What Is a Buy-Up?

A buy-up is a type of rebate associated with home mortgage loans. It involves the lender offering an upfront cash incentive to the borrower in exchange for accepting a higher interest rate on the loan.

Generally, buy-ups are more advantageous to the borrower if they expect to resell the purchased property within a short period of time. Importantly, the cash incentive cannot exceed the settlement costs associated with the loan.

Key Takeaways

  • A buy-up is a type of rebate in which the borrower of a mortgage loan accepts a higher interest rate in exchange for an upfront cash incentive.
  • The relationship between the size of the cash incentive and the amount of the interest increase is negotiated between the lender and the borrower. However, a typical formula is for each percentage of the cash incentive to cause a 0.25% increase to the interest rate.
  • Buy-ups are also sometimes paid to mortgage brokers and to bank loan officers. Borrowers must therefore be careful to determine whether the interest rate quoted to them has been affected by any such arrangements.

Understanding Buy-Ups

Buy-ups are typically used by mortgage borrowers who wish to reduce their out-of-pocket loan settlement costs. Because the buy-up results in a higher interest rate on the loan, the borrower is effectively borrowing money at that higher rate and using it to pay for some or all of the settlement costs.

Because the higher interest rate applies to the entire balance of the mortgage, opting for a buy-up is generally only economical if the borrower does not intend to hold on to the mortgage for an extended period of time. In these situations, the upfront cash incentive can more than offset the increased interest cost, considering that those interest costs will only be borne for a limited period of time.

Another consideration to be aware of is that buy-ups are also sometimes paid to mortgage brokers. In these situations, the broker can effectively be incentivized to encourage borrowers to accept above-market rates on their mortgage loans, which are also known as yield spread premiums (YSPs). If these buy-up arrangements are not clearly disclosed to the buyer, they can create a conflict of interest between the two parties.

Before 2010, mortgage brokers' buy-up rebates were often obscured in the loan terms of the mortgages they sold, making it difficult for borrowers to detect when they were paying a YSP on their mortgage loans. Since then, changes in federal guidelines for new loan estimates require that mortgage brokers' YSPs be clearly disclosed to the buyer.

Despite these improvements, however, the risk of potential conflicts still remains. Specifically, buy-up rebates and other such incentives are also sometimes given to loan officers within the lending institutions themselves. In these circumstances, there may be little practical ability for the borrower to detect whether the rates they pay are affected by these incentives. As a precaution, borrowers should ask careful and direct questions to their loan officers about which, if any, incentive programs are in place in regard to their loan.

Real World Example of a Buy-Up

To illustrate, consider a buyer who wishes to secure a $100,000 mortgage. The standard interest rate offered by the bank is 4.50%. However, the buyer wishes to use a buy-up rebate equal to 2.50% of the loan value. In that scenario, the buyer would receive a cash incentive of $2,500 in exchange for accepting a higher than normal interest rate.

Although the exact level of the new interest rate would be subject to negotiation, the typical formula is for each percentage of the rebate to result in a 0.25% increase to the mortgage interest rate. Therefore, in the above example, the 2.50% cash incentive would result in a 0.625% rate increase. The new interest rate would therefore be 5.125%.