Mortgage mistakes to avoid at all costs

Avoiding these mortgage mistakes can prevent you from enduring some bad financial situations. (Photo: Thinkstock)

When you hear things like "1.99 percent mortgage interest rate" or "no-cost refinancing," it can be tempting to rush out and sign up for a loan or refinance - but doing so could cost you big in the long run.

Like most situations in life, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And if you make the wrong decisions about your mortgage, you could end up paying the price for your mistake - literally.

So keep reading to learn more about some major mortgage moves to avoid.

Mistake #1 - Paying Your Mortgage Before Paying Off Higher-Interest Debt

Do you love the idea of owning your home free and clear? It's a beautiful dream, isn't it? But if you have other, higher-interest debt, you should hear what our experts have to say before you make paying down your mortgage a financial priority.

"Homeowners should pay their higher-interest rate debt first before they pay their house off," says Sam Suliman, a mortgage expert with over 20 years experience in the business.

Alex Gonzalez, a mortgage loan originator with Vintage Mortgage Group, agrees.

"Your home is emotional - it's your foundation - and people want to pay that off as quickly as possible. But credit cards typically have 18-25 percent interest rates," Gonzales cautions. "Even if your home loan is at 5 percent, you should never put extra money into your mortgage until you've gotten rid of your credit card debt."

Want another reason to get rid of credit card debt before paying down your mortgage? Here's one: "The interest you pay on your credit card balance is not tax deductable like the interest you pay on your mortgage," says Gonzales. "It's wasted money."

Mistake #2 - Getting a Loan for "Free"

In this life, you don't often get something for nothing. So when someone offers you a "no cost" loan, you might get a little suspicious. That's good instinct.

Why? According to Gonzalez, "no cost" loans typically come with a higher interest rate than normal loans. That's because the bank pays the loan fee for you - knowing that the higher interest rate you'll be paying on the "no cost" loan will more than make up for what they spent on the loan fee, he says.

[Click to shop around and compare rates from lenders now.]

Here's an example to help illustrate the point a bitter: Let's say you want to refinance your $200K mortgage, and you plan to stay in your home for 10 years or more. You could either get a "no cost" loan at a 4.25 percent interest rate, or you could pay $5K in closing costs for a standard loan with an interest rate of 3.25 percent.


"No Cost" Loan

Standard Loan

4.25 percent

3.25 percent





The difference between your monthly payments with a "no cost" loan and a loan where you pay $5K in closing costs is $113.47 a month. But since the loan cost you $5K, we need to figure out your "break even" point.

$5,000 divided by $113.47 a month comes out to 44 months, or just over three and a half years. So you'll break even on the $5K after four years and you'll start saving money by paying a lower interest rate for the remainder of the loan.

In fact, even after paying $5K for a lower rate loan, you'll save $8,616 after 10 years.

Bottom line? "If you're going to be in your home for longer than 10 years, the no cost loan is probably not the way to go," says Gonzalez.

Mistake #3 - Getting a 15-Year Mortgage, But Having No Financial Security

There are huge benefits to getting a 15-year mortgage. First, you'll be paying your loan off in half the time of a traditional 30-year mortgage. Second, you'll pay less in interest over the life of the loan. However, due to the higher monthly payments that often come with a 15-year term, this option isn't for everyone.

For example, let's say you've got a $200K mortgage at 4 percent. If you have a 15-year mortgage, your monthly payment will be $1,479.38 and the total cost of the loan over 15 years will be $266,287.65. The same loan amortized over 30 years will only cost you $954.83 a month, but the total cost of the loan will be $343,739.01. So, while you'll save approximately $77k in interest with a 15-year loan, your monthly payments will increase by more than $500.

[Thinking of refinancing? Click to compare rates from multiple lenders now.]

The big question you need to ask yourself is, "Can I afford the larger monthly payment?" If you're not sure, don't panic - here's some great advice for you.

"I think the best way to do it is to get the 30-year loan and make the higher payments. This way you make sure you're in control of your finances in the future," says Suliman. "You could take the money and invest it in something like stocks. But this way, it doesn't strain your budget."

Of course, this all depends on your income and financial security. If you could afford a 15-year loan, you could save a lot of money in interest. However, if you take on a 15-year loan without a clear understanding of your future finances, you could be in trouble. So, talk to your lender about what the best option for you is.

Mistake #4 - Not Thoroughly Researching Lenders

Gonzalez suggests that his clients think about this scenario for a moment: If you had a briefcase with $300K in it, and you were choosing who to hand it over to, you'd probably do some pretty thorough research, right? That's essentially what you're doing when you get a mortgage - so make sure you're handing it over to someone trustworthy.

"When someone says 'do you want a 1.9 percent interest rate?' your first thought might be 'yes!'," says Gonzalez. But don't fall prey to a lender simply because they told you something you want to hear.

If you're unsure if you can trust your loan officer, it's okay to ask questions and challenge them, Gonzalez says.

"Real professionals don't get their feelings hurt if you have questions for them. People want to guard their savings and investments - so if someone gets upset if you challenge them on an opinion, you need to find someone new."

Some questions you may want to ask a lender, says the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, include whether or not your interest rate will be fixed or variable, and if the lender offers an introductory rate, when it will expire, and what the new rate will be.