A rate "lock" or "commitment" is a lender's promise to freeze a particular interest rate and a certain number of points for you for a certain period during your application process. This saves you from going through your entire application process and learning at the end that the interest rate has gotten higher.
Rate lock periods can be various lengths of time, anywhere from fifteen to sixty days, with the longer ones generally costing more. The lending institution will agree to hold an interest rate and points for a longer span of time, such as sixty days, but in exchange, the rate (and sometimes points) will be more than that of a rate lock of fewer days.
In addition to choosing the shorter lock period, there are more ways you can score the lowest rate. The larger down payment you can pay, the lower the rate will be, since you will be entering the loan with more equity. You can pay points to bring down your interest rate over the term of the loan, meaning you pay more up front. One strategy that makes financial sense for many people is to pay points to bring the rate down over the life of the loan. You'll pay more initially, but you'll come out ahead in the long run.
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