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Fixed Rates: 

The traditional fixed rate mortgage is the most common type of loan programs, 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

 

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 (2/1 AR, 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 have some 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.

 

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 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 an ARM

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 in 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.

1-year T-Bill

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.

3-year T-Note

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.

5-year T-Note

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.

Prime

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

Graduated Payment Mortgages

Graduated Payment Mortgage is a loan where the payment graduates (increases) annually for a predetermined period (e.g. five or ten years), and then becomes fixed for the duration of the loan. During times of high interest rate, borrowers use them as leverage to be able to more readily qualify (because the initial payment is less). But the downside is that even though the initial payment is less, the interest owed is not - and the payment shortfall in the early years is added back onto the loan, which can result in negative amortization.

What kind of loan program is best for you?

So what kind of mortgage is best for you? Fixed rate? Adjustable rate? Government loans? The truth is, there is no one correct answer. Given the many different types of loans and term lengths, the choice can be difficult. It is an extremely important choice and you can definitely benefit from research before you make your decision. Some time and effort right now can save you thousands of dollars in the long run. Your personal situation will determine the best kind of loan for you. By asking yourself a few questions, you can help narrow your search among the many options available and discover which loan suits you best:Do you expect your finances to change over the next few years? Are you planning to live in this home for a long period of time? Are you comfortable with the idea of a changing mortgage payment amount? Do you wish to be free of mortgage debt as your children approach college age or as you prepare for retirement?

Your lender can help you use your answers to questions such as these to decide which loan best fits your needs. Below is a general guideline that may be useful to consider when selecting the mortgage for your home:

Years you plan to stay in your home           Plan to Consider

                        1-3                                    3/1 ARM or 1-year ARM

                        3-5                                                5/1 ARM

                        5-7                                                7/1 ARM

                        7-10                                10/1 ARM or 30-year fixed

                        10+                                30-year fixed or 15-year fixed

 
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