Mortgage Refinance: Hidden Fees to Watch Out For

Managing Your Mortgage, Mortgages
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Refinancing Your Home: Hidden Fees, Points and Commissions to Watch Out For

Deciding when to refinance your mortgage means considering your personal situation, the prevailing interest rate environment — and something that really hits close to home: fees.

It’s common to pay as much as 3-6% of your outstanding principal in mortgage refinance fees, though the total can vary by state and by lender. It’s not a massive single charge, but a pile of small costs that quickly add up. If you decide to lock in a new, lower mortgage rate here are the hidden fees to watch out for.

The first fee to avoid when refinancing your mortgage

If your existing mortgage will charge you a fee if you pay it off early, you may want to reconsider the refinance. A prepayment penalty can be as much as six months of interest payments. FHA and VA loans and other mortgages insured or guaranteed by a federal agency generally cannot include a prepayment penalty. And in some states, they are illegal. But it’s one thing you want to be aware of before beginning the application process.

You may not want to put big points on the board

Points are interest payments in 1% increments based on the total amount of your mortgage. You can prepay points in order to lower your mortgage loan’s long-term interest rate–these are called discount points. In other words, you pay now instead of later. If you plan on staying in a home for a long time, loan-discount points to lower your mortgage rate may work to your advantage. Remember, when you buy points, it alters the break-even period, so be sure to do the math.

Lenders can also charge points on a mortgage refinance simply to make more profit — without reducing the mortgage’s interest rate (calculate whether you should buy points here).

Piles of paperwork fees

The mounds of paperwork you’ll face when closing on your mortgage refinance come at a price. There will likely be an application fee that could cost as much as $300 for processing your loan and obtaining a credit report. A loan origination fee can cost another 1% of the loan principal. Of course, attorneys and legal staffs are involved, so you can expect to see closing costs of several hundreds of dollars.

Avoiding a mortgage refinance money pit

There is due diligence performed by the lender to ensure that your home is properly valued. You guessed it — you’ll pay for that, too.

You may see an appraisal fee totaling somewhere around $500, though if you bought your home recently and already have an appraisal on file sometimes this service can be waived. However, if you suspect your home has gained value along with the recovering real estate market, you may want to have your home reappraised.

The mortgage lender may also require a termite and pest inspection, as well as a general review of the home’s condition by a property inspector or engineer. The charges for these services can range from $200 to $300 or so.

Paying for protection

While you will already have homeowner’s insurance in effect due to your existing mortgage, the lender will likely confirm the coverage, protecting them in the event the house is damaged or destroyed.

Mortgage loans guaranteed by government housing programs, such as the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) or the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), require the payment of mortgage insurance — once again for the benefit of the lender.

If you have a conventional mortgage but put less than 20% down, you will be required to pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI) to protect the lender in the event of a default. The fees for lender’s insurance varies by the entity involved, and ranges from 0.5% to 2%.

And there is yet one more protection policy involved when refinancing a mortgage — title insurance. Courthouse records are searched to determine if you have valid ownership of the house and land and to ascertain if there are any liens against the property. Title insurance covers the cost of any errors made in such investigations. Again, you will pay — from $700 to nearly $1000 — to protect the mortgage lender in the event such an omission arises.

You may also be required to pay for a survey of the property and improvements, unless one has been recently completed. Cost: somewhere under $500.

High-cost mortgage refinances are regulated

Homeowners who refinance their mortgage or apply for a home equity loan are protected from high fees and outrageous interest rates by the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act (HOEPA). If you believe you are being unfairly charged, review this booklet issued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. HOEPA regulations do not apply to mortgages issued to buy or build a home or for reverse mortgages or home equity lines of credit.

A final tip on fees: From each lender you apply to, you will receive a Loan Estimate so that you can easily do a side-by-side comparison of mortgage costs. Once you choose a lender, you’ll also receive a Closing Disclosure three days before finalizing your loan, detailing all of the charges that will be assessed at signing. That way there can be no surprises at the closing table.

>> MORE: Tips to reduce your home expenses and maximize your refinance savings

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Hal Bundrick is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: hal@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @halmbundrick

This article was revised on Jan. 26, 2016.