What is the best way to compare loan terms between lenders?

First, devise a checklist for the information from each lending institution. You should include the company's name and basic information, the type of mortgage, minimum down payment required, interest rate and points, closing costs, loan processing time, and whether prepayment is allowed.

Call lenders or visit their websites.  Be sure to call every lender or visit websites within a one week period as interest rates can fluctuate daily. In addition to doing your own research, your real estate agent may have access to a database of lender and mortgage options. Though your agent may primarily be affiliated with a particular lending institution, she may also be able to suggest a variety of different lender options to you.

Comparing interest rates (APRs) may be an effective way to shop for a loan. However, you must compare similar loan products for the same loan amount. For example, compare two 30-year fixed rate loans for $100,000. Loan A with an APR of 8.35% is less costly than Loan B with an APR of 8.65% over the loan term. However, before you decide on a loan, you should consider the up-front cash you will be required to pay for each of the two loans as well.

Another effective shopping technique is to compare identical loans with different up-front points and other fees. For example, if you are offered two 30-year fixed rate loans for $100,000 and at 8%, the monthly payments are the same, but the up-front costs are different:

Loan A - 2 points ($2,000) and lender required costs of $1800 = $3800 in costs.
Loan B - 2 1/4 points ($2250) and lender required costs of $1200 = $3450 in costs.

A comparison of the up-front costs shows Loan B requires $350 less in up-front cash than Loan A. However, your individual situation (how long you plan to stay in your house) and your tax situation (points can usually be deducted for the tax year that you purchase a house) may affect your choice of loans.

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  • Do you expect your finances to change over the next few years?
  • Are you planning to live in this home for a long period of time?
  • Are you comfortable with the idea of a changing mortgage payment amount?
  • Do you wish to be free of mortgage debt as your children approach college age or as you prepare for retirement?

Your lender can help you use your answers to questions such as these to decide which loan best fits your needs.


Comparing Mortgage Loans

Your personal situation will determine the best kind of loan for you. By asking yourself a few questions, you can help narrow your search among the many options available and discover which loan suits you best.
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