Be cautious when comparing APRs

Percent sign in trap

The annualized percentage rate is supposed to help consumers compare mortgages by providing a more accurate measure of how much a loan really costs.

It does that by taking into account the interest rate and all of the points and fees lenders charge -- including origination fees, discount points, appraisal fees, processing fees, underwriting fees, credit report fees, and administration fees.

In practice, APRs are still slanted toward loans with low interest rates and high fees.

Those aren't the best loans for the typical borrower, who moves or refinances every five to seven years. They're better off with slightly higher rates and low fees.

Here's an example right out of our mortgage rate tables: One loan has an interest rate of 5.875%, $5,995 in fees and an APR of 6.221%. Another has a rate of 6.25%, $325 in fees and an APR of 6.269%.

The APR makes the loan with the low interest rate look like the best choice.

But there's only $40 a month difference between the payments. It would take 142 months, or nearly 12 years, to recoup the $5,670 in additional fees.

And if you took the loan with the higher APR and invested the savings in fees, you'd nearly double your money over that time even if you earned a modest 5% a year.

Now which looks like the best loan?

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