Choose the Right Loan Program for Your Needs
Fixed Rate Mortgages
The traditional fixed rate mortgage is the most common type of loan program, where monthly principal and interest payments never change during the life of the loan. Fixed rate mortgages are available in terms ranging from 10 to 30 years and can be paid off at any time without penalty. This type of mortgage is structured, or "amortized" so that it will be completely paid off by the end of the loan term. There are also "bi-weekly" mortgages, which shorten the loan by calling for half the monthly payment every two weeks. (Since there are 52 weeks in a year, you make 26 payments, or 13 "months" worth, every year.)
Even though you have a fixed rate mortgage, your monthly payment may vary if you have an "impound account". In addition to the monthly loan payment, some lenders collect additional money each month (from folks who put less than 20% cash down when purchasing their home) for the prorated monthly cost of property taxes and homeowners insurance. The extra money is put in an impound account by the lender who uses it to pay the borrowers' property taxes and homeowners insurance premium when they are due. If either the property tax or the insurance happens to change, the borrower's monthly payment will be adjusted accordingly. However, the overall payments in a fixed rate mortgage are very stable and predictable.
Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARM)
Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARM)s are loans whose interest rate can vary during the loan's term. These loans usually have a fixed interest rate for an initial period of time and then can adjust based on current market conditions. The initial rate on an ARM is lower than on a fixed rate mortgage which allows you to afford and hence purchase a more expensive home. Adjustable rate mortgages are usually amortized over a period of 30 years with the initial rate being fixed for anywhere from 1 month to 10 years. All ARM loans have a "margin" plus an "index." Margins on loans range from 1.75% to 3.5% depending on the index and the amount financed in relation to the property value. The index is the financial instrument that the ARM loan is tied to such as: 1-Year Treasury Security, LIBOR (London Interbank Offered Rate), Prime, 6-Month Certificate of Deposit (CD) and the 11th District Cost of Funds (COFI).
When the time comes for the ARM to adjust, the margin will be added to the index and typically rounded to the nearest 1/8 of one percent to arrive at the new interest rate. That rate will then be fixed for the next adjustment period. This adjustment can occur every year, but there are factors limiting how much the rates can adjust. These factors are called "caps". Suppose you had a "3/1 ARM" with an initial cap of 2%, a lifetime cap of 6%, and initial interest rate of 6.25%. The highest rate you could have in the fourth year would be 8.25%, and the highest rate you could have during the life of the loan would be 12.25%.
Some ARM loans have a conversion feature that would allow you to convert the loan from an adjustable rate to a fixed rate. There is a minimal charge to convert; however, the conversion rate is usually slightly higher than the market rate that the lender could provide you at that time by refinancing.
Hybrid ARMs (3/1 ARM, 5/1 ARM, 7/1 ARM, 10/1 ARM)
Hybrid ARM mortgages, also called fixed-period ARMs, combine features of both fixed-rate and adjustable-rate mortgages. A hybrid loan starts out with an interest rate that is fixed for a period of years (usually 3, 5, 7 or 10). Then, the loan converts to an ARM for a set number of years. An example would be a 30-year hybrid with a fixed rate for seven years and an adjustable rate for 23 years.
The beauty of a fixed-period ARM is that the initial interest rate for the fixed period of the loan is lower than the rate would be on a mortgage that's fixed for 30 years, sometimes significantly. Hence you can enjoy a lower rate while having period of stability for your payments. A typical one-year ARM on the other hand, goes to a new rate every year, starting 12 months after the loan is taken out. So while the starting rate on ARMs is considerably lower than on a standard mortgage, they carry the risk of future hikes.
Homeowners can get a hybrid and hope to refinance as the initial term expires. These types of loans are best for people who do not intend to live long in their homes. By getting a lower rate and lower monthly payments than with a 30- or 15-year loan, they can break even more quickly on refinancing costs, such as title insurance and the appraisal fee. Since the monthly payment will be lower, borrowers can make extra payments and pay off the loan early, saving thousands during the years they have the loan.
FHA home loans are mortgage loans that are insured against default by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). FHA loans are available for single-family and multifamily homes. These home loans allow banks to continuously issue loans without much risk or capital requirements. The FHA doesn't issue loans or set interest rates, it just guarantees against default.
FHA loans allow individuals who may not qualify for a conventional mortgage obtain a loan, especially first time home buyers. These loans offer low minimum down payments, reasonable credit expectations, and flexible income requirements.
VA Home Loans
The VA Loan provides veterans with a federally guaranteed home loan which requires no down payment. This program was designed to provide housing and assistance for veterans and their families.
The Veterans Administration provides insurance to lenders in the case that you default on a loan. Because the mortgage is guaranteed, lenders will offer a lower interest rate and terms than a conventional home loan. VA home loans are available in all 50 states. A VA loan may also have reduced closing costs and no prepayment penalties.
Additionally there are services that may be offered to veterans in danger of defaulting on their loans. VA home loans are available to military personal that have either served 181 days during peacetime, 90 days during war, or a spouse of serviceman either killed or missing in action.
Interest Only Mortgages
A mortgage is called “Interest Only” when its monthly payment does not include the repayment of principal for a certain period of time. Interest Only loans are offered on fixed rate or adjustable rate mortgages as wells as on option ARMs. At the end of the interest-only period, the loan becomes fully amortized, thus resulting in greatly increased monthly payments. The new payment will be larger than it would have been if it had been fully amortizing from the beginning. The longer the interest-only period, the larger the new payment will be when the interest-only period ends.
You won't build equity during the interest-only term, but it could help you close on the home you want instead of settling for the home you can afford.
Since you'll be qualified based on the interest-only payment and will likely refinance before the interest-only term expires anyway, it could be a way to effectively lease your dream home now and invest the principal portion of your payment elsewhere while realizing the tax advantages and appreciation that accompany homeownership.
As an example, if you borrow $250,000 at 6 percent, using a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, your monthly payment would be $1,499. On the other hand, if you borrowed $250,000 at 6 percent, using a 30-year mortgage with a 5-year interest only payment plan, your monthly payment initially would be $1,250. This saves you $249 per month or $2,987 a year. However, when you reach year six, your monthly payments will jump to $1,611, or $361 more per month. Hopefully, your income will have jumped accordingly to support the higher payments or you have refinanced your loan by that time.
Mortgages with interest only payment options may save you money in the short-run, but they actually cost more over the 30-year term of the loan. However, most borrowers repay their mortgages well before the end of the full 30-year loan term.
Borrowers with sporadic incomes can benefit from interest-only mortgages. This is particularly the case if the mortgage is one that permits the borrower to pay more than interest-only. In this case, the borrower can pay interest-only during lean times and use bonuses or income spurts to pay down the principal.
Components of Adjustable Rate Mortgages
To understand an ARM, you must have a working knowledge of its components. Those components are:
Index: A financial indicator that rises and falls, based primarily on economic fluctuations. It is usually an indicator and is therefore the basis of all future interest adjustments on the loan. Mortgage lenders currently use a variety of indexes.
Margin: A lender's loan cost plus profit. The margin is added to the index to determine the interest rate because the index is the cost of funds and the margin is the lender's cost of doing business plus profit.
Initial Interest: The rate during the initial period of the loan, which is sometimes lower than the note rate. This initial interest may be a teaser rate, an unusually low rate to entice buyers and allow them to more readily qualify for the loan.
Note Rate: The actual interest rate charged for a particular loan program.
Adjustment Period: The interval at which the interest is scheduled to change during the life of the loan (e.g. annually).
Interest Rate Caps: Limit placed on the up-and-down movement of the interest rate, specified per period adjustment and lifetime adjustment (e.g. a cap of 2 and 6 means 2% interest increase maximum per adjustment with a 6% interest increase maximum over the life of the loan).
Negative Amortization: Occurs when a payment is insufficient to cover the interest on a loan. The shortfall amount is added back onto the principal balance.
Convertibility: The option to change from an ARM to a fixed-rate loan. A conversion fee may be charged.
Carryover: Interest rate increases in excess of the amount allowed by the caps that can be applied at later interest rate adjustments (a component that most newer ARMs are deleting).
Commonly Used Indexes for ARMs
6-Month CD Rate
This index is the weekly average of secondary market interest rates on 6-month negotiable Certificates of Deposit. The interest rate on 6 month CD indexed ARM loans is usually adjusted every 6 months. Index changes on a weekly basis and can be volatile.
This index is the weekly average yield on U.S. Treasury securities adjusted to a constant maturity of 1 year. This index is used on the majority of ARM loans. With the traditional one-year adjustable rate mortgage loan, the interest rate is subject to change once each year. There are additional ARM loan programs available (Hybrid ARMs) for those that would like to take advantage of a low-interest rate but would like a longer introductory period. The 3/1, 5/1, 7/1 and 10/1 ARM loans offer a fixed interest rate for a specified time (3,5,7,10 years) before they begin yearly adjustments. These programs will typically not have introductory rates as low as the one year ARM loan, however their rates are lower than the 30-year fixed mortgage. This index changes on a weekly basis and can be volatile.
This index is the weekly average yield on U.S. Treasury securities adjusted to a constant maturity of 3 years. This index is used on 3/3 ARM loans. The interest rate is adjusted every 3 years on such loans. This type of loan program is good for those who like fewer interest rate adjustments. The index changes on a weekly basis and can be volatile.
This index is the weekly average yield on U.S. Treasury securities adjusted to a constant maturity of 5 years. This index is used on 5/5 ARM loans. The interest rate is adjusted every 5 years on such loans. This type of loan program is good for those who like fewer interest rate adjustments. This index changes on a weekly basis and can be volatile.
The prime rate is the rate that banks charge their most credit-worthy customers for loans. The Prime Rate, as reported by the Federal Reserve, is the prime rate charged by the majority of large banks. When applying for a home equity loan, be sure to ask if the lender will be using its own prime rate, or the prime rate published by the Federal Reserve or the Wall Street Journal. This index usually changes in response to changes that the Federal Reserve makes to the Federal Funds and Discount Rates. Depending on economic conditions, this index can be volatile or not move for months at a time.
12 Moving Average of 1-year T-Bill
Twelve-month moving average of the average monthly yield on U.S. Treasury securities (adjusted to a constant maturity of one year.). This index is sometimes used for ARM loans in lieu of the 1 year Treasury Constant Maturity (TCM) rate. Since this index is a 12-month moving average, it is less volatile than the 1 year TCM rate. This index changes on a monthly basis and is not very volatile.
Cost of Funds Index (COFI) - National
This Index is the monthly median cost of funds: interest (dividends) paid or accrued on deposits, FHLB (Federal Home Loan Bank) advances and on other borrowed money during a month as a percent of balances of deposits and borrowings at month-end. The interest rate on Cost of Funds (COFI) indexed ARM loans is usually adjusted every 6 months. Index changes on a monthly basis and it not very volatile.
Cost of Funds Index (COFI) - 11th District
This index is the weighted-average interest rate paid by 11th Federal Home Loan Bank District savings institutions for savings and checking accounts, advances from the FHLB, and other sources of funds. The 11th District represents the savings institutions (savings & loan associations and savings banks) headquartered in Arizona, California and Nevada. Since the largest part of the Cost Of Funds index is interest paid on savings accounts, this index lags market interest rates in both uptrend and downtrend movements. As a result, ARMs tied to this index rise (and fall) more slowly than rates in general, which is good for you if rates are rising but not good if rates are falling.
L.I.B.O.R stands for the London Interbank Offered Rate, the interest rates that banks charge each other for overseas deposits of U.S. dollars. These rates are available in 1,3,6 and 12-month terms. The index used and the source of the index will vary by lender. Common sources used are the Wall Street Journal and FannieMae. The interest rate on many LIBOR indexed ARM loans is adjusted every 6 months. This index changes on a daily/weekly basis and can be extremely volatile.
National Average Contract Mortgage Rate (NACR)
This index is the national average contract mortgage rate for the purchase of previously occupied homes by combined lenders. This index changes on a monthly basis and it not very volatile.
A balloon mortgage has an interest rate that is fixed for an initial amount of time. At the end of the term, the remaining principal balance is due. At this time, the borrower has a choice to either refinance or pay off the remaining balance.
There are no penalties to paying off a balloon mortgage loan before it is due. Borrowers may refinance at any time during the life of the loan.
Balloon loans typically have either 5 or 7-year terms. For example, a 7-year balloon mortgage with an interest rate of 7.5% would feature this interest rate for the entire term. After 7 years, the remaining loan balance would become due.
A reverse mortgage is a type of home equity loan that allows you to convert some of the existing equity in your home into cash while you retain ownership of the property. Equity is the current cash value of a home minus the current loan balance.
A reverse mortgage works much like a traditional mortgage, except in reverse. Instead of the homeowner paying the lender each month, the lender pays the homeowner. As long as the homeowner continues to live in the home, no repayment of principal, interest, or servicing fees are required. The funds received from a reverse mortgage may be used for anything, including housing expenses, taxes, insurance, fuel or maintenance costs.
To qualify for a reverse mortgage, you must own your home. You may choose to receive the reverse mortgage funds in a lump sum, monthly advances, as a line-of-credit, or a combination of the three, depending on the reverse mortgage type and the lender. The amount of money you are eligible to borrow depends on your age, the amount of equity in your home, and the interest rate set by the lender.
Because the borrower retains ownership of the home with a reverse mortgage, the borrower also continues to be responsible for taxes, repairs and maintenance.
Depending on the plan selected, a reverse mortgage is due with interest either when the homeowner permanently moves, sells the home, dies, or the end of a pre-selected loan term is reached. If the homeowner dies, the lender does not take ownership of the home. Instead, the heirs must pay off the loan, typically by refinancing the loan into a forward mortgage (if the heirs meet eligibility requirements) or by using the proceeds generated by the sale of the home.
Graduated Payment Mortgages
A graduated payment mortgage is a loan where the payment increases each year for a predetermined amount of time (such as 5 or 10 years), then becomes fixed for the remaining duration of the loan.
When interest rates are high, borrowers can use a graduated-payment mortgage to increase their chances of qualifying for the loan because the initial payment is less. The downside of opting for an smaller initial payment is that the interest owed increases and the payment shortfall from the initial years of the loan is then added on to the loan, potentially leading to a situation called "negative amortization." Negative amortization occurs when the loan payment for any period is less than the interest charged over that period, resulting in an increase in the outstanding balance of the loan.
What type of loan program is best for me?
The many different types of home loans available can seem overwhelming. Should you choose a fixed rate, adjustable rate or government loan mortgage? The truth is there is no right answer. Choosing a loan type is an important decision that is best made after you have researched your options. Remember, taking the time to explore your options now can mean saving thousands of dollars in the long run.
Ask yourself the following questions to determine what loan type is right for you:
- Do you expect your financial situation to change over the next few years?
- Do you plan to live in your current home for a long time?
- Do you feel comfortable with the idea of a changing mortgage amount?
- Do you want to be free of mortgage debt by the time your children go to college or you retire?
A professional lender is the best resource available to help you decide which loan best fits your needs. Follow the general guidelines outlined below to get started selecting the best mortgage for your home.
|1-3||3/1 ARM or 1-year ARM|
|7-10||10/1 ARM or 30-year fixed|
|10+||30-year fixed or 15-year fixed|
The most common type of loan option, the traditional fixed-rate mortgage includes monthly principal and interest payments which never change during the loan’s lifetime.
Adjustable-rate mortgages include interest payments which shift during the loan’s term, depending on current market conditions. Typically, these loans carry a fixed-interest rate for a set period of time before adjusting.
Hybrid ARM mortgages combine features of both fixed-rate and adjustable rate mortgages and are also known as fixed-period ARMs.
FHA home loans are mortgages which are insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), allowing borrowers to get low mortgage rates with a minimal down payment.
VA loans are mortgages guaranteed by the Department of Veteran Affairs. These loans offer military veterans exceptional benefits, including low interest rates and no down payment requirement. This program was designed to help military veterans realize the American dream of home ownership.
Interest only mortgages are home loans in which borrowers make monthly payments solely toward the interest accruing on the loan, rather than the principle, for a specified period of time.
Prior to choosing a home loan, you should know the advantages and risks of adjustable-rate mortgages to make an informed, prudent decision.
This article includes a list of the most commonly used indexes by ARM lenders that affect ARM mortgage rates.
Balloon mortgages include a note rate that remains fixed initially, and the principal balance becomes due at the end of the mortgage term.
Reverse Mortgages allow senior homeowners to convert a portion of their home equity into cash while still living in the home.
Graduated Payment Mortgages are loans in which mortgage payments increase annually for a predetermined period of time (e.g. five or ten years) and becomes fixed for the remaining duration of the loan.
Should you get a fixed-rate or adjustable rate mortgage? A conventional loan or a government loan? Deciding which mortgage product is best for you will depend largely on your unique circumstances, and there is no one correct answer.