly compare rates. Also factor in any associated fees when calculating the potential savings.

2. Improve your credit score

Regardless of the loan you choose, you’re likely to get a better mortgage rate if you have a higher credit score. Similar to making a bigger down payment on your mortgage, a high credit score can help you qualify for better rates and lower monthly payments.

To a lender, your credit score is indicative of your risk—the lower the score, the higher the risk. That's why lenders may charge higher interest rates to applicants with lower credit scores. If you apply for a loan and have a good credit score, you're more likely to be offered a low interest rate. However, if you already have a loan, it’s not too late to improve your credit score and qualify for better rates with a mortgage refinance.

To improve your credit score, first go over your credit report to see if you have any outstanding balances. Considering paying those and be sure to make your payments on time every month. Also look for and correct any errors on your credit report as these can negatively impact your credit. While a high credit score is ideal for mortgage approval, some affordable lending programs do accept lower credit scores.

3. Choose your loan term carefully

Short-term loans are less risky and, as a result, have lower mortgage rates. The trade-off for these kinds of loans are larger monthly payments since you're paying off the principal in a shorter time. With a longer-term loan, you spread the payments over a longer period of time, leading to lower monthly payments with a higher interest rate.

Short-term loans will generally save you more money in the long run, but long-term loans may leave you with more disposable income every month. If you're looking specifically for low mortgage interest rates and savings over the life of the loan, a short-term loan is your best bet.

4. Make a larger down payment

Simply put, the more money you put down towards your mortgage, the less you will owe on the loan. If you can make a larger down payment, you could have more equity in your home from the start. Not only will you need to repay less principal (the amount you owe on a loan excluding interest), you'll also pay less interest over the life of the loan since it is calculated on the principal owed.

While some loans have low down payment options, the ability to pay more can reduce mortgage rates and monthly payments. The smaller the down payment, the riskier lenders view your loan, and the higher the interest rate you may have to pay.

5. Buy mortgage points

If you plan on owning your home for a long time, buying mortgage points might be a clever way to save money. Paid at the time of closing, each mortgage point has a value equal to 1 percent of your mortgage. In exchange for these upfront payments, the interest rate is reduced and monthly mortgage payments are smaller. Keep in mind, however, the time it will take to recoup your savings. Known as the break-even point, this is the length of time in months it will take for your total savings to add up to the cost of the points. If this time is longer than you plan to own the home, mortgage points may not be worth it for you.

6. Rate locks

To potentially reduce the impact of mortgage rate changes before you close on a home loan, consider locking in your interest rate. A rate lock avoids increased rates before closing on your mortgage. You may need to pay a fee to lock in a rate, but this could be worth it if you suspect rates may change.

Keep in mind that, while a rate lock protects you from higher mortgage rates, it also rules out lower rates. Talk to your lender about rate locks with float down provisions. The float down feature gives you a one-time opportunity to lower your locked-in rate to current market rates. There may be additional fees for this option.

7. Refinance your mortgage

Renegotiating the terms of your mortgage can save you money over the loan’s course. There are a variety of refinancing options available, each with their own pros and cons. Here are some refinancing options and ways they can save you money on your mortgage rate.

  • If you're concerned about an impending increase in your adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM), consider refinancing your loan to a fixed-rate mortgage. This allows you to make consistent monthly principal and interest payments.
  • You may also be able to change your existing ARM to another ARM with different terms. The Federal Reserve Board recommends looking at ARMs with low interest-rate caps. These limits prevent your mortgage payments from increasing past a certain amount.
  • If you're in a better financial situation than you were when you first signed your loan, you could potentially negotiate your fixed-rate mortgage to a lower interest rate. This option is particularly feasible for people whose credit scores have increased or if rates have decreased. When refinancing a fixed-rate mortgage, you may also be able to renegotiate the length of your loan to better suit your needs.

There are numerous options for lowering your mortgage rate. With the various alternatives available, there’s likely a way to adjust loan payments that will work for you. Contact one of our Home Lending Advisors for assistance on how to reduce mortgage rates.