Adjustable rate mortgages (ARM), developed when mortgage interest rates were high, can help you finance the purchase of a home with low interest rates. An ideal choice for those who expect their income to rise or move in a couple of years, an ARM also increases your risk for higher payments. Fortunately, lenders also offer safeguards to limit some of your risk to excessively high interest rates.
An ARM starts with a low interest rate, up to 3% lower than a fixed rate mortgage. With lower rates, you usually qualify to borrow more than with a fixed rate home loan.
ARMs usually start with a fixed rate period and end with fluctuating yearly interest rates, increasing or decreasing your monthly payment. So a 3/1 ARM means 3 years of fixed rates with interest rates changing every year after that. Interest rates are based on an index, usually the rate on the T-bill or LIBOR, and the margin the lender adds to the index.
In order to protect borrowers from sky-rocketing monthly payments, mortgage lenders put in place safeguards. For example, a point cap limits how much interest rates can rise monthly and over the life of the loan. There are also ceiling limits on how low rates can go, protecting the lender.
Another safeguard is a dollar cap on monthly payments. However, if interest rates rise higher than the dollar cap allows, you may end up with a longer loan. Many financing companies also allow you to convert your ARM to a fixed rate mortgage after a predetermined period.
While an ARM has many benefits, there are other considerations to look at. For instance, interest rates can rise 4% or more over the course of your home loan. If you plan to stay in your home for several years, a fixed rate may offer lower interest costs in the long term. ARMs are also unpredictable, which makes planning long term financing goals difficult.
Before you apply for an ARM, make sure you are comfortable with the level of risk involve. However, if you expect your income to rise in the future or to move, then you may be saving yourself a lot of money in interest payments with an ARM.