Understanding the difference between an annual percentage rate (APR) and an interest rate could save you thousands of dollars on your mortgage. But most homebuyers might not know that the interest rate and the APR measure two different costs associated with your home loan.
Interest Rate and APR
An interest rate is the cost of borrowing the principal loan amount. It can be variable or fixed, but it’s always expressed as a percentage. An APR is a broader measure of the cost of a mortgage because it reflects the interest rate plus other costs such as broker fees, discount points and some closing costs, expressed as a percentage
Why have both?
The main difference is that the interest rate calculates what your actual monthly payment will be whereas the APR calculates the total cost of the loan.
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You can use one or both to make apples-to-apples comparisons when shopping for loans.
For example, a loan with a 4 percent rate will have a lower monthly payment than a loan with a 6 percent rate, assuming both are fixed for the same term. Likewise, the total cost of a loan with a 4 percent APR will be less than one with a 6 percent APR.
Where it gets tricky
Interest rates and APRs have limitations to helping you understand the true cost of your mortgage. But taken together, borrowers should be able to use both figures to determine their total costs. The trick is to understand the interplay between the two figures.
If you are only focused on getting the lowest monthly payment, then focus on the interest rate. But if you are focused on the total cost of the loan, then use the APR as a tool to compare the total cost of two loans.
This chart shows the interest rate, APR and total costs over time for a $200,000 mortgage in which 1.5 discount points cut the interest rate by one-quarter of a percentage point, and another 1.5 discount points cut the interest rate by a further quarter of a percentage point.
3 loans, same amounts, 3 APRs
Time horizon matters
If you plan to stay in your home for 30 years or more, it probably makes sense to go with a loan that has the lowest APR because it means you’ll end up paying the lowest amount possible for your house. But if your time horizon isn’t that long, it may make sense to pay fewer upfront fees and get a higher rate — and a higher APR — because the total costs will be less over the first few years.
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APR spreads the fees over the course of the entire loan, so its value is optimized only if a borrower plans to stay in the home throughout the entire mortgage.
Figure the break-even point
If you’re planning to stay in your home for a shorter period, you need to do the math and determine your break-even point.
For example, if you chose a 0.25 percent lower rate for an additional 1.5 points because of the lower APR, but you moved in five years, you lost money. Your break-even on the points was seven years.
Unfortunately, those calculations can be confusing for many, which is why it’s crucial to pick the right lender. Your Buyer’s Agent should have excellent relationships with lender’s and can refer you to someone they trust.
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