All About Fixed Rate MortgagesA fixed-rate mortgage is exactly what it sounds like. It's a mortgage for which the interest rate is fixed for the life of the loan.
Fixed rate mortgages are available in multiple terms, where "term" is used to describe the length for which the mortgage contract is in place. With a fixed-rate mortgage, when the term is complete, the loan is paid-in-full.
As you may suspect, the monthly payment required for fixed-rate loans increase as the loan term reduces. This is because, with a shorter loan term, the homeowner is repaying the mortgage lender over a lesser period of time.
The upside of assuming the larger payment that comes with a shorter fixed rate loan term is that mortgage rates are often lower, and the amount of mortgage interest paid over the loan's lifetime is less, too.
For example, consider a homeowner in Orange County, California borrowing at the local jumbo mortgage limit of $625,500 and how different loan terms affect the monthly mortgage payment, given today's mortgage rates :
- 30-year fixed rate mortgage : $2,765 monthly; $370,000 mortgage interest over time
- 20-year fixed rate mortgage : $3,547 monthly; $226,000 mortgage interest over time
- 15-year fixed rate mortgage : $4,208 monthly; $132,000 mortgage interest over time
- 10-year fixed rate mortgage : $5,897 monthly; $82,000 mortgage interest over time
The main benefits of a fixed rate mortgage are linked to its predictability. With a fixed-rate mortgage, your mortgage payment is set on Day 1 of your home loan, and never changes until the loan is paid-in-full. Some homeowners like this.
However, in recent years, another benefit has emerged.
For U.S. homeowners refinancing via the government's HARP mortgage program for underwater home loans, refinancing into a fixed-rate mortgage gets you access to the program's "unlimited LTV" feature. HARP households using adjustable-rate mortgages are limited to 105% loan-to-value. Homeowners using a fixed-rate loan can have LTVs of 200% or higher.
All About Adjustable-Rate MortgagesAn adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) is a mortgage for which the interest rate can vary over time.
Mortgage rates are often lower with an adjustable-rate mortgage versus for a comparable fixed rate loan because the homeowner assumes some of the long-term interest rate risk which is fully-assigned to the bank with a fixed-rate loan.
Most ARMs works like this :
- For some preset, fixed number of years, the ARM's mortgage rate remains unchanged
- After the fixed period ends, the mortgage rate changes based on a preset formula
- Annually, the ARM's mortgage rate changes again based on the same formula
When ARMs adjust, the "adjusted mortgage rate" is a sum of two numbers -- a constant figure called a margin and a variable figure called an index. When you add the (margin) to the (index), you get your new rate.
The most common index used for ARMs is the 12-month LIBOR rate, which is currently 0.86%. Margins are typically 2.5%. Today's homeowners with adjusting mortgage rates, therefore, get new mortgage rates near 3.36%.
The good news is that adjustable-rate mortgages cannot adjust too high, too quickly. This is because ARMs come with "adjustment caps" -- limits in how far an adjustable-rate mortgage's mortgage rate can change during any one adjustment period.
The adjustment caps often vary by the ARMs initial fixed-rate period.
- 3-Year ARM : Rate doesn't change for the initial 3 years, after which it can change up to ±2% annually, and after which it may never be more than ±6% from the initial mortgage rate.
- 5-Year ARM : Rate doesn't change for 5 years, after which it can change up to ±5% at the first adjustment, and after which it can change up to ±2% annually, and after which it may never be more than ±5% from the initial mortgage rate.
- 7-Year ARM : Rate doesn't change for 7 years, after which it can change up to ±5% at the first adjustment, and after which it can change up to ±2% annually, and after which it may never be more than ±5% from the initial mortgage rate.
Which Is Better For You : Fixed Rate Mortgage Or Adjustable Rate MortgageThere are a lot of reasons to choose a fixed-rate mortgage over an adjustable-rate mortgage; just as the reverse is true. The "best" product will depend on your individual risk tolerance and your short- and long-term financial goals.
However, in recent years, as fixed rate mortgage rates have dropped, the relative value of an ARM's low starting mortgage rate has diminished.
Furthermore, certain ARMs including those made in "high-cost areas" such as Montgomery County, Maryland; San Jose, California; and New York, New York require larger downpayments than comparable fixed-rate loans.