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APR vs Interest Rate: Understanding the Difference

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

When you’re shopping for a loan, don’t let your research end with a comparison of lenders’ interest rates. While a low interest rate is appealing, it’s important to also look at each loan’s annual percentage rate (APR), which will provide a clearer picture of how much the loan will cost you when fees and other costs are factored in.

APR vs Interest Rate: Understanding the differences

The difference between APR and interest rate is that APR will give borrowers a truer picture of how much the loan will cost them. While APR is expressed as an interest rate, it is not related to the monthly payment, which is calculated using only the interest rate. Instead, APR reflects the interest rate along with fees and other one-time costs a borrower will pay for a loan.

“You can find a mortgage that has a 4-percent interest rate, but with a bunch of fees, that APR may be 4.6 or 4.7 percent,” said Todd Nelson, senior vice president-business development officer with online lender Lightstream. “With all of those fees baked in, they are going to swing the interest rate.”

For example, one lender may charge no fees, so the loan’s APR and interest rate are the same. The second lender may charge a 5 percent origination fee, which will increase the APR on that loan.

How the APR is calculated

Lenders calculate APR by adding fees and costs to the loan’s interest rate and creating a new price for the loan. Here’s an example that shows how APR is calculated using LendingTree’s loan calculator.

A lender approves a $100,000 at a 4.5 percent interest rate. The borrower decides to buy one point, a fee paid to the lender in exchange for a reduced rate, for $1,000. The loan also includes $900 in fees.

With these fees and costs added to the loan, the adjusted balance being borrowed is $101,900. The monthly payment is then $516.31 with the 4.5 percent interest rate, compared with $506.69 if the balance had remained at $100,000.

To find the APR, the lender returns to the original loan amount of $100,000 and calculates the interest rate that would create a monthly payment of $516.31. In this example, that APR would be 4.661 percent.

APRs will vary from lender to lender because different lenders charge different fees. Some may offer competitive interest rates but then tack on expensive fees and costs. Lenders with the same interest rate and APR are not charging any fees on that loan, and lenders that offer APR and interest rates that are the closest will charge the least-substantial amount of fees and extra costs.

What can impact my APR?

While APR will change as interest rates fluctuate, lenders’ fees and costs will have the greatest impact on APR. Here are some of the fees that will affect the APR.

Discount points: Buying points to lower a loan’s interest rate can have a significant impact on APR. Lenders allow buyers to purchase “points” in return for a lower interest rate. A point is equal to one percent of the mortgage loan amount. For example, a buyer approved for a $100,000 loan could buy three points, at $1,000 each, to lower the interest rate from 4.5 to 4.15.

Loan origination fees: Loan origination fees typically range between 1 and 6 percent, according to Nelson. This can be especially significant for larger loans.

Loan processing: This fee, which some lenders will negotiate, pays for the cost of processing a mortgage application.

Underwriting: These fees cover an underwriter’s review of a loan application, including the borrower’s income, credit history, assets and liabilities, and property appraisal, to determine whether the lender should approve the loan application and what terms should be applied to the loan.

Appraisal review: Some lenders pay an outside reviewer to make sure an appraisal meets underwriting standards and that the appraiser has submitted an accurate report of the home’s value.

Document drawing: Lenders often charge a fee for creating mortgage documents for a loan.

Commonly not included in APR are notary fees, credit report costs, title insurance and escrow services, the appraisal, home inspection, attorney fees, document preparation and recording fees.

Because APR includes a loan’s interest rate, rising interest rates will increase APR for mortgages, auto loans and other types of loans and credit.

Interest rate vs APR: What should I focus on when shopping for a mortgage?

While lenders often push their low interest rates when they advertise loans, Nelson said it’s vital that consumers check loans’ APR when shopping around and pay attention to how loan advertisements are worded.

“Look for a lender that’s transparent about disclosing all of those fees,” he said. Lenders may advertise “no hidden fees,” he said, but that might mean there are other fees that simply aren’t hidden.

Here’s how two loans for the same amount can have different APRs.

Loan amount

Fees and costs

Fixed interest rate

APR

$200,000

$1,700

4.5%

4.572%

$200,000

$2,600

4.5%

4.61%

The Truth in Lending Act requires lenders to disclose APR in advertising so that consumers can make an equivalent comparison between loans. If two loan offers have similar APRs, request a Good Faith Estimate (GFE) or Loan Estimate from each lender.

Lenders are required to provide this document, which shows all expenses associated with the mortgage, within three business days of the loan application date. Some lenders may be willing to supply a loan estimate for consumers who are shopping for a loan.

APRs on Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs): What to know

It’s important to remember that the APR on ARMs will not apply for the life of the loan, as the payment on the loan will change as the economy fluctuates. APR on ARMs is calculated for the interest rate during the loan’s introductory period, and no one can predict how much the rate will increase in years to come.

A loan with a 7/1 ARM, for example, will have a fixed rate for the first seven years that is determined by the current economic conditions on the day the loan was approved. After seven years, the lender will begin to adjust the rate based on movement of the economic index, which likely will not be the same as it was when the loan was approved. Rates fluctuate daily, and no economic forecaster can predict where the index will be in 20 or 25 years.

Understanding mortgage interest rates

A mortgage rate is another term for interest rate, which is the rate that a lender uses to determine how much to charge a customer for borrowing money. Mortgage rates can be either fixed or adjustable.

Fixed mortgage rates do not change over the life of a loan. For example, if you take out a 30-year loan at a 4.25 percent interest rate, that rate will stay the same regardless of changes in the economy and market index, through the entire lifetime of the loan.

Adjustable rate mortgages (ARM), on the other hand, will change as the market changes after an introductory period, often set at five or seven years. That means your interest rate could go up or down depending on economic conditions, which will in turn raise or lower your payments.

ARMs, which are a common type of mortgage loan with an adjustable rate, often start with a lower interest rate than a fixed mortgage — but only for that introductory period. After that, the rate could go up as it adjusts to market conditions, which could raise your payment accordingly.

If you are considering an ARM, it’s important to talk to your lender first about what the adjustable rate could mean for your loan payment after the introductory period. The federal government’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recommends researching:

  • Whether your ARM has a cap on how high or low your interest rate can go.
  • How often your rate will be adjusted.
  • How much your monthly payment and interest rate can increase with each adjustment.
  • Whether you can still afford the loan if the interest rate and monthly payment reach their maximum under your loan contract.

How is your mortgage rate calculated?

Don’t be surprised if a lender offers you a mortgage interest rate that is higher than what is advertised. Each loan’s interest rate is primarily determined by market conditions and by the borrower’s financial health. Lenders take into account:

  • Your credit score: Borrowers with higher credit scores generally receive better interest rates.
  • The terms of the loan: The number of months you agree to pay back the loan can make a difference. Generally, a shorter term loan will have a lower rate than a longer term loan but higher monthly payments.
  • The location of the property you are purchasing: Interest rates are different in rural and urban areas, and sometimes they can vary by county.
  • The amount of the loan: Interest rates can be different for loan amounts that are unusually large or small.
  • Down payment: Lenders may offer a lower rate to borrowers who can make a larger down payment, which often is an indicator that the borrower is financially secure and more likely to pay back the loan.
  • Type of loan: While many borrowers apply for conventional mortgages, the federal government offers loan programs through the FHA, USDA, and VA that often offer lower interest rates.

How often do mortgage rates change?

Mortgage rates fluctuate on a daily basis. Because the market changes so often, lenders typically give borrowers the opportunity to lock in or float your interest rate for 30, 45, or 60 days from the day your lender approves your loan. That way you won’t get burned if rates rise soon after you secure a loan.

If you choose to lock in your rate, lenders will honor that rate within the agreed-upon time period before closing regardless of market fluctuations. Floating your rate will allow you to secure a lower interest rate before closing, should rates drop during that period.

How do mortgage rate changes impact the cost of borrowing?

Small differences in the interest rate can cost a borrower thousands of dollars over the life of the loan. Here’s an example for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage using our parent company LendingTree’s online mortgage calculator tool:

Mortgage (30-year)

Fixed interest rate

Monthly payment

Total borrowing cost

$200,000

3.65%

$914.92

$129,371.20

$200,000

3.85%

$937.62

$137,543.20

$200,000

4.25%

$983.88

$154,196.80

What’s a good rate on a mortgage?

While mortgage rates change daily, Nelson noted that mortgage rates have stayed low for several years now and don’t show signs that they will increase drastically in the nearly future.

LendingTree’s LoanExplorer tool recently showed interest rates for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage as low as 3.625% for borrowers with excellent credit.

Shop wisely

When shopping for loans, you can best compare loans by getting mortgage quotes from lenders at the same day on the same time. Online marketplaces such as LendingTree also can provide real-time loan offers from multiple lenders, which makes it easier to compare mortgage APR vs. interest rates.

Don’t be dazzled by low interest rates. If the loan’s APR matches its low interest rate, you likely have a good deal. Otherwise, investigate the costs and fees behind a loan’s APR to best determine which loan offer is the best deal.

Learn more about how you can compare quotes from lenders at LendingTree.com.

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Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Marty Minchin
Marty Minchin |

Marty Minchin is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Marty here

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The Pros and Cons of a Credit Union Mortgage

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

co-op shared branching for credit unions
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Though banks are better known, their not-for-profit cousins known as credit unions still command a significant chunk of the mortgage market. During the first quarter of 2019, credit unions originated 8% of mortgages in the United States, according to credit union consulting firm Callahan & Associates.

Often overlooked, credit unions can be a good option when shopping for a mortgage. Joining a credit union can make it possible for you to reap benefits such as lower origination fees or a more competitive interest rate.

This article will explore whether homebuyers might get a better deal from a credit union mortgage and the implications a relationship with a credit union might bring.

How is a credit union different from a bank?

Although credit unions fall under the umbrella of financial institutions, they differ from commercial banks in several key ways.

Banks are typically owned by their shareholders, credit unions are not-for-profit organizations owned by their members. This often translates to better rates and terms on their financial products.

While banks can serve the entire nation, credit unions tend to be community-based institutions that play a significant role in serving people in a local area.

“Credit unions are a really important part of the financial services fabric,” said Barry Zigas, director of housing policy at the Consumer Federation of America in Washington, D.C.

On the other hand, credit unions typically don’t offer the same suite of products that a larger bank is often known for. While you can take advantage of a checking, savings or individual retirement account, for example, you may find it challenging to access financial planning or investment services.

Below we highlight how credit unions stack up against banks.

Credit UnionCommercial Bank
  • Not-for-profit organization
  • Member-owned
  • Typically have higher yields on deposit accounts
  • Typically have lower interest rates on credit and loan products
  • Membership is based on an affiliation or geographical location
  • Smaller branch and ATM networks
  • Federally insured up to $250,000 through the National Credit Union Administration
  • For-profit organization
  • Shareholder-owned
  • Yields are usually lower on deposit accounts
  • Interest rates on credit and loan products are usually higher
  • Anyone can establish a relationship with a bank
  • Larger branch and ATM networks
  • Federally insured up to $250,000 through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Getting a mortgage from a credit union

One of the main differences when applying for a mortgage through a credit union rather than a traditional bank is that you must be a member of the credit union before you can attempt to borrow money.

Credit union customers own “shares” in the institution, typically via a $5 deposit held in a particular savings account.

In order to become a member, you must meet the membership requirements outlined by the credit union you’re interested in joining. Credit union members have a common bond, which could be any of the following, according to the National Credit Union Administration:

  • An employer.
  • A geographical location where those interested in joining live, work, worship or attend school.
  • A group membership, such as a homeowners association or labor union.

Family members of credit union customers are also often eligible to join.

One of the key reasons for choosing a credit union: You may be able to save money on lender fees, said Bruce McClary, vice president of communications at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. A credit union may also be more flexible with credit score requirements than a bank and may offer lower mortgage interest rates.

However, since credit unions are small organizations, there’s the risk that your credit union’s name or ownership could change. Your credit union could also sell the rights to service your mortgage to a third party, which may impact your customer service after your loan closes.

“Even though you may be saving money on origination fees and you may not be paying as many other fees with your mortgage — so it might be more affordable at the onset — you may end up having to deal with a servicer that you weren’t dealing with before, rather than dealing with your credit union,” McClary said.

It’s important to note that bank-originated mortgages can also be sold and handed over to other servicers, so this issue isn’t unique to credit unions.

Still, developing a relationship with a credit union over time — as in, the organization’s representatives are very familiar with you and your finances — could work in your favor when you decide to apply for a mortgage, McClary said.

“Being a member of the credit union might actually put you in an advantage in terms of approval or maybe in terms of negotiating terms of the mortgage in the application process,” he said.

Pros and cons of a credit union mortgage

Consider the following benefits and drawbacks of a credit union mortgage before you choose this type of lender for your home purchase.

Pros

  • Potentially lower origination fees and other lending costs.
  • Mortgage rates may be lower.
  • A greater sense of community, since the institution is member-owned.
  • Potential for more negotiating room during the mortgage lending process.
  • Shared branching benefits, which allow you to use the services of an outside credit union.

Cons

  • You must meet eligibility guidelines to join the credit union and become a member before applying for a mortgage.
  • Credit unions typically have smaller branch networks.
  • There’s the risk of your credit union closing, switching owners or going through some other changes, which can affect how your mortgage is serviced.
  • Typically carry fewer product offerings than traditional banks.
  • May have limited online banking capabilities.

The bottom line

A traditional bank isn’t your only option for getting a mortgage. Depending on what your lending needs are and how much you value building a relationship with your financial institution, a credit union might be right for you.

However, if you’re concerned about mortgage servicing, be sure to check with your credit union for more information about how they plan to handle your mortgage once it’s originated.

“I think consumers who are members of credit unions should certainly go to their credit union and find out what their loan terms are, what the application process is like and maybe even ask, ‘Are these loans that you hold or are these loans that you sell off?’” Zigas said.

Zigas also recommended practicing that same due diligence with other types of mortgage lenders and shopping around.

“It’s a very competitive environment, and there’s no assurance that your credit union will actually be offering you the best possible rate,” he said.

It pays to comparison shop before you settle on a particular mortgage lender. For example, if you were looking to buy a house that required a $300,000 mortgage, you could potentially save more than $42,000 in interest over the life of a 30-year term by shopping for the best rate, according to data from LendingTree’s latest Mortgage Rate Competition Index.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Crissinda Ponder
Crissinda Ponder |

Crissinda Ponder is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Crissinda here

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We Downsized Our House So We Could Travel the World

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Purchase agreement for house

You’ve settled into your dream house and have called it home for years. But now you realize your family has more house than it actually needs, plus a large mortgage to match. Is it time to downsize?

The answer depends on what your financial and lifestyle goals are. Below, we share one story about a Florida-based family downsizing their home. Giving up 1,600 square feet allowed them to pay off their mortgage in a fraction of the time and achieve their goals of globe-trotting.

Keith and Nicole’s downsizing story

Keith and Nicole DeBickes loved their house in Delray Beach, Fla., but with more than 3,500 square feet of living space, it was perhaps larger than they actually needed at the time. “One day, I came to the realization that I had a 400-square-foot bathroom that I spent 20 minutes a day in, and we had this big formal dining room and formal living room that we never used,” Nicole said. “And we had a really big mortgage to cover it.”

She also wasn’t thrilled with the schools in the area — or with the idea of paying for private education. She and Keith knew they had to make a change.

The DeBickes (who work as an engineer manager and software engineer, respectively, and make between $100,000 and $200,000 combined annually) put their house on the market and started looking for a smaller home that was zoned for better schools.

They eventually settled on a 1,900-square-foot, four-bedroom house in Boca Raton. “We wanted to buy with the idea that we’d have a much smaller mortgage and we wouldn’t have to pay for private school,” Nicole said. “Then we could do things with our family like travel or retire earlier.”

The couple took out a 30-year mortgage for $110,000 in 2007, much smaller than what they had before. They then refinanced into a 15-year loan for $150,000 in 2009 to remodel their kitchen and upgrade their electrical work.

Pros and cons of downsizing your home

Deciding to downsize your house is a major decision that takes a good amount of effort and planning. Consider the following pros and cons before you choose to move forward.

Pros

  • Reduces your mortgage debt.
  • Potentially reduces other housing-related expenses, such as utilities.
  • Frees up cash to reduce or eliminate non-mortgage debt.
  • Gives you a smaller house to maintain.

Cons

  • Reduces your available square footage, giving you less space than you’re used to.
  • Unless you have enough equity to cover the purchase of your new home, you must qualify for a new mortgage.
  • You’ll have to sell your existing home.
  • You will have to shell out thousands of dollars for both your home sale and new home purchase.

Tips to pay off your mortgage more quickly

The DeBickes didn’t like the idea of having a mortgage on their downsized home. “We didn’t want to be working every month for a mortgage,” Nicole said. “We don’t like debt, and we wanted it to be gone.”

The couple buckled down and started making double and triple payments every month on their home loan. They drove older cars, carpooled to save on gas and maintenance and packed lunches to cut down on their food costs. The family took relatively modest vacations, staying with family or driving to the west coast of Florida.

All their diligence paid off — the DeBickles submitted their last mortgage payment in fall 2013.

If you’re on a mission to be mortgage-free sooner rather than later, here are tips to help you get there:

  • Make extra principal payments each month. Try rounding up your monthly mortgage payment. For example, if your payment is $1,325 every month, pay $1,400 instead or increase the amount by even more, if your budget allows. Be sure to communicate to your lender that you want the extra payments applied to your principal balance and not your interest.
  • Pay biweekly instead of monthly. Split your monthly mortgage payment into biweekly payments. Since there are 52 weeks in a year, you would make 26 half payments, or 13 full payments. Making one extra full payment each year could allow you to shave a few years off your mortgage term.
  • Consider recasting your mortgage. If you have at least $5,000 or $10,000 — depending on your lender’s requirements — you could use that lump sum to recast your mortgage. A mortgage recast allows you to lower your monthly payments by paying your lender a set amount of money to reduce your mortgage principal.
  • Dedicate windfalls to paying down your principal. Every time you get a tax refund, bonus or some other windfall, use it to pay down your outstanding loan balance.

Achieving financial freedom

Although they’re now mortgage-free, the DeBickes were still putting money away like crazy. They eventually quit their jobs (temporarily) and traveled abroad for two years with their boys, who were 10 and 7 in 2015. Without a mortgage payment, they were able to amass the $190,000 they thought they needed to travel for 28 months. “We have been living on one salary and saving or paying off the house with the other for 12 years,” Nicole said.

Despite their hefty savings goals, they’ve been able to take the boys to Europe and Costa Rica, too. “We want to really get them prepared for what travel is going to be like,” Nicole said.

The trip, which is outlined on the family’s website, FamilyWithLatitude.com, took the foursome everywhere from Ireland to France, among other spots. Nicole and Keith “road schooled” their children as they traveled, with the help of Florida’s virtual school program that allows them to take classes online.

They planned to rent their home while they were away, which will help finance part of the trip and cover some house expenses, such as insurance and property taxes. In the meantime, they are maxing out their 401(k)s and taking care of college funds for the boys.

“(In 2014) we were able to purchase the prepaid college plan for my youngest son in a lump sum,” said Nicole, who had already done the same thing for her eldest. “So I know that both boys have good college funds to take care of them.”

The bottom line

If you’re looking to move into a smaller home and save money in the process, it might make sense for you to downsize. Just be sure you’re clear on the benefits and drawbacks, and how the choice to cut down your square footage would align with your personal goals.

In the end, the lack of debt will allow the DeBickes the freedom to not only to travel the globe, but to hang out with the important people in their lives.

“With both of us working, we haven’t been able to spend as much time with the kids as we wanted,” Nicole said. “It’s a real luxury that we can do this. I’m looking forward to spending time together as a family.”

This article contains links to LendingTree, our parent company.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Kate Ashford
Kate Ashford |

Kate Ashford is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Kate at [email protected]

Crissinda Ponder
Crissinda Ponder |

Crissinda Ponder is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Crissinda here

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