If you have ever gone through the process of getting your mortgage refinanced, or simply getting a purchase loan, you already know that your bank can charge you a myriad of fees. If you haven't, take a look at my closing statement and you can understand how easy it is to get lost.
Bankrate's researchers did a pretty amazing job last year: they collected 306 good faith estimates, 6 from each state plus DC, and tabulated the range of the closing costs. The result is this featured article Closing Costs: Highs, Lows, Averages.
For the same $180,000 loan with 20% down payment, the total closing cost can be anywhere between $1,020 and $11,395. Of course, some of the costs are government fees (recording, taxes, etc.) which are out of control of lending institutions, but if you read line by line, you can get a feel of the game. For example, one lender can charge $55 for a credit report and another can charge merely $8.50. Is it more expensive to get a credit report from one state than another?
Some of my advices:
- Fees are negotiable. Many lenders will compete for your business, and you'd better let them know you care about closing cost as well as low rates.
- It helps to ask your lender to explain line by line. Differentiate fees paid to the lender from those paid to third parties and government.
- For fees paid to the lender, don't let your lender confuse you with different names of fees; they all benefit the lender, period. You may find out many loan officers cannot tell the difference between processing fee and underwriting fee. Open your mouth and ask for a discount.
- For third-party fees, it helps to compare similar items from other lenders. Also, your lender will still disclose to you (though most probably in a discreet way, like asking you to sign a paper) that the lender itself can still earn a kickback (or commission) of such fees.
Bottom line, closing costs are part of the equation. If you only focus on the lowest rate, your lender can take advantage of you by stuffing too much into your closing cost. Think holistically before signing on the dotted line.