5 Strategies for Shopping for the Best Mortgage Rate

Whether interest rates are headed up, down, or back up again, you can take these actions to score the best possible mortgage rate on your home loan.

Kallee Feuz May 22, 2018

This year’s upward-ticking interest rates — though still extremely low by historical standards — may have some consumers kicking themselves for not acting earlier to buy or refinance a home.

Faced with the frustratingly fickle nature of mortgage rates, hopeful homebuyers would do well to draw upon the wisdom of the serenity prayer: Accept the things you cannot change and change the things you can.

While you may be powerless when it comes to market forces and ever-fluctuating average rates, you have a great deal of control over the factors that determine your individual mortgage rate. That’s because the loan and lender you choose, along with the financial credibility you build, will play a significant role in the mortgage rate you are offered.

Lower your rate by just half a percentage point and you’ll save tens of thousands of dollars over the life of the loan. Comparatively higher rates, on the other hand, mean higher monthly payments and a slower build-up of equity.

Whether interest rates are headed up, down, or back up again, you can take these actions to score the best possible mortgage rate on your home loan: 

Mortgage Strategy #1: Shop around.

A mortgage, like a car, is a product and you’ll find varying rates among lenders. To get the best mortgage rate, compare loan estimates from several different lenders. You can get multiple quotes without harming your credit score by limiting your mortgage shopping to a 45-day window. Within that time frame, multiple preapprovals and loan estimates will count as a single credit check, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

When comparing loan estimates, remember that the interest rate alone doesn’t tell the whole story — it should be considered in the context of closing costs and other fees, which could potentially offset a lower rate. 

Mortgage Strategy #2: Shape up your credit score.

Your credit score is one of the biggest factors impacting the mortgage rate you’ll be offered by lenders. To qualify for the best rates, you’ll need a credit score upwards of 740. A 100-point difference in your FICO score could change your monthly payment by hundreds of dollars and your overall interest payments by tens of thousands of dollars.

Before applying for a mortgage, make sure your credit score is in top shape. You’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major reporting companies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — once every 12 months at Check your credit report for errors as well as weak areas that could be strengthened to help you qualify for a better rate.

Mortgage Strategy #3: Pay down your rate with points.

Many lenders give you the option of lowering your set mortgage rate by purchasing discount points. A discount point is an upfront fee — equal to 1 percent of your mortgage amount — that reduces your interest rate by a fixed amount — anywhere from one-eighth to one-quarter of a percentage point per discount point.

If you are offered a 30-year fixed mortgage at 5 percent, for example, buying two discount points at a total of $5,000 could bring your rate down to 4.5 percent. Whether this interest-saving strategy makes sense for you depends on how much money you have to put down and how long you plan to stay in your house.

Mortgage Strategy #4: Consider a shorter loan term.

In general, the shorter a loan’s term length, the lower its interest rate. If you can swing the higher monthly payments of a 10-, 15-, or 20-year fixed-rate mortgage loan, you could save thousands in interest payments.

Additionally, an adjustable-rate mortgage, or ARM loan, carries a lower interest rate initially than its conventional counterpart. The low-rate introductory period may last 3 to 10 years, after which the rate is adjusted according to market conditions at regular intervals. If you don’t plan to hold onto your home for long, an adjustable-rate home loan, like the Zions Bank ARM, could be a savvy choice for interest savings.

Mortgage Strategy #5: Save for a down payment.

If you plan to put down less than 20 percent on your home, see what increasing your down payment would do for your interest rate. Interest rates are tiered based on risk factors, and because loans with less money down are considered riskier, they charge more interest. A loan with a 5 percent down payment, for example, is considered a greater risk and will typically carry a higher rate than a loan with a 20 percent down payment.

Once you have found the best mortgage rate, you can request a rate lock so you don’t have to worry if rates go up between the time you submit an offer and close on the house. A rate lock freezes an interest rate on a mortgage for a period of time, usually 30 to 60 days.

Zions Bank’s team of lending experts is here to help you get the best mortgage rates and assist you through every step of the home loan process.

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