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What is an Adjustable Rate Mortgage?

Oct 9, 2007
An adjustable rate mortgage (also known as ARM) differs from a fixed rate mortgage in two very important ways, and we will explore those in this article.

Adjustable rate mortgages differ from fixed rate mortgages in that the interest rate as well as the monthly payment will move up and down as market interest rates fluctuate. The rate that triggers all of this movement is usually the Fed Prime Rate.

Most adjustable mortgages have an initial fixed-rate period during which the rate does not change; this is followed by a much longer period during which the rate changes at preset intervals.

Home shoppers should understand that, in most cases, adjustable rates start low. In fact, they are often much lower than what is offered through fixed rate programs. This only makes sense because the lenders who offer adjustable rate loans have to have something to entice you into taking the ARM or you would simply go with the fixed rate. This is normal and home shoppers should not be too leery of this tactic, what they should be careful about, however, are the future adjustments to the loan.

For many ARM loans, the initial fixed-rate period can be anywhere from six months long to ten years long. The most common, however, is the one-year ARM, which will have the first adjustment after one year. Another popular ARM is called the 5/1 ARM, which has an initial fixed-rate period of five years, and then the interest rate is adjusted yearly after that. Mortgages that combine a lengthy fixed period with an lengthier adjustable period are known as hybrids. Other hybrid ARM's are the 3/1, the 7/1, and the 10/1.

Home shoppers must understand that once the fixed-rate time period is over (no matter how long or short it may be) the interest rate on the loan will change. This means that the monthly payments will change as well. In some cases, and depending on the type of loan, the change in monthly payment can be very substantial.

Home loan borrowers do have some protection from extreme changes. Adjustable mortgages do come with caps. These caps limit the amount by which ARM rates and payments can adjust. This may not be true if you are in sub-prime loan position. Sub-prime lenders can add many different types of fees and can vary their interest rates more than traditional loans are allowed.

There are various types of ARM's available to consumers. Some ARM's allow for a conversion that lets consumers switch from the ARM to a fixed rate for a fee. There are others types of ARM loans that allow borrowers to make interest-only payments for a certain length of time. This helps to keep the first payments low.

Because there are so many types of ARM's you should spend some time looking into them in order to find the one that best fits your needs. You can also speak with knowledgeable real estate agents and lenders to get answers to those questions you may have about adjustable rate mortgages.
About the Author
Peter Kenny is a writer for The Thrifty Scot, please visit us at Secured Personal Loan and Cheap Mortgages
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